A poster advertising a free skateboarding, BMX and hip hop dance event caught my eye a couple weekends ago. There wasn’t much information on the advertisement other than the essentials: time, date, place, a photo of skateboarders and most importantly, free admission! I knew this would be something my wheelie-popping, break-dancing son would like. I do a lot of extra activities with my daughter, and I thought this might be a fun outing for a mom and son.
My son, Aaron, was really excited to go and he decided to bring a buddy along too. Not really knowing much about the exhibition, my husband wondered if it would be an appropriate crowd for a 6 year-old. I said, “Well, it’s free. If isn’t appropriate we can always leave.” I was a little comforted as we pulled into the parking lot and I saw families with young children pulling in beside us. When we walked into the arena and I saw the middle-aged ushers all in matching baby blue t-shirts I started to wonder the opposite. Is this really the type of crowd that comes to a skateboarding, BMX show? I glimpsed a few t-shirts with bible quotes on them and what looked like maybe some church groups. That gave me a clue as to who might be sponsoring the event and I started to wonder about the caliber of the show. Not that you can’t be a believer and a good skater too. They just aren’t usually promoted together. As we found our seat I saw the stage, several ramps and some quarter pipes set up, so compared to our driveway I thought it would be able to give a thrill.
The lights went down and a hip hop dance number came on. The dancers were good. When they finished, the skateboarders came out and showed off some tricks. It was no X Games, but they were decent enough to impress my crew. The skaters were pulling out some gnarley “50-50 grinds, 180 pop shoves, kick flips, heel flips and trying hard to land “360 flips.” (I learned a lot of new skateboarding terminology.) The master of ceremonies (MC) claimed to be an old-school skater from back in the day and he even showed of some his own moves mid-show. He couldn’t quite keep up with the young skaters, but he did “pop an ollie” or two.
After a couple dance numbers and a skateboarding display and tricks from some local BMXers, the MC also shared his personal testimonial of coming from a broken home and heading down the wrong path until he accepted Jesus into his life…. Ah yes, so that was the catch with the free admission! A little evangelizing thrown in with some secular enterainment. But before anyone could get too uncomfortable they switched it up with another dance number, then some more tricks, then maybe a testimonial from a dancer and then a little video clip and so on.
It turns out that the organization, GX International has world-wide campaign with five different teams traveling in many countries in a crusade style ministry. Their message of Jesus’ Gospel is meant to come across in “21st Century style relevant ways,” hence promoting the hip hop dancing, skating, etc. And following up with a pitch every so often.
It was entertaining for the boys though and as the event came to a close, they were even more engaged than I imagined. The MC did a bit of preaching and then asked the anyone in the crowd who was ready to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ to raise their hand. Without hesitation two little hands shot up next to me. “If your hands are in the air, I want you to stand on your feet,” said the MC. Two little bodies jumped right up off their chairs. Then he asked all of those standing to come on down to the front of the stage. Aaron was making his move to head right past me and down the aisle. I had to throw in a block and he got pretty agitated with me. Why couldn’t he go down there? The stoic Catholic in me just didn’t want to join the throngs gathering around the stage. After a little guilt trip laid down on those left in the audience, the MC asked the scattered ones left in the seats to ask the person next to them if they were right with God. The boys did so, we all said yes, and I figured this was our cue to leave. We were all good.
I later learned that this “bait and switch” promotion is a popular recruitment tactic among evengelicals, who have a mission to convert nonbelievers. It has even been the subject of a show segment on NPR’s This American Life program.
We definitely took the bait. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I wasn’t necessarily disappointed. I think it’s OK to mix Jesus and skateboarding, just don’t ask me to come down and testify. The boys had an “awesome” time and were exposed to a different style of religous gathering. On the way home I was amused to hear them in the back of the car playing their own invented version of an age-old game: “Rock, Paper, Scissors, God.” They each had their own symbol for God and the rules were each person could only use him once, since he beats everything else. In our case, GX International might’ve considered it a successful crusade. A skater might even call it “gnarley.”