Ricardo McCalla: From dancehall act to promising preacher

By Lawrie Henry

Monday, June 04, 2018

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Ricardo McCalla was on the cusp of 'getting a buss', the Jamaican slang for breaking into the music industry as an entertainer. Many young Jamaicans, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, see this as a route out of poverty and into wealth and fame. But underneath the glitter there is often a life of drugs, violence and lewd living.

At 20 years of age McCalla, then known by his street name 'Bling', was the rising dancehall star of Skibo, a deep rural community in Portland, Jamaica.

“Our community is a very poor community, people hardly go out to work. They can barely read, they can barely provide for their families,” says McCalla.

Skibo was thought unlikely to produce anyone noteworthy, so the community was proud of their budding entertainer though he was poor and barely literate himself.

In 2002 he was poised to make a big career move — he was going to start recording his first album. The recording was scheduled for a Monday, and the Saturday night before that he threw himself into his performance at a stage show.

Aside from dancehall, there was another persistent influence in McCalla's life. His mother, an Adventist, warned him about what she saw as a wild lifestyle and encouraged him to attend church. He did attend occasionally, but had no intention of being baptised. Still, his mother's influence did help him feel a need for Christ.

He left the stage show that Saturday night drunk. He collapsed into bed but woke up Sunday morning under the bed with no idea how he got there. Badly hung over and vomiting, he overheard his mother praying.

“God, you gave me this boy but I cannot manage him. Take him Jesus,” she prayed.

Thinking she was praying for him to die, he felt angry and deeply unsettled. He remembers being startled to find himself surrounded by a bright light. The light started to move away and he felt terrified that he was witnessing the Spirit of God leaving him. He begged God not to abandon him.

“I knew at the time that I had to give my life to God. It felt like a life or death decision,” he says.

At the time, Skibo Seventh-day Adventist Church was having an evangelistic outreach series, a crusade, and that Sunday morning a baptism was scheduled at the nearby river. Without informing his mother, McCalla made his way to the church and told a church sister that he wanted to be baptised. The sister went through the beliefs of the Church with him. The pastor did the same and prayed with him. He would be baptised that morning.

The community crowded around the baptismal site to watch in disbelief as the man who did them proud at the stage show the previous night surrendered to Christ. No one was more surprised than his mother.

“She cried for a long time but in the midst of that she started to rejoice that God had answered her prayer,” McCalla says.

Things changed rapidly for McCalla after his baptism. For one thing, his illiteracy was quickly addressed.

“Because I was so popular and involved in the music industry it seems the church folk assumed I could read. They asked me to read a scripture passage aloud at the podium. I went not in my power but just to see what God would do next. I began to pick my way through the text. I saw the look of shock on the members' faces as they realised I could barely read.”

After weeks of attempts to read, a church member took him under her wing and within months he was reading without halting.

McCalla became Adventist Youth Leader in 2003 and then a church leader in 2004. By 2007 he married Nuvia, and was ordained as an elder.

The community no longer called him “Bling” but would ask “Mr McCalla” to help settle family disputes, conduct funerals, pray for the sick, or counsel wayward youth.

McCalla has been influential in the return of two of his siblings to the faith. He has conducted two church evangelistic series where five were baptised. He baptised three of these individuals himself through the Inter-American Division initiative, where elders are allowed to baptise those with whom they have studied.

Today, McCalla is studying theology at Northern Caribbean University and is set to graduate in 2020. He is also employed by the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at its headquarters in Mandeville, through its student work programme.

While balancing work, school and family (wife and three children), he continues to preach and teach and to encourage anyone who will listen to his testimony.

He declares that “I can never be ashamed to share the gospel, not after what God has done to transform my life.”

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