by Irene Luck
“WOW” – not only a term of exclamation or surprise, but when it represents “Wake On Water,” it is also an avenue to spread the Christian gospel message while teaching youth and adults water sports.
Wake On Water started several years ago as an initiative to engage youth ages 11 through college using wakeboarding and other water sports in a Christian-based environment. The program became a vision after the congregation of a Lake Anna church enjoyed a fun-filled family day on the water.
“We had the boat on the lake for a church picnic at Boxley’s Cove, and someone else brought a wakeboard and let us borrow it,” said Paul Snyder. “Over the course of the next couple of days, J.G. [Staal] and I noticed how being on the water and the challenge of wakeboarding brought our families together and how the relationship between parents and children grew stronger.”
Paul refers to the next phase as a “God thing” as the adults continued to be amazed at what a positive effect the outing had on their families and others. He and his wife Marie – along with J.G. and his wife Fredy – are the founders of Wake on Water, which began in the fall of 2013 and held its first event the following summer.
“We just looked at each other and we knew there was a ministry opportunity here, that this is no coincidence or accident,” Paul said. “This was a way to invest in youth, a way to encourage and challenge them, a way to show them there is more than TV, video games, and the internet.”
But how can teaching youth to conquer a water sport, ride the boat’s wakes, or overcome their trepidation about learning something new equate with spreading the gospel?
Paul and J.G. envisioned the ministry as a way to teach youth, both churched and unchurched, how to handle challenges in life. They wanted to do this the same way one faces the challenge of learning a water sport, whether it is wake boarding, wake surfing, knee boarding, water skiing, or using a new board called a ZUP. The only thing Wake On Water doesn’t use are inflatable towables such as tubes or multiple-person seats.
“We utilize learning the sport as a means to show them they have the ability and skills to accomplish much if they believe in themselves and allow others to help and guide them,” Paul explained. “It is a way to introduce the power of Jesus to them in a non-threatening manner. Our plan is to introduce wake boarding and water sports to youth in a Christian atmosphere: to teach them about relationships, trust, faith, and hope, using the Bible as a guide. We also want to use this ministry to impact communities by introducing Christ to as many as possible.”
Wake On Water events are held several times each summer typically on the “warm or private” side of Lake Anna, although Paul said they have met on the public side in the past and are open to doing so again.
“Generally, we gain access to common areas from churches or subdivisions and occasionally private properties,” Paul said. “Some of the areas we’ve used in the past are the waterfront service area for Elk Creek Baptist Church, Boxley’s Cove property owned by Frank and Hilda Boxley, and a variety of private residences on both the public and private sides of the lake.”
Each gathering is a day-long event starting about 8 a.m. Once a date is selected, the event is advertised in a variety of ways on Facebook and other forms of social media, websites, word of mouth, and more.
Wake On Water is a 501c3 non-denominational Christian ministry and charges no fees to the attendees, instead relying on donations of time, funds, food, and watercraft. Volunteers are necessary to run the program, and there are several ways to help. The Snyders have a boat, but others are always welcome, and the number of attendees is limited only by the number of vessels and operators.
Help is also needed to welcome and register the participants, fit each youth with the proper equipment, prepare snack bags for the boats, fix lunch, and serve as assistants on each boat. This involves watching the youth on the water as well as mentoring and ministering to those on the watercraft.
Paul explained that having prior experience, skill, or knowledge of a water sport is not necessary, and neither is the equipment. If attendees have access to their own boards, skis, personal floatation devices, etc., they are encouraged to bring them. “In fact, that’s part of the wonder of this ministry,” he said. “We love to challenge youth to literally ‘step out of the boat.’
“Matthew 14 tells about a time when Jesus walked on the water and then called Peter to come to him,” Paul continued. “Peter stepped out of the boat completely on faith and walked on the water to Jesus. We want to teach youth they are capable of so much more than they ordinarily think is possible – that with God, even the impossible is possible.
“It’s that challenge we put to the kids, to try something that to them may not make any sense,” he went on. “We want them to know that even if they don’t know what’s going to happen, there are people around them to guide and assist them, and a higher power that will keep them afloat.”
The ministry started out with four adults, their children, and a couple of volunteers. Their largest day on the water so far had eight boats with two adults and five to six children on each boat.
“We don’t set a minimum, and our maximum is only set by the number of boats we have on that day,” Paul explained. “So far, God has always matched the number of boats with the number of youth.”
A typical day for volunteers starts about 7:30 a.m. when they gather to set up the area and go over basic schedules and safety rules. Participants start arriving between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and are registered, fitted for equipment, and attend a group session to go over safety rules and instructions. This is followed by a group prayer before they hit the lake for a day of fun and instruction. Around noon, the groups gather at the “base camp” for lunch, rest, and a short message and prayer before additional instruction and fun in the afternoon.
“If people want to get involved, donate, or volunteer with a boat, etc., they can reach out to me through Facebook messaging (Facebook page Wake On Water) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org,” Paul concluded. “WOW is a registered 501c3 religious organization, and donations are tax exempt.”