By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
DAVIDSONVILLE, Md.—Loyal Thurman is a subcultural missionary. He ministers to a known, but oftentimes misunderstood people group—the underground young adults comprised of various tribes including punks, goths, skateboarders, the hip hop community, the metal music culture and the hardcore music culture. People from these cultures are often heavily tattooed and pierced. They may dress in all black, they may paint their faces white, wear outlandish hairstyles of all different colors or they might look like the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s. Their music may be the head banging, screaming metal mania that makes the old heavy metal seem tame. Overall, they want to see the world they live in change and they’ve got a youthful energy to do it.
A large group of these “Underground” kids and young adults attended Unified Underground at Riva Trace Church, sponsored by Hope for the Rejected, a ministry founded and directed by Loyal Thurman. The event features large group sessions and break-outs with speakers from all around the country and some of the top bands from these genres performing on stage at Unified Underground. The scene was frantic, passionate and dramatic as this community poured themselves into worship.
Thurman, a regular attendee at Riva Trace Church, said he started ministering to this subculture when he was 15-years-old. He was a skater and he started going to punk rock shows. He was enthralled.
“I saw youth in this dark room with their fists raised high and youth in the crowd yelling back. I realized these kids understand something’s wrong with the world and they’re angry about it and they’re saying things have to change. They see politicians saying one thing and doing another. They see school teachers that may look down on them because they look different while they exalt the guy on the football team doing steroids. “
As a teen, Thurman remembered sitting on the curb in Louisville, Ky., waiting for his mother to pick him up after a punk concert. It was there he heard God speak to him saying, “Loyal, who’s reaching those kids?” Then God said, “You are. Reach them.”
“And from the time I was 15 to 33, I’ve been reaching these kids. It’s my passion, my life goal. I don’t see it changing.” Thurman said.
Today Thurman is a church planter and a missionary for Youth for Christ, continuing to minister to the underground cultures. Through “Hope for the Rejected” which now has multiple chapters throughout the United States, Thurman and his other volunteers go to karaoke bars, tattoo parlors, music stores, concerts, and anywhere he feels they won’t compromise their faith, to engage people in conversation and invite them to Bible studies, or to hang out and get to know them.
Several years ago, at the “Alive Conference” in Ocean City MD, a large Youth for Christ conference, Thurman saw over 1,000 kids make professions of faith and God laid it on his heart that he could have that type of large event for the underground community. That’s how Unified Underground began.
Thurman invited underground bands, youth and young adult leaders who work with hardcore kids from all over the country for a big blow out conference/concert event. The three-day extravaganza is held annually in October at Riva Trace Church. It grows each year. Youth leaders and bands from around the country including California, Texas, Alaska, Kentucky, Ohio, Chicago IL and Florida participated in this year’s conference.
“I love Riva Trace for giving us the ability to do this,” Thurman said. “
Dennis Gray, pastor of Riva Trace, fully supports Thurman. “I think it’s fantastic. Most of those he is reaching out to will not participate in traditional church models out there now, whether traditional with hymns or praise and worship…none of them will effectively reach the subcultures he is aiming at,” Gray said.
Thurman got the inspiration for the name “Unified Underground” after reading about when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for unity. “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). “Unity in the Church points to Christ’s deity,” Thurman exclaimed.
Thurman is called to unify the underground and he wants the mainstream church to pray for and minister to these kids. His heart’s cry is to see this unity not just unite the underground but that underground ministers will be welcomed as coworkers in the kingdom by the mainstream Church so this unity may not just unite the underground but the entire Church Body worldwide.
The conference concludes with a joint worship service with Riva Trace and the conference attendees. Gray said it’s a great finale.
One of the challenges is plugging new believers into local churches. “It’s hard. Sometimes it takes five or six years before they’ll join an organized church. They have mental blocks to organized religion,” Thurman said.
He seeks support and prayer. “Our goal is to see all the underground kids in the country hear about Christ in their own language and to respond to it in their own way.”
If you would like to support or learn more about this kind of ministry, check out the websites below.