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Youth Outreach Goes All "Ninja Warrior"

Mimicking the television program American Ninja Warrior, United Student Ministries of Coweta (Oklahoma) Assembly of God held its own United Ninja Warrior outreach to students in its community.

Reaching out to youth with ninja warriors? Although some might see the limited benefits of using ancient ninja techniques to stealthily approach and "invite" teens to a youth group event, the United Student Ministries youth program at Coweta (Kah-Wee-Tah) Assembly of God had another -- and much more user-friendly -- ninja idea in mind.

"Our student leadership team was brainstorming events we could hold," explains Dustin Ullrich, youth minister at Coweta AG, located about 25 miles southeast of Tulsa, Oklahoma. "They came up with the idea of having our own ninja warrior challenge based off of the TV show, American Ninja Warrior."

American Ninja Warrior is a highly popular NBC television reality show that pits men and women from all walks of life against the clock and a race course that features multiple physical challenges that require a mixture of agility, strength, stamina, and mental toughness to complete.

Ullrich quickly caught the students' vision about the appeal and potential impact of the outreach. So, being "handy with tools," he set to work creating the United (Student Ministries) Ninja Warrior obstacle course challenge.

Students promoted the event at their schools and joined with Ullrich in using all the social media channels. Ullrich also makes himself available to students by regularly visiting the school campuses. He explains by being visible and available, students, even those who may not know him, become comfortable with him, hopefully making it easier for students to feel comfortable checking out one of the youth group's many activities.

Ullrich completed the United Ninja Warriors course in time for the Sept. 9 event -- the two-stage course was no cakewalk. The first stage started with the quintuple-step [angled] agility board run, followed by steppingstones, a rope swing, and a wall run-and-leap. The second stage was quite a bit more difficult as it had a 20-foot slack line crossing, a 6-foot static peg board crossing connected to a 6-foot movable pegs crossing, a 12-foot-long suspended I-beam crossing, and a 15-foot rope climb.

"We had 20 participants make it through to stage two," Ullrich says. "The goal was whoever made it through both stages the fastest or made it the farthest through the course would win a $100 gift card."

"It was a lot of fun," says 14-year-old Blake McDonald, who attends the youth group. "It was something different that people don't normally think about doing at a church, so more people were interested in coming . . . plus, I got to show off my ninja skills."

Brooklyn Jones, 14, and a member of the youth group's leadership team, was excited about the outreach. "I brought a friend with me that normally wouldn't attend church, but was interested in the event," she says. "We should definitely do it again."

Ullrich says about 90 students attended the event, with many asking when they would hold the United Ninja Warrior challenge again. "What was neat was even the kids who didn't participate in the obstacle course were really enjoying themselves and having fun watching -- even they were asking when we would do it again," Ullrich says. "So, it really was an event for everyone."

However, for Ullrich, what took place before the challenge even began was by far more meaningful.

"Before the competition, we held a service and I gave a message about how sin entangles us," Ullrich says. Using a single strand of yarn, he had a student demonstrate how it wasn't too difficult to break free. "But then I took about five feet of yarn and wrapped his wrists in it and even with help from a friend, he couldn't break free. We think we can handle a little bit of sin, but sin quickly entangles us to the point we become spiritually bound and even comfortable with being entangled, but it's only Jesus Who can set us free!"

Following the message, Ullrich said three students chose to accept Christ as their personal Savior, with two of them being first-time guests and the other being a student who had only been coming a few weeks.

"I thought the message was great," Jones says. "It's good to be reminded that we can so easily get more and more wrapped up in sin without noticing sometimes."

McDonald agrees. "Sometimes we think a little sin is ok, so we just let it go, but if we don't take care of the sin in our life we can end up bound by it. God does not want us to live like that."

Ullrich says that the youth try to do several big events a year in addition to smaller events, such as "Fifth Quarter" parties that take place after home football games.

"Students we're reaching out to often come just for the fun and the food," Ullrich says, "but at every event we're able to plant seeds of faith. It may only take a few minutes or it could take years, but God's Word has been planted and one day, it will take root in their hearts and lives!"

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.