I didn’t grow up in church. None of my family are Christians...yet. My only experience of Christianity was visiting a Catholic church every now and then, but I didn’t have a relationship with God or anything.
When I was about 14 a group of friends from my area started going to church. One of them started going and then others followed, and for a year they tried to invite me but I wasn’t having any of it. But then my friend’s mum invited me to a so-called party.
I went along and there were lots of young people, which I had never seen in church before. I really enjoyed it. There was something about the connections and the family atmosphere in that youth group, and they really welcomed me.
I carried on going on Friday nights with a few friends, and a youth leader repeatedly invited us for meals at his house, which kept us connected to church. That leader really saw a calling on my life. I had started playing the guitar a few months before and he gave me my first electric guitar. I began to play in the youth group, which is what started me on the journey of coming to church regularly because I had to be there to play guitar on the worship team!
I’d been playing for a couple of months, and one evening another musician who was a few years older than me took me outside and said: “This is more than just playing; this is a relationship with God. You should pray and ask him to explain what worship is about.” He was a friend, and he was pastoring me, giving me a bit of a talking to!
A few years later we started a prayer group at a friend’s house after a friend’s mum challenged us that we only pressed into God on Sundays. We committed to praying and worshipping every evening at 9pm. We had a picture that the house would be packed, but we had no idea how.
A year later our friend Nerada died of a heart attack at 16 and the day after the house was packed. I picked up a guitar and we worshipped together, and everyone in that house was either Muslim or had no religion.
People started crying and giving their lives to Jesus. A few people who were involved in gangs said they wanted to stop what they were doing and commit to what we were doing.
Nerada’s death had a massive impact on our area and it started me on a journey of songwriting. Before he died I saw his passion. Every time we worshipped he would be the loudest person in the room; the person who didn’t care about anyone but God. When Nerada died it was a really hard year. I tried to blame God for him dying, but then I began to see the grace in it. I saw much more meaning behind Nerada’s life.
The way I dealt with this grief was to write a song called ‘No other name’. I had never written a song in my life, but the bridge of that song came to me during a time of worship and then I wrote the rest of it in my room. The first line of the song is: “I’m running to your arms of grace.” In hard times people often run away from God, so it’s about coming back to God and knowing where his grace is, and that he uses all situations for good.
My youth worker has helped in making me the person I am today, and the only way I can repay him is by helping other young people and using what he’s given me. He’s still my mentor and still has an ongoing impact on my life, which is what I want to do, especially through youth music.
I’m now a worship pastor and youth worker, and I’ve just started a worship collective called Heaven Culture Music. We’re trying to equip 11 to 18-year-old worship leaders. It was mainly through music that I came to faith, and ‘heaven culture’ is an important phrase because I think the reason our world is so damaged comes down to the culture we live in, and we want to change these cultural norms through worship.
ASHTYN MICHAEL is a worship pastor, youth worker and musician.