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Churches take gospel to youth on in-line skates, skateboards

NEWPORT, Del. (BP)–On in-line skates or skateboards, by themselves or in groups, they would roll and spin over the blacktop parking lot in the small town of Newport, Del.
Then liability concerns caused the town council to prohibit skating in the parking lot, and it seemed the skaters, mostly teens and preteens, were destined to be treated as many of their peers in other communities.

But three local churches had a better idea. Bethany Baptist Church, Wilmington, Del., joined nearby Family Life Church (Pentecostal) and Peniel United Methodist Church to turn the parking lot into the Newport Skate Park. Now the skaters have returned in droves to navigate the ramps and bowls — and hear the gospel.
“We wanted to provide a safe haven for them to go to and mentor them in various life needs,” said Scott Adams, Bethany’s associate minister of music and education.
The three churches convinced the town council to lease them the parking lot for five years at $1 per year, then recruited help from local people and companies to donate the time and materials needed to construct the park.
“There’s a lot of kids in the community, but we’ve just not been able to reach them, at least by bringing them to church,” Adams said. “We realized that we were going to have to go where these kids are, to meet them on their own turf.”
The park’s manager, Mario Hristov, a 20-something Christian from Bulgaria who loves to skateboard, said, “It’s very difficult to get skaters into a church building. They feel much more comfortable in a skate park, where they normally go.
“They’re like a subculture. They have their own music, their own clothes, and it’s very difficult to reach them if you’re not part of their culture. In the skate park, they feel that they’re on their own territory.”
When he skates along with the kids, Hristov said, “the conversation about God just comes very naturally.” Hristov also helps them with other needs they express regarding school, jobs and dating relationships.
So far, he said, the park has averaged about 100 skaters per day. Insurance costs are paid through a plan in which skaters either purchase an annual membership to the park or pay a separate insurance fee in addition to admission on a per-use basis.
The park is the first project of a coalition the three churches have formed. Called Better Life Outreach Ministries, the coalition’s goal is to “reach out to young people in body, mind and spirit,” said Family Life Church pastor Keith Marvel. Future projects might include homework help, drug prevention education and sexual abstinence training, he said.
Once the winter is past, Hristov hopes to begin a weekly Bible study at the park. He would also like to invite Christian skaters to give demonstrations and share their testimonies.

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  • Whitney Von Lake Hopler