Summer 2024

Jail Ministry Using Basketball To Change Lives Of Inner-City Youth

Sports Spectrum believes in highlighting local ministries doing awesome work through sports. Today we feature Pass The Rock Ministry as written by Brett Lake who serves in the ministry.


Watching her son get put in handcuffs was the hardest thing Jackie Montalvo ever had to do.

“I was destroyed,” Montalvo said. “As a single mom … I felt like my world came to an end.”

Last November, 16-year-old Christopher Montalvo was charged with theft and assault, he was arrested and held at the Union County Detention Center.

As Jackie puts it, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people.

She was heartbroken.

Christopher was released later that year and sentenced to one year of probation, but it’s what happened inside the jail that changed his life.

Christopher met the members of Pass the Rock, a non-profit, faith-based program that combines the game of basketball with Christian beliefs to equip, engage and empower the teenagers at the detention center.

Started in July 2014, Pass the Rock has made more than 150 visits which include a 40-minute basketball game followed by a 10-minute spiritual and life message.

Erik Olson, founder of Pass the Rock, said that God placed the need to create the organization on his heart after he was serving with a similar ministry called 4-One.

“With encouragement from my friends Gian Paul Gonzalez and Pastor Carl Lentz, I stepped out in faith and took the first step despite not knowing what I was doing. I made a promise to God that I would serve him and build his kingdom however he saw fit,” Olson said.

Three years later and that is exactly what Olson is doing.

The group visits the jail twice a week with around 20 volunteers, many of whom are a part of Hillsong NYC Church and also volunteer together at the church’s New York City and Montclair, NJ campuses.

The visits are exciting and highly anticipated, Olson said.

“Each visit somebody takes away something they never expected. It might be the kids, guards, volunteers or myself. The wonder of what will happen makes our relationship with God so much more meaningful,” Olson said. “Our trust in him has never be higher.”

“It gave me hope.”

Each visit brings something new.

“You never know how God will move in the prison and who he will move,” he said.

One of those people is Rashod Liggan, who was housed at the Union County Detention Center for five months.

He was released in January and says that Pass the Rock changed his life.

“It helped me out,” the 17-year-old said. “It gave me a second shot at life, it gave me hope.”

The hope came from listening to preaching and having conversations with the Pass the Rock members each week while inside the jail, he said.

Last month, Liggan again heard preaching, except this time it was with Olson, at church.

“Being in church with any of our boys is special. It’s a blessing to actually be able to follow through on what you pray about inside the jail,” Olson said. “But that is how God operates. Always following through on his promises.”

Liggan said he now has faith in his life, something that wasn’t there before his experience in the detention center and with Pass the Rock.

I saw a change in him.”

Christopher Montvalo, a sophomore at North Bergen High School, has now been regularly attending church with his family.

Jackie said they owe that to Olson and the members of Pass the Rock.

Before he was jailed, Christopher was very angry and shutting out everyone around him. But once he started interacting with Pass the Rock, the minister at the jail and studying the bible, that changed.

When she would visit her son, Jackie said he would say that he wants to improve himself and this is not who he wants to be.

“That wasn’t the attitude he had when he first went there,” Jackie said.

Olson now serves as a mentor to Chris and Rashod, and Pass the Rock remains a big part of their lives.

“They’ve been a blessing,” Jackie said. “Nothing but a blessing to us.”

Moving Forward

What the volunteers of Pass the Rock are doing is just being vessels of Christs’ love, Olson said.

“What they receive from those visits can change their lives in an instant.”

Olson wants Pass the Rock to continue to be an outlet for kids who have been led astray and reside in disadvantaged situations and give them an opportunity to succeed.

The organization also has an Alpha course, which seeks to introduce the basics of Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions, and will soon be implementing a life skills course.

“The game of basketball is just a hook to introduce them to a much more meaningful life,” Olson said. “There is so much talent and dreams waiting to flourish inside these kids’ minds and hearts. Our mission is to plant as many seeds as possible and continue to water them.”

After every game, win or lose on the scoreboard, Olson has become expected to proclaim that he is still undefeated.

“We can’t change nor save our kids, but we will constantly point them to the one who can.”

To learn more about Pass the Rock visit or follow them on Instagram at @passtherockteam.

To learn more about Pass the Rock visit or follow them on Instagram at @passtherockteam.