Archive for Sunday, August 13, 2006

Missouri church ministers to skaters

August 13, 2006


— Neighbor kids always flocked to J.D. Dirks' backyard when he was going up.

It was fun.

J.D.'s dad was cool.

And everyone was there.

Today, the kids are coming to what Dirks refers to as "God's backyard."

It started with an idea passed on by missionary friends and was initiated by what the Rev. Dirks said was a divine call.

His friends told him of Skatechurch, a church in Portland, Ore., that ministers to young skaters.

"We had the space back here and I wasn't sure what to do," the Rev. Dirks said of the parking lot behind the Maryville strip mall where Calvary Chapel is located.

It was at a pastors' conference, he said, that "I got this really strong sense. ... God laid this on my heart, 'I want kids to be playing in my backyard. ... I want them to be welcome, no matter who they are, where they are from."'

"These kids, they're kind of in-between," said the 36-year-old former Marine, who skated as a teenager. "They're not scholars, they're not athletes, and you get this group of kids that are stuck in the middle, and unfortunately, they tend to veer off in other directions because they're left out."

Calvary Chapel is the only place in Maryville where skaters can ride their boards legally. It provides an option for young people who otherwise would face a summer of boredom in the small northwest Missouri town.

Before the skate park opened, skaters like Jerad Nun and Jon Rogers often tried their luck by skating on Northwest Missouri State University's campus.

"We go there still, but they kick us out," Jon, 15, said.

Jerad and Jon now skate at the park a few times a week.

Of the 20 to 30 skaters who show up every night between 4 and 8 p.m., the majority of them don't go to church.

Mitchell Bradshaw, 12, comes to the skate park almost every day.

"It's pretty cool," he said, stopping in between skates on the homemade half pipe. "I never though a church would have this."

Chance Allen, 11, started coming to the skate park when it opened about a year and a half ago. He and his family attended their first Bible study at the church, and have since found it a home.

"We liked it a lot better than our own church," he said, adding there's no reason that skateboarders can't be good Christians.

"When we first opened (the kids) wouldn't even look at me," the Rev. Dirks said. "But every once in a while, they'd land a good move, I'd catch them glancing at me, like 'Did you see that? Did you catch that?' And I'd look at them and smile and say, 'Good."'

Getting through to them will take time, he said. He knows that he won't reach all of them, but the skate park will continue.

"It's the little things," he said. "You have to build trust with them."


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