Pastor Caleb “CJ” Ketcham is reaching out to youth in La Porte through a shared childhood passion. His goal was to introduce skateboarders to Christ. In doing so, he breathed new life into Fox Park.
Have you been to the La Porte Skate Park? It is nestled in the back of Fox, in a private niche perfect for skaters. It is also a little too easy to take advantage of: the ramps were once vandalized and the lights shot out. In 2013 CJ stood at the abused site and prayed, “Is there something we can do here, Lord?”
Inspiration hit CJ soon after. He would start an annual skateboarding competition.
CJ, then a youth outreach minister working part-time for The River Christian Fellowship, forged a partnership with the Parks Department and his church that would transform the skate park into something whole families could enjoy. They cleaned up the trash. and put fresh coats of paint over the vulgar words and images displayed there.
“We were able to create an atmosphere of ownership and respect,” CJ says. “I want to instill stewardship in the kids that are out there skating. No matter what your beliefs are, you need to take ownership [of the park].”
The first competition, held that same year, was a success. Now, it’s a tradition. CJ has held the competition every year since then. He’s helped kids tackle stunts, ride safe and grow closer to God. Every week he would host a BBQ to attract more people to the skate park.
The only exception to his schedule has been 2017. It was a busy year for CJ. He got married and was made Senior Pastor of The River.
CJ co-pastors with his wife, Nici. Their church is small yet growing, a characteristic that CJ says allows them to bond more closely with their people. Under their leadership, the church is focused on three major issues in La Porte: poverty, broken families and homes and drug addiction. They are common struggles in the town and ones that CJ can relate to.
The 30-year-old pastor is all too familiar with the dark reputation skateboarding has. He was once sucked into the lifestyle, living and playing music like a rock star, and it was a rough path back to the place he is now. All along the way, CJ had God.
He also had skateboarding.
“You’ve got to fall to get back up,” CJ explains. “I remember being a little kid and seeing [the Ninja Turtles] skate. I got an old school board and would ride it around. Skateboarding is a rebellious activity, but we’ve made a place that parents are comfortable taking their kids. It is a great outreach. I want these young people to know that there is a God, he loves you, and he’s into what you’re into. That rebel attitude is starting to fade from here.”
Though Senior Pastor demands CJ’s attention for other projects and activities, he still plans to keep the annual skate competition going. He even has more goals for the park: it could use a parking lot, he says, and a drinking fountain. Vending machines for sports drinks or a pavilion for shade would be great additions too.
The River had a celebration in 2017 for the return of the park’s lighting. It was a $30,000 project made possible by the IBEW, another great partnership.
Other local churches have helped with the rejuvenation project. “It’s huge,” CJ says, “For so long, the church has been divided for silly things, so breaking down those walls is important. We all belong to the same God. What can we do collectively to reach out to the city?”
La Porte is CJ’s hometown and while he sees its faults, he loves the small town and wants to be another blessing in it. Growing his ministry and revitalizing one of La Porte’s many precious parks is only the beginning. As CJ quotes John 13:35, “The world will know you are my disciples by the way you treat others.”