May 21, 2003
16th-century Anabaptists and modern-day mentors shape a young
man's life, lyrics
by Laurie L. Oswald
This is the last of three stories
depicting a recent conference, "Philadelphia Stories: Kingdom
Building in the City, sponsored by the Mennonite Church USA Historical
Committee (a ministry of the Executive Board) and the Mennonite
and Brethren in Christ churches in the city.
PHILADELPHIA (MC USA) -- Twelve years ago, Cruz Cordero's felt
the fires of suffering, as his family broke apart and he searched
for belonging on the streets of North Philadelphia.
Today, Jesus Christ is transforming those ashes into a life of
beauty, Christian rap music and the testimony of a 28-year-old
young man who finds courage in the stories of the early Anabaptist
martyrs to live his life as passionately as they lived theirs.
When he was a teenager his mother left his father, a gifted artist
who got involved in drugs and alcohol and turned abusive in the
home. That brought betrayal to Cordero, who had experienced a
relatively stable home and a father who cared. His mother and
two small sisters moved to Florida, while Cordero and his older
sister stayed in the city and roamed from temporary home to temporary
Like a prodigal, he searched for a home in the hip-hop culture
and answers to his questions about who he was and why he was
here. But he found no answers, until the day he ran across a
Mennonite girl listening to Christian rap. That's when he felt
for the first time that there was a God who would understand
his songs, his pain, his dreams.
"I was asking God why I was suffering so much, when I met
Rhonda Miller, a girl at the High School for Performing Arts
where we both attended, who was listening to a head set. I asked
what she was listening to and she told me 'Christian rap.' I
didn't even know such a thing existed.
"She handed me the head set and when I listened, I heard
words and music that spoke my language, a God who spoke my language.
For the first time in my life, I felt that I had God's undivided
Since that time, God has turned Cordero's trials into a faith
of gold. He is now a rap musician and college student in St.
Petersburg, Fla., and is connecting in good ways again with his
family. His dreams are go to Bible school and into full-time
ministry in Philadelphia, where he hopes to teach at a learning
center being developed by the Cross Movement Ministries. It ministers
to youth and young adults in the hip hop culture.
The transformation began after
Miller, the daughter of Naomi and Freeman Miller, longtime Mennonite
leaders in the city, invited Cordero to the Diamond Street Mennonite
Church youth group. That's where he became a Christian at age
16 and experienced the love and support of mentors such as the
Millers and other church family. Freeman Miller is the former
pastor of Diamond Street and bishop for the Lancaster Mennonite
Conference churches in the city.
As Cordero spent time in the Miller's home, their mentoring enabled
him to struggle through years of learning difficulties at school
and emotional difficulties in relationships. But over the years,
Christ has helped him to push through these obstacles and to
write the kind of Christian rap music that reaches the kind of
youth he once was, he said.
After he graduated from high school in 1995, he joined the Cross
Movement, a Philadelphia-based Christian rap group that brings
the gospel through rap to the city streets across the United
States and Jamaica. The stories he heard for the first time at
Diamond Street about the early Anabaptists martyrs have resonated
with his own story.
"I draw a lot of encouragement from those martyrs,"
Cordero said. "Whatever I've had to go through, their fires
were hotter than mine. Their lives were a reflection of not only
what we have to go through but also a reflection of what we can
be if we allow those fires to purge us and be a reminder of the
peace that can be ours in Jesus Christ."
The intensity of Cordero's testimony shone bright as gold the
night he shared a Christian rap song, "Onward Martyrdom,"
that he wrote and performed for the audience April 4 at a conference,
"Philadelphia Stories: Kingdom-Building in the City."
As he moved to the strong beat of the music, people heard his
cries and those of the martyrs. He poured his emotions into pulsating
street poetry depicting the lives of such martyrs as Dirk Willems.
He sang, "Facing execution this man was willing/ to extend
a helping hand to the man pursuing him/ to do him in, so those
rulers can ruin him/'cause was an Anabaptist who was walking
in unison/with the person of Christ, immersed in his life/ obeying
His sermon is what turned him into a furnace of light."
Naomi and Freeman Miller were two people in the audience who
felt particular joy over seeing God's love and light burst into
bold testimony through this young man, who has become their spiritual
son. Cordero received a standing ovation at the April 3-5 conference
focusing on the multiracial Mennonite community in the city.
Cordero is quick to recognize the Millers as his spiritual parents,
as well. "God has used them to reflect his love, and I am
so grateful," he said. "God has bestowed his love on
them, and they have chosen to bestow it on me. We all need to
be embraced and loved by people, as well as by God."
That love has taken firm root, as he is now an example to others,
Naomi Miller said. "Cruz has an amazing inner strength and
determination -- he never quits," she said. "We have
learned so much from him about perseverance in difficult times.
His unshakable commitment to Christ and to the Anabaptist vision
have grown very deep roots. ...
"He reminds me a bit of an oak tree sapling, which after
a long period of almost imperceptible growth, becomes an unshakable
solid tree. Cruz is like that oak tree. We could not grow for
him. He is the one who did the wrestling with God, trusted him
and kept on going when the road ahead looked impossible.
"He now mentors two or three young friends in Florida. They
are where he was a number of years ago and he wants them so badly
to see what they need to do to grow. So the baton is passed on
to Cruz, and he is beginning to mentor others."
Cordero has gained a prophet's voice, as well as ideas for rap
lyrics, from his connection to the martyrs. His mentoring is
full of the passion of someone who has known the emptiness of
the streets and wants people to embrace the fullness of Christ.
"What people need most is not to be tutored, counseled or
lectured," Cordero said. "What they need is a conversion,
redemption. People aren't wounded by sin. They are dead in sin.
Men and women need a resurrection if they want a relationship
"And I think the early Anabaptists have a lot to tell us
about not taking the teachings of Jesus Christ lightly, but applying
the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. It's not only a belief
in creed, it's a belief in practice."
Laurie L. Oswald is news service director for Mennonite Church
Contact: Laurie L. Oswald, (316) 283-5100, E-mail: LaurieO@MennoniteUSA.org