The church that brought you Gospel Drill, drugs and weapons surrendered on the altar and the rehabilitation of hundreds of ex-gang members, SPAC Nation, is the subject of a new three-part documentary by award-winning channel BBC3 called Escaping Gangs: Jail, Death or Redemption.
The documentary, filmed over the course of 9 months, follows the lives of young men and women from tough backgrounds who have found a safe haven in SPAC Nation under the mentorship of Pastor Tobi Adegboyega, the senior pastor of the church. In turn these young people go on to mentor other young men and women who find themselves still in the life they left behind.
Pastor Kevin aka PK, was once a notorious ex-gang leader from Beckton with scores of young people under him. He was involved in serious violence, dealing of A-Class drugs and was in and out of prison seven times. Now, he is one of the senior leaders in SPAC Nation and mentors tens of young people who are desperate to leave the gang life behind.
Jaheim is a teenager who has grown up in the heart of Brixton. He began dealing drugs in his early teens to make money for himself and his single-parent family. Since finding SPAC Nation he has been taken under the wing of Pastor Kunle who has mentored him out of that negative lifestyle. Jaheim was encouraged to give up the drugs he was dealing and was taken in by the church into a safe house where many other young people live who are trying to escape that life.
Pastor Kunle has now helped to nurture Jaheim’s real passion which is football by organising and helping him to attend trials watched by scouts from various Premier League football clubs.
Evangelist Kim is a young woman who runs the prison outreach service in SPAC Nation. She visits many young men and women in prisons across London, writes them letters and prepares them for a life outside of prison.
She was ordained as an evangelist in SPAC Nation because she was able to reach many young people, find mentors for them and ultimately help them to leave negative pasts behind. The documentary shows her work in action with a particular young man named Nana.
In the last three years, SPAC Nation has seen exponential growth. The church congregation on Sunday has gone from an average to 300 people and exploded to an average of 1200 people – mainly made up of young people aged 16-35.
Pastor Kevin, said:
“I know what’s it like to be in that dark place of a gang because I used to lead one. But it’s that experience that has taught me best how to pull people into the light.
“Gangs are places where people look for support and brotherly love but find themselves in crazy, illegal and dangerous situations. But in SPAC Nation I have seen these same things without all the bad and negative side effects. The church taught me to use my faith, my skills and talents to leave those things behind and pull anyone else I can with me.
“I have seen the impact my past has had on people and even my community. Now I have this new path and still have youngers who look up to me but this time in a good way, I feel it’s my duty to be a positive force in my community.”
Jaheim, now 17, said:
“I’ve always known I wanted to do well in life but with the area I grew up in all I saw was people going to jail or ending up dead. I didn’t want that for myself. I didn’t want to be another drug dealer. SPAC Nation has helped me to open my mind to see opportunities beyond what people in my area did.
“For example, I’ve always liked and played football but I didn’t know how to go further in it. Pastor Kunle really helped to guide me on how to become a more focused person which is what I need as a footballer.
“It wasn’t easy to leave everything I ever knew behind to follow something that i wasn’t sure was going to work out. But i’m so glad I did because it has.”
Evangelist Kim, said:
“Quite a few of my friends have been to prison so I know it can be a very tough and lonely place to be. It’s the reason why I started to do prison outreach in SPAC Nation.
“I was always told a letter or a visit can go a long way to help boost the morale of a prisoner. But I wanted to take it a step further by actually preparing those who were due to come out by giving them a Bible, introducing them to leaders in SPAC Nation who were similar to them who could be their mentor and then actually meeting them at the prison gates the day they come out.
“This is so fulfilling for me because I believe those who don’t have this kind of support are often the ones who end up falling off. But the ones I’m able to reach I try my absolute best to make sure this doesn’t happen. So to see them grow from the day of their release to seeing them even get ordained as a leader in SPAC is a beautiful thing to see.”
Pastor Tobi Adegboyega, senior pastor of SPAC Nation, said:
“Knife crime, violence, drug dealing – all of these things stem from poverty, as well as a lack of love, support and a strong family unit. If society can fix these things there will be a drastic change in the future of the young people in this country.
“Here at SPAC our faith coupled with mentorship has been our winning formula for young people for years now. We have simply believed in young people and in turn they believe in themselves, that they’re able to achieve anything they want to with the right support system around them.
“More police on the streets is a good thing but we believe giving young people faith, hope and an alternative to the gang lifestyle is a better option. That is what we continue to aspire to in SPAC Nation which is why we have been able to support and inspire hundreds of young people, who have made a determination never to look back.”