Connecting you to God’s work through Cru
Amena Brown’s poetry helps draw people to Jesus.
- Author: By Amber Wiley
- Credits: Photographs by Ted Wilcox
- Published: July 24, 2012
- Ministry: Keynote
When she was a recent college graduate, Amena Brown was volunteering and working part time at a smoothie shop. “I was making $6.75 an hour, living in someone’s basement in Atlanta, and I was angry with God,” she remembers. Amena had been denied acceptance into a Master of Fine Arts program. “I felt aimless,” she says. But God had other plans.
Earlier that year, Amena had attended a song-writing workshop hosted by Matt Redman, worship leader and song-writer made famous by the Christian conference called Passion. He challenged the writers to try writing something all about God.
“I don’t think I’d ever tried to write something that was worshipful,” Amena recalls. “My poems were more story-oriented.” The rest of that year, she worked on a poetry piece inspired by Matt’s challenge.
That was Amena’s first step in using the gift God gave her to influence others. She is now a “spoken word” poet: writing poetry inspired by the rhythms of hip-hop and jazz, that is meant to be performed. Through her poetry and other artistic avenues, she has communicated the message of Christ in a wide variety of settings.
Amena worked on a worshipful poetry piece called You, and she was later invited to speak at Passion: One Day Link, an event simulcast to more than 20,000 people.
Amena remembers being onstage to recite her poetry, then walking backstage where she sat down and began feeling sorry that she had not trusted God when He closed the door to grad school. “I felt clearly,” she says, “that God was saying to me, This gift you have is Mine. It’s for people to know who I am. You be careful with this. Whatever you do with this gift, make sure it’s for Me to shine.”
“Here I was being angry with God for weeks, and He knew exactly what He was doing,” she says.
Amena began traveling with Passion, then other organizations and churches began inviting her to speak.
Yet, whenever she was at home in Atlanta, Amena made an effort to stay connected to the scene that fueled her enthusiasm for poetry. “I like to be in a room of people who are excellent writers,” she says, “and who also may not agree with what I’m saying just because it’s about God.”
One of those rooms is the Urban Grind coffee shop in Atlanta. Whenever a month has a fifth Thursday, Amena hosts an open-mic night. “This isn’t a Christian open mic,” she says. “I feel it’s important to be present on the scene here in Atlanta. People can say what’s on their minds—that’s the best way to share God’s love with people.”
Amena’s poems are mostly about life. “We have a blast,” she says. DJ Opdiggy opens with music, then Amena chooses an artist to feature. “This is about creating a place for people to come and be,” she says. “Building relationships, not beating people over the head.” The night is scattered with poetry, music and hip-hop throwbacks.
Though she’s been writing since age 12, Amena’s art didn’t make it onstage until college. When she moved to Atlanta, a plethora of venues were available to eager artists.
Amena attended her first open-mic night during her sophomore year in college. “There was this guy in the room smoking weed like it was the most normal thing,” she says. “I was a church girl and thought, Woah, this guy is smoking weed. I was scared but also felt at home because I was connecting with other people who liked to do what I liked to do. And they were really good at it.
“I told God, I want to be able to articulate Your heart in spoken word,” she says, “And I want to come to rooms like this and do it, because if I can come here and articulate truth, then I can say it anywhere.” Amena began praying, asking God to give her the words to say in places like that.
Amena asked her friend Matt Owen to be a DJ at Urban Grind for an open-mic night. Matt is a youth pastor but occasionally works as a DJ. “He did it so well that I kept asking him to come back,” she says. They became more than friends over time and were married in September, 2011. “My stage name is Amena Brown,” she says. “In my personal life people call me Amena Owen.”
Amena and Matt travel together as much as possible. Their ministry happens in a church environment, but also in “rooms of people who don’t believe like us,” she says. “We are called to those rooms.” With a varied schedule, the couple might be at youth Bible study one night and the next at the Smokey hip-hop club or an event at Urban Grind.
At one point during an event, a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru in the U.S.) saw Amena perform poetry, and she was invited to speak at Cru’s biennial staff conference in 2011. Amena also led an artistic workshop, helping pass on the things she’s learned about art to other emerging or current artists.
She was able to interact with staff members who asked questions like, “What does it look like to be an artist and be a believer?” or “How do I find my voice?”
Several staff members with Keynote, Cru’s creative communications ministry, attended the workshop. Keynote staff member Scott Naylor says, “In our ministry, art is beyond important—it is the fabric of how we communicate with people.”
Another Keynote staff member, Lindsay Smith, says, “Amena is inspiring. She reminded me of the importance of simply going to non-church events to reach people who don’t know the Lord.”
“I look back on my life, and my story with God,” says Amena, “and of course—like any young adult—I had seasons where I said, I want to do what I want to do, God. But, I could never come up with another way to live life unless I was living it for God,” she says. “I always ended up coming back to Him.” She decided that even if life is hard, she can trust God.
“All of the hard times in life have brought me to where I am,” she says. “I got to a point where I decided: Follow God or nothing.”
Now, from worshipful spoken word poetry to creating a space for art, Amena is doing just that.
You can contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
>Amena uses her artistic ability to inspire, influence and challenge people to think about a relationship with God. She does this in all types of "rooms." In what rooms has God put you? How are you using your abilities to influence the people in them?