Urban Surfing Ministry: Reaching Teens, Growing Disciples
Story by Margot Bass and Sherri Rozier
Photos by Yuriyanna Puffer
An 18-year-old young man from Florida, who has grown up in the church, was ready to walk away from the Lord this summer—then he attended a surfing camp in Orlando, FL, in June. He admitted to UrbanSurf founder John Rozier that he had been “going through the motions [spiritually]” until God showed him during this year’s camp that his relationship with Jesus needed to be personal and individual.
“UrbanSurf was a turning point in my relationship with God—it rocked my boat. I connected with so many amazing people at church (Calvary Chapel Orlando), and it helped me to see more of God’s truths,” the young man later related. “I’ve become someone who [now] depends on and works for the Lord.” He is one of many teenagers who have grown in their relationship with Jesus through this unusual ministry.
“Most assuredly, I [Jesus] say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3b
Jacob Rozier (left) moves to the side as Maddox and Justice Taylor get creative on their surf boards at the UrbanSurf camp this summer. More than 60 teenagers from suburban and urban churches attended the camp this year in Orlando, FL.
John Rozier, pastor of Calvary Fellowship Germantown, an inner-city Calvary Chapel plant in Philadelphia, PA, started the ministry in 2012. It began with the vision of bringing the inner-city youth of Philadelphia to the beach, using surfing as a bridge to share the Gospel—teaching students how to handle the “waves of life” through faith, the Word of God, and fellowship with other Christians. Over the last several years, UrbanSurf Ministries has grown along the East Coast and has hosted surf camps in Maryland, Florida, and New Jersey. One camp was held this summer, in Orlando, drawing 63 teens from several states.
Peter Padron enjoys seeing Jacob Santillanes catch his first wave.
Faith Over Fear
Ironically, camp organizers chose the 2020 theme of “Faith Over Fear” last October. Pastor John observed, “Who would have known then that we would in fact have to walk by faith—and not fear—this summer of the pandemic? I’ve seen many different obstacles over the years, but nothing like this. The youth were in fear of the pandemic and had been isolated for months.” The 2020 camp came after much prayer and planning. “Man plans his steps and God ordains them. COVID-19 safety procedures were in place, and the youth and volunteers were ready,” John added.
Julia Roberts, a first-time UrbanSurf camper, learns the feel of the waves.
Life Lessons from the Ocean
“Before John met me, he’d never been on the beach, and he’d always wanted to go,” revealed John’s wife Sherri. “City kids don’t usually go to the beach like suburban kids do. My husband’s vision was to get them out of the city, out of their environment, to show them that God has bigger plans for them.”
John noted that some of the youth they work with don’t receive guidance or support from their homes. “UrbanSurf becomes an extension for them, a lifeline. God takes them from the concrete they are familiar with and shows them the ocean—how wide and deep it is, and that God is deeper.” After daily surfing lessons at nearby Cocoa Beach, FL, with professionals volunteering their time, the youth enjoyed games and studying God’s Word together. “They experienced not just the beach and surfing, but a true encounter with God for the first time.”
Christa Bray conquers a wave during the UrbanSurf camp.
Sherri elaborated, “When you get the kids out of their environment and put them in the creation that God has given us to enjoy, their ‘walls’ start coming down. They’re able to be transparent and share their hearts—where they’re at emotionally and even spiritually. God is able to pour into them.”
The campers may look at the ocean and feel intimidated, wondering how they’ll ever learn to surf, Sherri recounted. “We tell them, ‘You can do this. Give your fear to the Lord. Spiritually speaking, waves will come over you and maybe even drag you down sometimes. But God is still God; He’s still there. He’s going to carry you through that.’”
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
John declared, “We have seen many lives changed through accepting Christ. We’ve even seen a few of the kids dream of becoming black surfers one day, a dream they feel now may be tangible.”
(Left to right) Colin Gilbert, Micah Ramirez, Nicolas Adorno, Lucas Breznik, Noah Jestus, and Nathan Bowman take a bow after their hilarious skit for the first annual UrbanSurf Talent Show.
Unity and Relationships
Pastor John felt the Lord calling him to bring together suburban church kids and those from the inner city—often unchurched.” He recalled the dynamics of this summer’s camp. “At first it was ‘them-vs-us,’ and two teams had to become one. How does that happen when you have church kids stay away from the kids who are from the ‘other side of town’?” But after the first day, they began to interact. “By the third day, hugs, laughter, and true friendships began to form. They realized they were judging based on their zip codes.”
Friendships have blossomed between kids who may never have had a chance to get to know each other. “It’s like two different worlds collided, and now some are even calling each other and praying for each other,” John reflected.
(Left to right) Leanne Vastibinder, Jennifer Avila, and Stara Clanton worship Jesus after hearing a message about overcoming fear.
Witness by Example
John told of an experience with a pizza shop owner during the four-day camp: “The place was closed due to a blown transformer, but the ovens were working, and the owner brought out tables and chairs from inside. He made 24 pizzas and gave us dessert.” When the owner asked questions about the group, they had a chance to tell him about the surf camp held at Calvary Chapel Orlando.
John explained, “He was astonished at how well-behaved the kids were and then asked about God. These kids got to share their faith with him. He was in tears and wanted to know about the church—he wanted to visit. We witness sometimes in who we are, not [just] what we say.”
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Peter Reyes, a camp counselor, watches as Naomi Steffey carefully rides in on a wave.
Testimonies from Campers
“I will never forget how on the second-to-last day during worship, everyone started crying when praising the Lord. God was really touching everyone. You could feel Him and hear Him speaking through the worship leaders and the teachings. This moment was truly amazing and life changing.”—Gigi Bellomo, 15
“Going into UrbanSurf, I felt nervous and kind of empty. As I learned how the Lord feels about me, it helped me to feel relaxed and full of peace.”–Callista Scott, 12
“God really puts UrbanSurf at the exact time I need it each year. This year I had a lot going on with work and trying to figure out the next chapter of my life. I gained a lot of peace, clarity, and reassurance.”—Madi McManus, 18
“We all become so much closer to each other and to God. The teachers are easy to understand, but they also challenge us to really think about our walks with Christ. I just feel so loved and cared for by all of the leaders and helpers.”—Ari Ramirez, 13
“The teachings were not only relatable but understandable for me. [Even now] I remember the teachings every time I am nervous or scared about something. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”—Ethan Santillanes, 14
“It was nice to see old friends, but mostly I was affected by the teachings on how to handle fear. The speakers gave us ways to give our fears to God.”—Matthew Jestus, 13
“I got to meet some incredible people, make a lot of friends, and learn more about Christ. The worship, the teachings, the testimonies, and the people there made me want to become closer to God and grow in my relationship with Him.”—Abigail Howe, 14
“As a [UrbanSurf camp] counselor, I was so blessed to see ‘my’ girls grow in confidence at the beach and then see their transformation after chapels. The kids and the counselors were filled with the Holy Spirit and were a huge blessing after such a difficult time of COVID [restrictions]. The teachings were extremely impactful to my walk with the Lord, and I didn’t expect to be so blessed by them. … I believe God is doing powerful things through this ministry!”—Hannah Santillanes, 19
Pastor John Rozier of Calvary Fellowship Germantown in inner-city Philadelphia, PA, is the founder of UrbanSurf. Here he teaches from God’s Word on the theme of “Faith Over Fear.” Many teenagers from the inner city never get to the ocean or learn to surf.
(Left to right) Abigail Howe, Gabriella Diaz, Chelsea Hunt, Lina Modomo, Gigi Bellomo, and London Diaz show team spirit.
(Left to right) Jena Byce, Callista Scott, Anna Eaton, and Ari Ramirez surrender their fears to the Lord during a chapel.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.