My family and I had felt the Lord tugging on our hearts to step into full time missions for several years. I had been serving at a church as a youth pastor in Pennsylvania, but this leap of faith was a bit more immense. To surrender a paid position at a church and jump into self-funded missions was something only the full confidence of God’s calling in our life would allow us to do. With a family of seven, we knew that leap wasn’t going to be easy; but our faith was in the assurance that God is unwavering in equipping those He calls.
Fast forward several years and I was hit with the same familiar humidity that I had grown accustomed to in Florida, but this time I was back in India. It was September 2013. My wife and I had recently founded a cycling ministry–Ends of the Earth Cycling–and I had returned to explore opportunities to support youth ministry in the southern part of the country. Since moving to Florida I have become close friends with Mark and Shannon Koch, the founders of Ride Nature, as well as Ramon Martinez, the founder of a dance ministry called Pure Movement. We extended the invitation to have both ministries join us and I was so blessed and honored that they accepted that proposition. Three mission-minded ministries, founded and established at similar times, each with visions and values that aligned to bring us all together on an international trip is something only God could have ordained.
There were six of us total–a small team for sure, but boy did we hit the ground running! For two weeks, we used skateboarding, breakdancing, drama, and testimonies to share the Gospel with as many as possible. Between schools, hostels, villages, and churches, we hosted a total of 22 presentations and more than 3,000 Hindu children heard the clear Gospel message! I am still blown away by all that we were able to do in such a short time and with just a few people.
I can only imagine the prayers God was answering for those opportunities to all fall into place long before we ever even stepped into them.
As we were approaching the final stretch of the trip, we all were feeling the desire to bless our taste buds with anything else except some more curry. I would like to think it was the desire for something familiar, but for whatever supporting reason, we found ourselves in a McDonalds in Chennai. Much to our disappointment, the food somehow still tasted like curry and was far from the familiar McDonalds we were hoping for. While getting up to probably throw away his tofu hamburger, Mark happened to glance over and see a newspaper laying on the top of one of the trash cans. I remember vividly the double-take he took in shock at what he saw: an advertisement for a Red Bull surf contest happening the next day! As we studied the details of the article, written in Tamil, we realized it was only a few hours away from where we were staying outside of Chennai. The contest was being held in the small fishing community of Kovalam, along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. We didn’t know what to expect or if the detour would lead to any lasting relationships, but it was evident that we needed to go check it out.
It was refreshing to get outside of the city and be in a car driving faster than 10mph! With the windows down and the absence of honking and bumper-to-bumper traffic, we were on our way. As we closed the door to the taxi and began to walk around the dirt streets, we stumbled upon one of several surf schools there. Intrigued by the name “Bay of Life” we knocked on the door and were greeted by Showkath–the owner of the school. We were excited to discover that Showkath spoke English, and although he was a professing Muslim and his wife was Hindu, he was very open and willing to learn about who we were and listened intently as we shared about our time in Chennai and what led us there, all while organically intertwining the Gospel.
In hindsight, the way God works is so incredible. We had brought with us several new Zap skimboards without knowing for sure where we were going to leave them. After seeing some of the surfboards that the local kids rode on a regular basis and were even planning on competing in the contest with, we knew this was our clear answer. We were able to bless several of the local young shredders with the skimboards, a few skateboards, and even Bibles as well. After hanging out at the contest that afternoon, our time in Kovalam was cut short as we needed to head back to the city and get ready to fly home the next day. As we boarded the plane, we couldn’t be more excited about the seeds that were planted. We were excited to see what would come about from our time in Kovalam–we just had no idea what, how, or when it would come!
Several weeks passed after we returned to the States, Mark exchanged some emails with Showkath. They talked about the hopes of returning to bring some new surfboards for the kids we had met as well as their desire to continue sharing the Gospel in the community of Kovalam. Nearly simultaneously with the emails Mark was exchanging with Showkath, he received an email from another individual from India, Jose Victor. Jose introduced himself sharing that he had grown up with Showkath and their families were very close. While their families had two conflicting religious views–Jose’s family being Christian and Showkath’s family Muslim–the two of them grew up together as best friends. After we had left Kovalam the day we visited, Showkath called Jose to tell him he had met American Christians. As Jose was the only Christian that Showkath knew in India, he thought that it would be worthwhile to connect him with the organization. As Mark and the team began to get to know Jose a bit more, he shared how he had just graduated from seminary with a degree in ministry. He felt the Lord tugging on his heart to plant and pastor a church. Although he didn’t skate, surf, or have really any involvement in the action sports world, he loved the heart of Ride Nature and was anxious to partner. I would love to share the rest of the story, but for that you’ll have to watch To the ENDS episode 7. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” I write this to share that God is and always has been at work. Most times in ways we would never expect, using things that are far from what we would ever imagine. Sometimes even McDonalds!