Aaron Witcher spent a lifetime in music. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, he was influenced by gangs and gangster rap until he became a born-again believer in 2000.
"I was listening to my little ones - 3 and 4 years old - rapping along with some stuff I didn't want them rapping with," he said. "At that time, hip-hop wasn't in the forefront. I asked God, 'OK, what do you want me to do?'
"He said I should come at it from a hip-hop angle."
Witcher, under his stage name SOULJA, Serving Only Under Lord Jesus Amen, brought that angle to Craig on Friday and Saturday, performing Friday at Moffat County High School and Saturday at the Ridgeview Church of God. More than 30 people heard Witcher rap Saturday.
Witcher, who has released two albums, is a youth pastor at The Genesis Project in Ogden, Utah, alongside Pastor Matt Roberts, who also spoke at both events.
Witcher said he uses the lyrics in his songs to try to reach youths who might be struggling to find their identity.
"The messages in my songs aren't different from the messages in the Bible - letting God use you, letting God show you the way," Witcher said. "If you have empty holes in your life, letting God be the reason those get filled."
Although hip-hop has been perceived as a negative culture, Witcher said it is one of the best ways to reach youths.
"It's all of these lessons from the Bible coming from a standpoint these kids aren't used to hearing it from," he said. "Hip-hop is such an impactful genre.
"Everything you hear has such a negative message, but through rapping, the kids can find out about me, my background and hopefully relate to that."
Roberts, 31, doesn't use hip-hop to reach out to youths, but he takes an approach similar to Witcher.
"The first thing is to focus, and to just let them know exactly who God created them to be," Roberts said, "because there are influences around them, trying to define them.
"High school is a rough time for all of us. You're searching for your identity when the world is trying to give you one. There are a lot of stories in the Bible about young people struggling to find their identity."
By recognizing where the youths are in their lives, Witcher and Roberts can make an impression.
Witcher "reaches the kids through his music - he's a rapper, and he's someone the kids can relate to," Roberts said. "You have to be able to reach their hearts some way - find a way to be able to impact them and speak to where they're at."
For Witcher, the person who reached him was his grandmother.
"She was my best friend, she really was," he said. "I was a rebellious youth, and she always tried to speak the Word into me. I guess she planted the seeds really well, because it didn't take until later in life."
Michelle Cramer, a youth leader along with her husband, Michael, at Ridgeview Church, said she was excited to bring something different to Craig.
"They actually wanted to come to us, and we're really excited for them to come to Craig," she said.
Cramer said bringing in outside speakers and performers was something new for the church.
"I think everyone will enjoy it - it's something new for the community," she said. "Normally, we have to spend our funds and travel for different kinds of ministry. But they wanted to come to us, which might be the most exciting part about it."
Cramer said Witcher and Roberts reinforce what she and her husband are trying to teach youths.
"They have the exact same message - we're all on the same page," Cramer said. "We want our kids to be excited with what God can do in their lives, and have fun while they're discovering that."
Ben Bulkeley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.