By Marilyn Stewart
At the Factory in Newnan, Georgia, teenagers come looking for "big
air" as they "ride the wall," but many have found a big God who loves them just
as they are.
The Switch, a ministry whose name plays off a popular skateboard
maneuver, is bringing the gospel to a group of kids at a place they love: the
skateboarding park. More than a hundred kids have come to faith in Christ since
the ministry got rolling in 2004.
Top: Alex Early leads Bible study before the skaters
hit the ramps. Above: Jamie Alexander, a regular
at Switch, does board tricks.
Fueled by the energy of friend-telling-friend, The Switch is driven by a
simple convergence of faith and lifestyle.
Alex Early, a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS)
and member of SouthCrest Baptist Church in Newnan, went skateboarding one day
hoping to start friendships that would lead to opportunities to share the
gospel. He never dreamed of what was to come.
Dean and Patti O'Reilly, owners of The Factory, had often wished they could
help the kids who frequented their park, but didn't know where to start. After
meeting Alex and learning that he was preparing for the ministry, Dean asked if
he would lead a Bible study for the kids. Alex jumped at the chance.
Though not involved in a church at that time, Dean was a Christian and
single-handedly promoted the Bible study, offering free skate admission to
anyone who attended the study.
From the start, the kids responded eagerly. Within weeks, more than 150 were
attending regularly, and the sessions were expanded to three nights, one each
for elementary, middle-school and high school.
They chose the name Switch because of its instant recognition with
skateboarders. Every skateboarder has a natural stance on the skateboard, using
the same foot in the lead all the time. Switch-skaters can lead with either
foot, similar to a switch-hitter in baseball. Those who can skate "switch" are
recognized as something special.
Alex capitalizes on this to illustrate what it means to become a Christian.
He reminds them that skating switch feels odd at first because the skater
performs the same tricks, but from a reversed approach.
"When you give your life to Christ, your world, family, school and interests
all stay the same. But how you handle life is different. Your old nature is
hate; your new nature is 'switched,' and you react with love," Alex tells
It's not uncommon for the kids to be misunderstood or teased by family and
friends. They struggle with how to assimilate faith into their world.
"Only Christ can empower you to do this," Alex teaches them. "It may not
feel natural at first because you're different, but your world has stayed the
Patrick is one who knows how things can "switch." At first, he boasted of
being an agnostic and heckled the kids who attended the Bible study. His
indifference to the gospel was bolstered by parents who also were antagonistic
A distrust of history was a key to Patrick's disbelief. He believed the
recording of an event didn't prove it was true. Alex gave Patrick reason to
believe in the reliability and truthfulness of scripture.
Top: Chris O'Reiley, a regular at Swtich, catches big
air. Bottom L-R: Alex, Zack Mickleboro and Camden Hogue admire other
photography by john swain
Ryan, age 19, is Patrick's best friend. He made a commitment to Christ the
first night he came to Switch with Patrick. Ryan is now taking a leadership
role in the ministry and is preparing to attend the NOBTS extension center in
"Thanks to Alex and Switch, I now know God and want to serve Him
with my whole life," Ryan says. He and Patrick dream of one day owning a
Christian skateboard company that incorporates the Greek word "doxa" or "glory"
into its logo.
"These kids are so much fun to teach because they are thinkers," Early says.
"They're inventive, creative and independent."
An independent spirit is sometimes coupled with an aversion to organized
events, including organized church. Alex is careful to connect the kids with a
local church as much as possible. But for those who resist traditional church,
the worship and discipling ministry of Switch fits the bill.
"For many of the kids, this is church. Parents who won't allow their kids to
be involved in church will let them come here and will even come with them,"
SouthCrest Church is the undergirding support beneath The Switch, providing
Bibles, food, fellowship and a network for pastoral support. The parents know
they can call on Alex or the pastor, Jeff Chandler, for help.
"Skaters are a subculture that many people want to stay away from, but we
see them as a generation who God wants to redeem," says Jeff.
The sense of community at The Factory affords many ministry opportunities.
The kids grieved together when one of their own died tragically. And, together
they celebrate victories in competition.
Alex points out that anyone can build a ministry like The Switch.
Affordable pre-fabricated ramps and minimal insurance coverage can turn any
church parking lot into a ministry. TheSwitch is a testimony
to what the love of God can accomplish through believers who are simply willing
"Give them a corner and invite them in. A youth minister wouldn't need to
know anything about skateboarding. Let the kids explain what they do. All they
really need is to know that somebody cares."
At The Switch, 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a verse they know well. They
understand that "the switch" is more than just a name of an event or group,
it's the "new creation" that happens in the life of every believer.
Marilyn Stewart is a writer living in New Orleans,
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC