A Pacific Northwest ministry is skating around the reputation of the region as the least spiritual place in the country by presenting the gospel in a creative approach.
Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries missionary associate Paul D. Lewandowski ministers to skateboarders in Portland, Oregon, through First Love. The skateboarding ministry launched in 2019 through Portland Christian Center (PCC).
Portland is considered the nation’s most unchurched city. About 42 percent of residents in the City of Roses self-identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey.
PCC lead pastor Ray M. Noah says Lewandowski reaches out to a unique culture in Portland: the skate community.
“Using his own skills and passions as a skater, Paul launched a church for skaters that is now reaching people where they are,” Noah says. “He is embedding himself as a missionary in this unique community, learning their culture and language, sharing the gospel in their setting through skate nights, and seeing young skaters and their families brought to faith in Jesus Christ.”
A former Portland Parks & Recreation skateboard instructor, Lewandowski, 45, became an ordained AG minister because he felt a calling to do more to be a conduit so that people could find Jesus.
“Being a skateboarding instructor was actually what turned the light on for me to start a ministry and begin dreaming of something bigger,” says Lewandowski, who became a Christian in his 20s. “A light bulb went off that skateboarders need a skateboarding pastor.”
Lewandowski’s wife, Heather, and their three children — Hayden, 16; Pippi, 13; and Harper, 9 — all are active participants of First Love.
Heather, 43, grew up in a Christian home and her father, Danny L, Briles, was an AG pastor. She wonders what Hayden would be like if not part of a Christian family.
“If he didn’t grow up in our family, who would be there to introduce him to Jesus?” she asks.
The ministry holds weekly Skate Night outreaches in PCC’s gym. More than 120 youths heard the gospel through First Love outreaches during its recently concluded inaugural year. Last year, a donor gave money for skateboards for foster kids who attended the Royal Family Kids Camp, and one of them started coming to the skate nights, Lewandowski says.
Judy Reetz, 72, notes that her 13-year-old grandson, Lewis, loves to go to Skate Nights. He recently accepted Christ at Lewandowski’s invitation.
”Paul’s ministry has reignited our prayers for the young and given us a fresh hope that God will bring more young people to minister to our young teens,” says Reetz, who pastored a Pentecostal church with her husband, Keith, for more than 50 years. “They won’t step into a church, but skateboarding is cool. We’re so grateful for the impact Paul’s ministry has had on our grandson and other kids.”
Joe Gruber, 49, a professional skateboarder, notes that Portland has thousands of skateboarders who don’t know Jesus.
“Paul and his team at First Love are changing that,” Gruber says.