I was introduced to Hafeez Baoku on Facebook. I put out a premature call for male, Christian writers and one of my loyal readers suggested that I meet him. When I sent him a message explaining that I was looking for someone to write the male counterpart to my upcoming book on sexual purity for women, I had no idea that he was already in the process of publishing a book on the same topic. Since then, I’ve been featured on his site, The Urban Gospel Mission and we’ve established a partnership that is only beginning. The following interview provides a mere glimpse into this intriguing man of God. Enjoy!
Who are you?
Who am I? That’s great question. It’s a question I’m struggling to answer myself. My name’s Hafeez Baoku. I’m 22 years old. I’m single and am a believer first, disciple-maker second. Pre-school teacher. Football coach. Founder of The Urban Gospel Mission. I guess that’s some of me. One word that would describe me is zealous. I’m extremely zealous. If there’s something that I’m passionate about, I will go all in and go a hundred miles an hour to achieve that goal.
What was the vision behind Urban Gospel Mission?
The overarching vision was to build a bridge between the Gospel and urban culture. In my junior year of college, I was living with a lot of African-American men—I’m really passionate about discipling and raising up men of the next generation—I was building up with some of these guys and I just felt like there wasn’t many things I could point them to.
I’d be like, “Yo, listen to this sermon” and it would be by a white guy. “Yo, read this book.” It was a book by a white guy. “Yo, read this article.” It was an article by a white guy. There weren’t many things that were engaging to them. The only thing they were engaged by was World Star Hip Hop. That was it. That’s all that was for them.
So I really wanted to show them that Christ isn’t some person that your grandma likes because she’s got nothing better to do with her time. He’s the God of all. And He’s relevant and prevalent in all of culture. So that was my heart, just trying to put these resources, articles and videos, up to equip young adults in urban contexts to become Believers and walk righteously in their day-to-day lives.
Can you outline the journey from the site’s inception until now? What was the process like? How many views have you gotten and how did you promote it?
The Urban Gospel Mission was founded on December 31, 2011. It went live on Jan. 1, 2012 and it’s been a super awesome journey. I just created the website and started sending articles to all my friends. “Aye, read this. Read that.” A lot of it was local and then I tried to expand. I probably called at least 20 churches in my area and told them about the site. At one point, I contacted a whole bunch of campus ministries and told them about it.
Almost every single one of these things fell through. No matter what, every single person that I contacted hit me back saying, “NO, we’re not interested in this,” or “We would love to know more.” But after that initial conversation, I would never hear from them again. It was crazy. We went through that for almost six months, but we were faithful. We were writing almost every single day, putting out articles and other content. I did a lot of networking. Every time I heard about a ministry or another Believer who was getting it in for the Lord, I reached out to them about the website. That’s been our main means of reaching people.
At one point last year, we were averaging maybe 2,000 unique views a month. And now we’re pumpin’ like 10,000 unique views. So God has been doing a lot of the work. My biggest issue, to be honest with you, is judging success. I have an idea—I’m sorry, I like to ramble.
No, this is good!
When you compare success, it’s a very dangerous thing, especially when you’re doing urban ministry. Urban ministry is predominately minority majority, mainly African-American and Latino. My context is majority African-American.
African-Americans make up 16% of the U.S. population. African-Americans who are interested in spiritual things make up even less of the population. White America makes up roughly 60-70%. Because of that, if I’m making a website to reach white people—not to make this about race—I’m pulling from 60% of the population. If I’m pulling from Black people, I’m pulling from 16%. Success looks differently depending on where you’re coming from. Therefore, determining success is something I’ve had to wrestle with.
The purpose of having a big platform is to reach people, but God is the one who ordains who you’re called to reach. How do I not know that the purpose of the Urban Gospel Mission is to reach one person? Therefore, it makes no sense for me to get frustrated because I don’t have enough viewers, when in reality that’s not what God has called me to do. But because my heart’s not lined up with the will of God, I’m angry and God’s like, “You’re striving for worldly success.” That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve worked on. Even though we’re growing and God’s blessing us, I’m really just trying to find out who God is calling me to reach.
I remember one time I was really frustrated with UGM. I was angry because people weren’t reaching out. I had no major ministries backing me up. I didn’t even have my church backing me. I was just really angry. About a year ago we wrote an article on pornography and, once a month, someone will send us an email like, “Man, thank you so much for the article; it changed my life. I’ve been struggling with this for years and I’ve been in the dark with this for years. Thank you so much.”
This happens almost every month. But in my heart I was like, “God, I’m not reaching enough people. I’m not doing enough.” But NO, look what you’re doing. You’re reaching one person! And so while the vision has been to reach urban culture, I really want to reach who God has called me to and be content regardless of the results. That’s been the biggest struggle and I still struggle with that today.
Thank you for sharing. As a blogger, I can definitely relate. It’s been an interesting process for me as well so I really appreciate that. Can you talk a bit about your book and discuss what made you want to write it?
It’s so weird because my book has went through so many phases. I started off wanting to write for one reason and then it just turned out to be completely different. My book is called Real Intimacy: The Truth About Sex for Singles Who Think About It. The purpose of the book is to teach singles how to experience sexual satisfaction and wholeness in Christ through any season in life.
It plays off of three major concepts: sexual satisfaction, sexual wholeness, and my life story. I grew up in Atlanta where everybody’s Christian and nobody’s Christian. I grew up in an extremely promiscuous city, like extremely promiscuous.
I became a Believer when I was 19. And before that, me and my friends were extremely promiscuous. We had a totally screwed up view of sex, women, and all that good stuff. When I became a Believer, God grabbed my heart and really redeemed that area of my life. But a lot of my friends struggled and still struggle today in that area.
A lot of times in Christian-dom, the conversation is “Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do that,” which is true, but the issue is that you don’t follow God because of the consequences of your actions. You follow God because of the joy set before you. If you’re teaching sexual purity or anything about sex and you’re focusing on what not to do and you’ll get in trouble, you’re destroying people and pushing them away. If I’m preaching that you’re going to hell and I’m not preaching the Good News that Jesus came to save you, I’m not doing you any good.
I found that people don’t respect Christian sermons on sex because they tend to focus on sin and all of the negatives. The goal is Christ. And with Christ comes satisfaction, joy, wholeness, peace and comfort. I thought it would be a better discussion to bring the focus back to God and less on sin. So when I wrote it, I wrote it with that in mind.
I wrote the book for my friends who are struggling to be faithful to God in their sexuality. And for the women living in a sex-saturated culture, where there’s all this pressure to have sex or else you won’t get a man. My book speaks to those people and to those issues.
Did you struggle at all in deciding how transparent you wanted to be with your readers?
No! If you truly understand the Gospel message, you understand that every single person is a wicked sinner. Romans 3:10-19, 23. Ephesians 2:1-8. All throughout scripture, it paints a picture—Jeremiah 17:9—that man’s heart is especially wicked; who can know it? If you understand that, you have confidence that everybody is struggling. Not just me.
I don’t wanna say this. But guess what? Someone’s already thinking it. I don’t want tell people that I did this. But guess what? Someone else has already done it or is still struggling with it. The goodness of the Gospel is that God loves me, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what Christ has done. So my identity is not who I am on my worst day, but who Christ was every day, which is a perfect, blameless creation. So that’s what I find my identity in.
I have no problem telling you about my past because that’s not who I am; that’s who I was. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” Yo, that was who I used to be. Now I’m a Believer, I’m a saint.
Sharing more details helps people who are still struggling to overcome. Honestly, I was nervous about my parents reading the book, but I knew more so that there was a kid who was struggling and he or she needed me to be as honest as possible in order for them to experience a true understanding of God’s love and forgiveness for all, regardless of what they’ve done. I just tried to be as transparent as possible.
I’m with you 100%. I wish more people would think like that. As a writer, I’m curious to know what your writing process was like. And what was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome in order to finish the book?
I actually don’t enjoy writing, but no one will hear me talk so I have no choice but to write. When I write, I write the way I talk and I write the way I think. I’m constantly writing with both a believer and non-believer in mind. I try to wrestle with ideas as much as possible. I sit down and I just write. I don’t outline. I just write whatever’s on my heart. I remember the first time I wrote it, I wrote 10,000 words in one day. And then I just built upon that. I wrote every two weeks. And then I actually threw out the whole book and rewrote it.
I threw away my first book in December and then rewrote it. What really helped me is research. I Googled books about sex and I read almost every single one. Obviously, there were things I had to skip because it wasn’t appropriate or edifying for me. I read 20-30 Christian books about sex and after reading all of them, I wrote and I thought, “This is good. I need to tell people about this.” So that’s how the process went. I gave it to people and they’d tell me, “Oh, that sucks. Do this.” I’d say, “Ok, great!” Talking to people really helped. When you talk to people, they squeeze your brain and writer’s block goes away.
The biggest obstacle was the discouragement from publishing. Publishing is a huge catch 22. Book companies don’t read unsolicited manuscripts. If you’re not a previous author or if you’re not represented by an agent, they won’t read your book. In order to get your book into their hands, you’ve got to give it to an agent, but most agents don’t take you on unless you’ve published a book. The publishing company said I needed an agent. The agent said I needed a publishing company. That was extremely frustrating. And then there’s the waiting game.
Imagine sitting down for three months straight waiting by the computer, not knowing the day or the hour, only to get rejected. [Laughs] Breaking into the publishing industry is not for the faint of heart.
Where are you at now in the process?
By God’s grace, my pastor’s actually partnering with Moody Publishers. Moody is a Christian publishing company and they’re currently trying to publish books from an urban perspective. I got in touch with an editor there and she reviewed my book. It was really disheartening because she rejected it. That was one of the worst days of the year for me. I waited 4 weeks for the proposal and 6 weeks for the full manuscript. I waited 10 weeks in total to get a “no” and had to start all over again.
My friend’s company is partnering with Crossway Publishers so he’s going to send my proposal in to them. CLC Publishers recently expressed interest and they’re reviewing my book right now. So, I’m waiting on CLC. Meanwhile, my editor is finishing up and then I’ll send the latest version to Crossway and Moody. I’m just praying, trusting God and being faithful through the process.
Where do you see yourself and Urban Gospel Mission in 5 years? And what’s next in your immediate future?
First, I would like to be married. Marriage is something that I desire really bad. Second, I want to have my book published and to hear dozens of stories about how much it’s impacting people. Third, I want to be in a position where I am about to plant a church. Behind getting married, I really want to pastor.
In five years I want The Urban Gospel Mission to be what I originally intended it to be: 80% videos and 20% articles. I want to have a huge online video presence because that’s the best way to engage urban context due to the culture that World Star Hip Hop has created. I would also like to pass on The Urban Gospel Mission to another crazy, super-zealous cat who will lead it faithfully and bring Christ to the next generation.
Be sure to check out The Urban Gospel Mission the next time you’re online. Thank you for reading!