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Skating ministry helps save kids’ lives in northwestern Montana


Worshiping community offers meals, worship time and more

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

 KALISPELL, Montana – The darkness is very scary for many of the kids who skateboard here. Living in poverty they go to bed hungry at night, which is when the police or CPS come.

“They go to school the next day and they’re tired,” said First Presbyterian Church member Joan Siderius. “Because they’ve been on watch for danger.”

Siderius volunteers at Serious JuJu, a 1001 worshiping community for skateboarders — and those who love them.

“We’re an indoor skate park and a food ministry — a shelter from the storms and crisis these kids are having,” said the Rev. Miriam Mauritzen, community pastor of First Presbyterian and Serious JuJu.

On Friday nights, Serious JuJu, with the help of First Presbyterian and community volunteers, gathers in an old warehouse where they’ve build an indoor skate park for up to 75 kids.

They gather to skate and get a free meal. Then there’s worship time, which includes a reflection on Scripture, followed by reflection and prayer, in small groups. And then they skate some more.

Clay Taylor, who owns Spirit Skate Shop, says there are people in this town who don’t understand what skateboarders go through each day. Some struggle with drug or alcohol addictions and others live in homes where their parents are addicts.

“Then they get picked on at school — basically everywhere — for being skateboarders,” he said.

“What JuJu has done is amazing. Skateboarding is good for these kids. It’s a release for them. It helps keep them out of trouble.”

At JuJu, kids tell their stories. The Rev. Glenn Burfeind, pastor of First Presbyterian, knows about their situations.

“Nobody wants them,” he said, choking back tears. “JuJu is a place they can go and be safe — and be wanted and cared for.”

Serious JuJu is not only changing the lives of kids — it’s changing the lives of those serving them. First Presbyterian ruling elder Tom Esch used to prosecute skateboarders, thinking they were “little terrorists” and “vandals.”

“It was a big change for me,” he said, “to accept these people as God’s chosen children.”

Mauritzen believes that for many skateboarding kids, JuJu is very important. She sees them “living on the edge, falling towards life or death.”

“If JuJu wasn’t there, who knows,” said Burfeind, his voice trailing off.

One night just before he was ready to go home, Vlad, an eighth-grader, confessed to Mauritzen that his dad drank a lot and then got aggressive around him.

“He said, ‘If he hits me again, can I run?’  I said, ‘Yeah, you can run and go show somebody there’s a mark.”

It broke Mauritzen’s heart to send Vlad back to “hell” that night. “You’re never ready for that,” she said.

For Vlad, it was “like torture” to get hit the mouth and then have to go to school. He was constantly in the principal’s office.

But eventually he moved into the Flathead Youth Home, while Child Protective Services and JuJu help find him a new home.

“I met these wonderful people,” he said. “Jen and Dan, and they said, “We’ll take him.”

Vlad’s new foster dad, Daniel Wills, declined to take Vlad into his home when CPS first approached him. But then he heard how the JuJu community stood behind him when he was in need.

“Something in those stories we heard, the words, were enough to touch our hearts,” Wills said. “It made us see there was something bigger.”

Within two months of being in his new home Vlad was named student of the month at his school.

“It’s profound for skaters to know there’s a community that loves them,” Mauritzen said.

The people at First Presbyterian who cook and bring food, the men who work on the ramps and the new worshiping community Mission Program Grants, given by Presbyterian Mission Agency, have all helped keep JuJu running.

“You’re experiencing the fruits of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) right here,” Burfeind said.

Mauritzen said part of what JuJu believes is that on the cross a person can place all of their pain and brokenness — and that can transform into healing for others. So when she sees JuJu’s kids pouring out their hearts — and talking about what’s really going in their lives — they become sources of healing for others.

“That’s living into the gospel,” she said. “They give me life. I never doubt that this matters.”

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