Even if you’re not a huge fan of rap or hip-hop music, it’s likely you’ll be blown away by the music and testimony of Emmanuel Jal. One of the lost boys of Sudan, an AK-47 wielding child soldier, Jal was rescued from horrific circumstances by aid worker Emma McCune, taken to Kenya, and after McCune died in a tragic auto accident, eventually ended up in London. He’s a young man of extraordinary faith who feels called to tell his story in music --- rap music no less. As he says in the album’s title track, “I believe I’ve survived for a reason/ To tell my story, to touch lives.”
The testimony he gives is captivating, yet not all of it makes for easy listening. For example, in “Forced to Sin” he speaks of the loss of his friend Lual, and of being so hungry he was tempted to (but did not succumb to) cannibalism. In another song, “50 Cent,” he critiques the lifestyle of the popular rap singer in language appropriate for the context but difficult to play around young children. In “Vagina,” he likens the continent of Africa to a repeatedly raped woman --- not just by developed nations by by their own native, Big Man leaders. Strong imagery, strong message.
But these are the raw songs. There are also songs of pure joy and praise, of claiming the promises and protection of God in all circumstances. One of my favorite, “Many Rivers to Cross,” is a celebration of God’s protection and of the need to persevere in the face of hardship. “Emma McCune” is a tribute to the woman who saved his life. “Shadow of Death” is as you might expect --- a paraphrase of Psalm 23.
It wasn’t Emma McCune who led Jal to faith. That faith came from his mother, but he was discipled by Josephine Mumo, a woman who led a home for street kids in Nairobi. Mumo not only fed and housed Jal, but she took him to church where he discovered the transforming power of God’s love and music --- gospel music.
Jal has quite a platform for his testimony. His story is told in a documentary that premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival, and an autobiography is due out later this year. But he seems unfazed by the trappings of success, focused on his singular calling to tell the world about Sudan and Africa, to tell his story.