Tony Cummings spoke to Chris and Nikki Uglow of pop evangelists L.E.D.
If you're a Cross Rhythms radio listener you'll know the song "Right Way" by L.E.D. - a particularly catchy piece of pop dance music. If you're a school kid living in the West Country, you may well be familiar with L.E.D. in another guise as this group - consisting of husband and wife duo Chris and Nikki Uglow - have been tireless schools evangelists over the last few years. I met up with Chris and Nikki recently at Cornwall's Creation Fest and asked them to give me the lowdown on their music and ministry. Explained Chris, "The L.E.D. ministry was founded back in 2009 in January. Our main vision is to work in the schools with the young people, taking the message to young people in the schools. You hear a lot of the stuff that goes on in Manchester and the surrounding cities, but it doesn't really travel: you get to Bristol and not a lot happens. We travel round in the schools, do a whole week in the schools, doing lessons in RE, PSHE, music and dance, then finish off with a big concert on Friday night, where we invite all the students to come back and we share the Gospel. We always partner with churches as well, so it's building a bridge between the church and the school - but also building a link so that the children know about youth clubs and stuff that happen in the churches."
So far L.E.D. have recorded one EP, 'Just Dance', produced by one time member of The Tribe, Jorge Mhondera. Said Chris, "We're looking at doing some more new music, hopefully between now and Christmas. Our style has changed again. Back then, it was more pop side of it; now we're going a little bit blended dubstep - also rapping. Nikki and I are both lead players in the band, so it's making sure there's a bit of rapping, but also Nikki's voice as well: it's getting the best of both sides of that."
So is it hard for L.E.D. to gain access into West Country schools? Responded Nikki, "It's quite easy, actually. We thought it'd be really difficult to be a Christian band and get into the schools. First of all, you've got to get that first meeting with the head teacher. Once you've got that, they tend to love what we're doing. We're saying we're doing positive life choices from a Christian perspective, and they're like, 'We need that in the school'. We follow the National Curriculum, and we've got so much feedback over the last year - and I've been doing it six years - so we've got previous feedback from the schools, we come highly recommended. A lot of the head teachers are talking now, saying, 'We need to get this band in; they bring a positive message; they're sensitive with the Christian side of it'. It's proven to work, and the teachers are loving what we're doing."
Added Chris, "For the Ofsted report, when groups come in it ticks the box for 'spiritual ethos'. Going in as Christians, students aren't just doing RE out of a textbook, it's actually real life. The students see it as a real life, because having a faith isn't all about reading it in a book: it's about living it. We've always said we don't want to be a hit-and-run band. You plant the seeds in the ground, but they have to be watered. We will always work with a church when doing a school week, because then it means the church members can be involved on the concert night by stewarding the event. But also, on the concert night on the Friday, we promote a follow-up event at the church youth group. We've had some that haven't had a youth group; we've built up a youth group, and they've had like 30 people start going. We've had some where they've had a youth group of like 25 and they've now got 75. Students tend to think that church is outdated and irrelevant, but they really love the message. They're then introduced into a youth group where youth workers can build relationships, and it goes from there."
Nikki emphasised the importance of the internet in building relationships with their youthful audience. "We build relationships through the website as well. We have a lot of emails coming in from young girls having issues, so we use the website as a way of emailing the kids back, giving them advice and building up a friendship. We also have the radio show, Take It To The Streets, on Cross Rhythms Plymouth and we get like a hundred kids listening each week, so we're able to build that relationship. Because we travel around Cornwall, a lot of the kids go onto the internet and tune in that way."
Is there still a positive reception to the message that L.E.D. bring to West Country kids? Responded Nikki, "I think even more so, because the kids are so desperate. Younger kids have lost their innocence: they know so much more than what I did. They are so desperate to be loved and have someone hang out with them and say they're amazing the way they are. People haven't got time for kids. They get bad press, but if you take time to talk to them they're like, 'Whoa! Why are they talking to me?' They're so receptive just to have a friendship, someone that cares about them."
Added Chris, "We did a school week back at the start of June in Bristol, and 78 per cent of the students in that school live in poverty. The deputy head said, 'We'd love you to come in, but the last time we had visitors in the school, the students threw chairs at them'. The main thing is being yourselves: don't try to be something you're not. We went in on Monday, and by the end of the Tuesday they openly wanted to talk to us. They want to be themselves, but they've got a front up to protect themselves. The main thing is sharing with them, saying that, 'Someone loves you; Jesus loves you'. That's when the walls come down, because then they're like, 'Why are you interested in me? Nobody's interested in me.' It's building the relationships throughout the week, and you do see lives changed."
The final word in our chat together went to Nikki. "It's crucially important that L.E.D. keep their eyes fixed on the Lord because you can get carried away. We're in a band, and kids want to put you on a pedestal, but it's keeping yourself grounded in the Word, following what God wants for you. Sometimes you can look around thinking we want new music, we want this, we want that. But it's not about that, it's just about the message, getting down with those kids. It's really hard doing the job we do: we're on our feet constantly; everyone's watching us, waiting for us to trip up, do something wrong. But God's with us every step of the way, he blesses us, provides for us - because we're living by faith. It's a hard job. The teachers are sat there waiting for you to say something they can pick up on. You're in a massive battlefield, but it's knowing that God's already won the battle for you, you're not alone, and you always have to be open to the Spirit and how he wants to lead, to know how far you can go in the schools. My life and my purpose is to go out and tell people about Christ. What other purpose have I got? That's what I've been living for. For me, the lesson to learn, even though it's hard, is God is always with you, and is taking you through this. We're changing: we've got to change our character and develop as he wants us to develop."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.