Ministry Profiles / Quito, Ecuador / Skaters

Ministry Profile: Pews in the Park

Ecuador-3020On summer afternoons like this, the sounds of skateboarding have become a given in the Calderon neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador. The clap of wooden decks hitting concrete, the ping of metal trucks striking a grind rail, the occasional outburst of congratulatory shouts as a hard-earned trick is successfully landed; these are the familiar notes that drift down Paredes street like a soundtrack.

Today they are composed by more than 30 skaters of all ages and skill levels, whizzing back and forth across the large concrete court, searching for the next rail to grind or ramp to hit. Toward the middle of the park a few experienced skaters set their sights on a picnic table, taking turns launching off a two foot ramp and over the table while rotating their boards 360 degrees. With each attempt, success or failure, fist bumps are exchanged back at the wall as the next skater takes a turn. “Next time, bro. You’ll get it next time.”

Over the past four years, La Roca has become one of the best known skate parks in all of Quito –no small accolade in a sprawling city of 1.6 million with a growing skate culture. The reasons for the recognition are numerous: the quality of the park, the local news and magazine spotlights, and the fact that it recently played host to an internationally recognized skate tournament. But one reason stands above them all: This skate park is a church.

Twice a day, the activity at La Roca Skate Church comes to a halt. The familiar sounds fade as the skaters knowingly step off their boards and begin moving toward the center of the park. Grind rails and fun boxes become makeshift pews as one by one the skaters take their seats in a circle. As the laughter and chatting dies down, one of the leaders at the park, Manuel Ronquillo, begins to read from a sheet of paper.

“Sometimes we seem to forget that we are not alone in the battles of life,” he reads in Spanish. “Sometimes we forget that God Almighty protects us, cares for us.” The message Manuel reads lasts for several minutes before concluding with Genesis 28:15: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”

Dissolving the differences

By most standards, the words “skateboarding” and “church” belong in different universes. “In a lot of ways skateboarding is based on being illegal,” says Manuel, who grew up skating in Quito and now serves in ministry there with International Teams. “I think it’s that feeling of being an outcast, being outside the box.” It’s a stereo type that tends to attract youth on the fringes, perpetuated by the sense of being rebellious and counter-cultural. In a not-so-subtle way, typical skate culture tries to be everything church isn’t.

That reality makes La Roca stand out, a bit like a punk skater in the pews on a Sunday. But instead of accepting that dichotomy, La Roca brings the pulpit to the park.

La Roca Skate Church is, in fact, one of several ministry branches operated by International Teams in Quito, Ecuador. Collectively, the ministries are known as Youth World, or Mundo Juvenil, and each is focused on reaching out to the city’s burgeoning population of youth and training up Christ-centered leaders. It’s a strategic focus in a country where the median age is just 26, and especially in Calderon, which according to government statistics is Quito’s fastest growing neighborhood.

Brock Luginbill is La Roca’s founder and manager and for him it all starts with being authentic. “From the beginning, I really wanted to wear our purpose on our sleeve here at La Roca,” says Brock, gesturing toward the main sigh with the adjacent words “Skate Church” printed in bold lettering. “We’re not trying to hide what we’re all about.”

While the culture at most city skate parks could well be described as rough or unsavory, the culture at La Roca is different and it’s palpable. For starters, the facility is clean, the ramps are high quality, the skaters are respectful, and the caliber of talent is high. “Kids [here] are real about skating,” says Manuel. “Other places, you show up, skate a little bit, smoke a joint, hang out, get drunk, skate a little more. But it’s not like that here. Guys come to get good.”

Those differences, both practical and spiritual, have earned Brock and La Roca the respect of skaters across Quito, including David Holguin, a professional skater and the editor of the popular periodical Skateboard Magazine. “… If one thing is obvious at La Roca, it’s the peaceful atmosphere and comradeship among the skaters and newcomers,” Holguin wrote in the preface to a published interview with Brock last year. “The fact that you can enjoy a good skate session, celebrate a trick, help with the maintenance of the park, put together a new board or ramp, compete for a prize, and hear the word of God, all make this a very special place…I hope you guys will see it too. God bless La Roca and its skaters.”

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An unconventional family

Five years ago, La Roca Skate Church was nothing more than an idle concrete court on the property of a small community church called Asembleas de Dios in Calderon. “The pastors had started building this huge court and roof before even knowing what it was for,” says Brock, laughing in retrospect. “It’s just amazing how God brought the pieces together out of nowhere.” One of those pieces was Brock himself, who, as a small business owner with a growing family in the suburbs of Chicago back in 2008, never would have dreamed he’d be directing a skate ministry in Quito, Ecuador just a few years later.

“I honestly believe that La Roca was God’s idea, not mine,” Brock told David Holguin in his interview with Skateboard Magazine.  “But it’s a privilege for me to be involved.  Skateboarding and following God are two of the most important parts of my life. For me, having a chance to combine these two passions is like a dream come true.”

As Brock felt the Lord directing him to invest further in the skaters of Quito, a mother from Calderon approached him one day in 2009. “She said that she had been praying that God would bring an angel to minister to the skaters in the city,” Brock recalls. “She said it was me, but of course I told her that it couldn’t be. But she was absolutely certain. ‘It’s you’ she said.” The woman introduced Brock to the pastors of Asembleas de Dios, who resonated with Brock’s vision for ministry and offered him the large, concrete court on the church property.

Today, that once empty court boasts an impressive array of quarter pipes, staircases, rails, fun boxes, table tops, and even a half-pipe.  “We built it all together,” Brock says, looking around the park. “A lot of the guys had never used power tools before, but we learned, and we got better as we did it. We worked on it for about six months.” In the near future, the plan is to more than double the park’s size and ramp variety.

But ultimately it’s not the ramps or the amenities that make La Roca a haven and a refuge for so many skaters in Quito. It’s the relationships.

Ecuador-3004“We just want to be a part of their lives and help them walk through whatever it is they’re dealing with,” Brock says. Manuel echoes that sentiment: “A lot of these kids are coming from broken families. And I think that’s what attracts them to skate church in the first place. It’s a lot like a family.”

Outside of daily skating, Brock and Manuel help facilitate small discipleship groups with a handful of the most invested skaters. “The way I see it, La Roca is kind of like a ripple effect,” says Manuel.  “Skate church is a stone in the water and you have a lot of ripples that go out from there. So I have a couple of guys that I’m really close to and are really involved with what we do, and it goes out from there.”

One of those is a 14 year old skater named Stalin who started frequenting the park over a year ago. “He’s gotten really good,” Brock says, watching Stalin kickflip off of a box at the edge of the park.

Like many kids in Ecuador today, Stalin doesn’t know his father, who ran off to live in Europe years ago. “So many of these kids just need a dad,” says Brock. “That’s why I adopted what I call the ‘good dad policy’: just do whatever a good dad would do, whether that’s putting your arm around a guy, giving a word of advice, or just sharing some scripture.”

After months of hanging around La Roca, spending time with Brock and Manuel, and hearing daily devotionals at the park, Stalin grew increasingly interested in spiritual things. He even sought out a local Christian church to regularly attend.  “One day he just came up to me and said he wanted to be baptized,” Brock remembers. “We talked about it more and ended up holding the service right here at La Roca.” Since then Brock and Stalin have been meeting regularly to study and read the Bible together.

“I care for skaters like brothers,” Brock said last year near the end of his interview with Skateboard Magazine. “I want the best for them… to share the truth.”

As this bright, summer day winds to a close, the crowd at La Roca begins to thin and Stalin is one of several regulars left. For an hour he has been working on the same new trick, each time losing momentum and balance just before the end of a tail slide. At long last, his efforts are rewarded with a clean grind and solid landing. With a fist pump and a wide grin, he turns his board toward the center of the park and skates on, ready for the next challenge.

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Please pray for La Roca and Youth World, that the Lord would bless their efforts and open many doors for impacting young people across Quito. Pray that the Lord would be raising up a generation in Quito that loves Jesus and leads others toward Him.

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