Has a video ever stopped you in your tracks? When a friend sent me one of a man speaking to a young gang member on the streets, I knew we had to connect with him. That man was Stephen Addison.
In the video, he explains how he grew up on an estate in East London. Stephen was bullied at school due to the colour of his skin and being overweight so he started misbehaving. Eventually, he got kicked out of school. At 15 he was on the streets living the gang lifestyle. He was dealing drugs, committing robberies and fraud because he believed he could never do anything right. “Making money made me feel better about myself,” he admits.
With his life spiralling out of control, Stephen had a dream that he was going to go to prison for murder. In it God spoke to him and said “Stephen, if you carry on living your life this way, you are going to end up there but if you give your life to me, I’ll make you a role model to young people all over the world”. His parents are Ghanaian Christians so when he told his Mum, she encouraged him to do what God said. At the age of 20 he gave his life to God. Stephen says he instantly felt “complete forgiveness” and that with Christ’s strength, he could accomplish anything.
Starting to Fight
He started boxing and changed his lifestyle. “I stopped smoking weed. Two years later I told my mates about my dream. They just laughed it off” After 2 years at University, Stephen won the British Amateur Boxing Championship. The same day that he was on the back page of the Newspapers for winning Gold, 4 of his friends were on the front page being given life in prison for murder.
Stephen has spent the last 5 years setting up a social enterprise in Barking and Dagenham called ‘BoxUpCrime’. They work with vulnerable young people of all racial and religious groups across London at risk of having their lives ruined by crime, helping them through engaging boxing training, educational programmes and mentoring. He also now runs the behavioural programme at his old school. “Years earlier, they told me to never step foot in the school again and now I’m a governor of it,” he says. “But it’s not because I’m smart, not because I know how to box but because Jesus lives in me.”
At Chislehurst Youth for Christ, we are looking at how we can work with Stephen to establish BoxUpCrime in local areas and develop this as a model across churches. We know some people might be a little put off by boxing but we see its value as a means to tell disaffected young people about Jesus and give them a sense of belonging. I’ve noticed over the years that the best way to attract young people is through something that’s cool and boxing is cool.
This Summer, the local council gave Stephen money to run BoxUpCrime pop up events across London. On August 15th we joined with the BoxUpCrime team to run one in Mottingham, which local church pastors attended. It was a great day as the community saw BoxUpCrime in action and Stephen led someone to Christ.
We’re really excited about partnering with Stephen and the guys at BoxUpCrime. They’re passionate about the gospel and seeing young people impacted. Stephen’s heart goes out to youth on the streets, caught up in gangs because he knows exactly what they’re going through. “I’ve been able to turn the past mistakes that I’ve made into blessings – not just for myself but for many young people as well. When I encountered the Holy Spirit, He completely transformed me. That’s how I know He can do the same with other young people who are on the streets, involved in gangs and heading for prison or death.”
By Lyndsay Smith