CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Rapper Fresh IE says God can transform even the most unlikely person.
Rapper Fresh IE could be pursuing a lucrative recording career in Hollywood, but instead the two-time Grammy nominee is "flying in the world's smallest planes" to some of the most remote communities of the North.
He's also finding his way to venues in the toughest sections of cities like Winnipeg to spread the Gospel.
Fresh, whose real name is Robert Wilson, brought his message of hope and radical conversion to Ottawa Feb. 24-26 where he led workshops and gave a concert as part of a conference for aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth.
About 100 youth, from First Nations, Inuit, Metis and non-aboriginal backgrounds living in Ontario and Quebec, gathered at the National Arts Centre for the ROQ (Region of Ontario and Quebec) Youth Symposium.
The event was sponsored by the non-denominational Christian ministry Gathering Nations International founded and directed by Kenny and Louise Blacksmith.
The message of the rapper – and the conference – is that one does not have to become a slave to drugs or gangs, or succumb to the temptation to suicide or violence. God can transform even the most unlikely person and bring forgiveness and hope, even someone like Wilson.
Fresh's ancestry is half black – from Barbados – and half Blackfoot Indian. He grew up in a rough section of Winnipeg, barely knowing his mother and never knowing his father.
Once he reached his teens he got involved in armed robbery and home invasions. He got caught up in the life of gangs and addiction.
He got caught and in 1998 while out on bail awaiting sentencing for crimes that could have earned him 14 years in prison, he encountered a blind bum. The bum was caught in the middle of traffic on a busy street.
Aboriginal youth encouraged to have vision for Canada
Canadian Catholic News
Ottawa – The ROQ Youth Symposium is but the latest in a series of events aimed at reconciliation and forgiveness among young aboriginal people.
"We're trying to encourage them to find a way to have a vision for Canada," said organizer Kenny Blacksmith.
One day of the Feb. 24-26 event was devoted to forgiveness and remembering times when one has experienced or granted forgiveness and how freeing reconciliation is.
"If you can't break free from the negative past you're never going to be able to step into the future and if you do you're going to be carrying a lot of baggage that would not necessarily give life to that dream that they have," said Blacksmith.
"We're trying to draw out a fresh perspective, a fresh vision, giving them the tools to be able to work with that."
Blacksmith said this summit and other similar ones recently in Val D'Or and Thunder Bay are a continuation of a ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness among First Nations, Inuit, Metis peoples and non-aboriginal Canadians for a vision of a shared Canada
Gathering Nations International also sponsored the 2010 Forgiven Summit that gathered about 300 aboriginal people to Ottawa to tell Canada they accepted the forgiveness Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered in the 2008 Indian residential schools apology in the House of Commons.
Fresh told the blind man to get off the street, urging him to use his voice to guide him safely to the sidewalk. On his way home, Fresh recalled thinking he did not want to end up like that man and die all alone with no one to look after him.
At home in his apartment, the blind man's plight and his own looming prison sentence troubled him.
Later, he noticed people outside his apartment with flashlights. He went outside to discover the local Neighbourhood Watch were investigating a strange man sitting on his doorstep. The man turned out to be the same blind man Fresh had helped out of traffic. How did a blind man find his way to his doorstep at least 15 blocks away?
The man's presence freaked him out and he ran back upstairs. "God, are you trying to tell me something?" he asked. "If you're real, I need to know."
His girlfriend, who is now his wife, was a Christian and helped him as he spent a week crying out to God in prayer. Then God spoke to him, he said in an interview.
"That blind man is you," God told him. "Hear my voice and turn away from this life or you're going to die."
Fresh said he used words that were nearly identical to those he had used to get the blind man - who he never saw again - off the street. He surrendered his life to Christ and, within two weeks, all his addictions to alcohol and other drugs were gone.
Fresh had always loved music and told the gathering that as a kid he had a Michael Jackson glove and a Thriller Jacket and when life got too much for him, he would take a piece of cardboard and a boom box down to the courtyard of the housing complex, put the music on and dance.
People would open their windows and encourage him.
So before his sentencing, he began volunteering at missions that had an outreach to children in the North End of Winnipeg. He would teach them little raps about Jesus and see the joy on their faces. He realized that if these children, who had nothing, could experience joy, so could he.
Soon he was being asked to go to coffeehouses and youth groups. His volunteer work, his obvious change of heart, and the fact that most of his crime spree had taken place while he was a juvenile, meant he did not have to go to jail after all.
Within five years, his music and his ministry were on the verge of a major breakthrough. In 2003, he came home to find TV cameras and journalists surrounding his house. He had been nominated for a Grammy Award and his story appeared on national television and in the Globe and Mail. He insisted that Jesus be included.
He has 10 commercially-produced albums to his credit, and has been nominated for 55 awards since 2002.
Fresh urged the 100 or so young people present to write down their dreams and goals. "You have a preference for a reason," he said. "You don't want to spend your whole life doing what you hate."
He also urged them to think about their special talents and develop them. "You are given talents for a purpose, but it is up to you to develop them," he said.
"God will use your gift to bring revival in communities," he said. "Reflect on how you can use those gifts and talents to serve others."
Fresh looks back now and sees what God was doing in allowing that Grammy nomination, because he knew that his struggle and the story of his amazing turn-around would give God the glory. Thousands of young people have been led to Christ through hearing his story.