Getting the Word Out
- October 19, 2022
When Esteban Shedd encouraged his study group of young men from Chicago to open their Bibles and read from the book of Acts, he was met with uneasiness, hesitation, and nervous faces. But the problem wasn’t boredom or disinterest. Many of the members of the class struggled to read anything beyond a fourth-grade level.
He understood that his students were oral learners who could memorize easily through music, and he knew he could capture their attention with some kind of audio Bible. But a resource that would connect with them culturally and bridge the gap between Bible learning and personal engagement didn’t exist.
Esteban was juggling a full schedule as a student at Moody Bible Institute, a band member, and a youth group leader when he decided to record chapters 2 and 3 of Acts over a hip-hop soundtrack at his home recording studio. He took the recordings to the next study, and the response was like night and day. The “lights went on” for those young men in the group. Passive silence disappeared into active discussion about the apostle Peter, his preaching, and the 3,000 people who believed in Jesus after hearing Peter’s message. Christ’s offer of salvation began to make sense to the men in a whole new way.
Esteban didn’t know it, but the foundation had just been laid for Streetlights Bible. God was about to use friendships that had begun through various Chicago ministry and music events and had been forged at Moody to build on that foundation.
A light for the streets
After graduating from Moody, Aaron Lopez (2007 graduate in Radio Communications) and Loren La Luz (2006 graduate in Pre-Counseling/Family Ministries), who were traveling and singing with Esteban (2005 graduate in Communications) in a band called Berto Ramon, joined the audio Bible venture. And while the band had a name, the Bible-and-beats project didn’t.
“One night, Esteban and I were on the phone talking about this idea and about putting together a kind of beta tester, like a sampler CD,” Aaron recalls. “He was in a parking lot of his church, and he looked up and saw a streetlight. He said, ‘Hey, Aaron, what do you think about calling it Streetlights? You know, kind of like the Word of God being a light for the streets.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I like it, bro!’ And we kind of ran with it.”
Over the next two decades, Streetlights would be championed by friends, family, and sponsors, including strategic support from GRIP Outreach for Youth and Humble Beast Records. These early partners prayed, encouraged, and contributed because they too believed in the power of the Word of God to engage a global urban culture.
New location, new opportunities
In the summer of 2022, Streetlights Bible moved into a new location in Chicago that gives them access to the additional space they need and to the people they want to serve.
“We're kind of at this interesting place,” says Aaron. “We're on the border of three communities—Hermosa, Belmont Cragin, and Austin. Three very different communities. Belmont Cragin is like a working-class Latino neighborhood. Hermosa is working class but kind of teeters on poverty in some blocks. And then also to the south of us is Austin. There are a lot of social ills in Austin.”
Owned by Grace and Peace Church, the warehouse-style building also houses other ministries to the community that will bring opportunities right to the Streetlights Bible doorstep. As Loren explains, “It's a campus building with several ministries there, and that means that young people will be able to come and participate in different activities, from after-school programming to sports and recreation. And so we're excited to be on that campus and be able to use our resources to partner with these various ministries in order to meet the need there.”
For Aaron, there’s no doubt that the culture “needs to hear the Word of God contextualized with urban music, with God’s ethnically diverse body of people actually reading the Word of God. It’s authentic hip-hop music being scored along with the reading to contextualize and present the Scriptures.”
Ever-expanding audience and impact
Originally, the Streetlights team envisioned a target audience of 16- to 30-year-olds, but it didn’t take long for people of all ages to seek out the audio Bible tracks. Over the years, the expanding age group led to an audience growth across multiple demographics.
When asked about the target audience now, Loren replies, “I would say it’s the general population at this point mainly because we’re a digital-learning world influenced by urban-global communication. We reach people in urban areas and suburban areas. We're reaching moms, and we're reaching people in prison. We’re meeting the needs of youth leaders, people who need a resource like Streetlights to get their young people into the Word of God.
“We heard from a truck driver who said he would listen on his long commutes, and the Word of God was so pivotal that it transformed his marriage. Another man reached out to us who said he was an atheist. He did not believe in a God. Somebody recommended Streetlights Bible to him, and he found himself listening every day during his commute to work. And he said, ‘I gave my life to the Lord!’”
The Streetlights Bible crew has grown to include Chaq Lazu, Ray Crespo, and Yannik Burklin. As the reach of Streetlights has expanded, so have the professional media resources produced by the team, including a New Living Translation print version of the Streetlights Bible from Tyndale House Publishers.
Loren adds, “Week after week (we hear) from people who are local here in Chicago, nationally from people in New York, California, Texas, all the way to people in Latin America—Venezuela, Guatemala, Puerto Rico. We've heard from people in Australia, South Africa, England, Canada, and the Philippines. The Lord has allowed us to have a connection that is global.”
It’s not uncommon for Streetlights to hear from someone who is struggling with addiction and seeking a “reset” of both the heart and mind. As one example, a young man from Houston shared, “I've been in rehab after a pretty insane relapse with alcohol and drugs, a DWI, and ending up in jail. Since doing AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) again and engaging with what I call my ‘Jesus Mentor,’ I've been super serious about getting back in the Word.
“My mentor's wife suggested I listen to Streetlights, so I did and—dude!—I’ve been totally consumed with Jesus! It's helped me to shut off every other worldly thing and just tune in to who Jesus is. I even follow along with my NLT (New Living Translation) on my Bible app, and it's just been such a blessing.”
Ministering through music, podcasts, and social media
Esteban, Aaron, and Loren also perform and tour with the other arm of the Streetlights ministry: Prisims. They describe their distinctive sound as “deeply spiritual music” that’s a “crash course in hip-hop culture and Latin-rooted rhythms.” Over the last few years, Prisims has released music singles, an EP project, the album Out of the Tension Comes Beauty, and is about to release a second album called The Beauty of the Lord.
“With the background that all three of us shared in studying the Scriptures while at Moody,” Loren explains, “we all had a passion to teach the Word of God. So when we started the ministry of Streetlights, we also knew it was important for those who are biblically illiterate to understand what they're hearing—to understand who God is, who they are, and what sin is.”
Music videos by Prisims, studio concerts, Bible lessons, the Streetlights Intersection and Corner Talk podcasts, and videocasts are featured across multiple social media platforms, and they all share two things in common. As the Streetlights vision statement clearly affirms, every resource is designed “to make Jesus, the Light of the World, seen, understood, and loved now and by future generations.” And every digital resource, including the Streetlights Bible app, is free.
Or, as the Streetlights crew says, “The gospel of Jesus is freely given. So we freely give.”