Ninja for Jesus: Pastor’s Kid Climbs, Swings, Jumps into National Spotlight
By Carl Stagner
You’re on the clock. Your heart’s pumping hard due to the physical exertion required, not to mention the rush of adrenaline that comes with competition. A crowd is examining your every move, and ultimately eyes across the country and places far beyond will be glued to the TV screen, watching you. Caleb Bergstrom knows the feeling firsthand, enjoying remarkable success this year on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. The grandson of influential pastor Don Bergstrom, son of Church of God ministers Jason and Kathy Bergstrom, and genuine Jesus-guy himself, Caleb takes it all—including the national spotlight—in stride.
Caleb and his family moved to Florida in 2014 so his mom could be a caregiver for his grandma. Television access had been limited growing up at home, but Grandma had cable! Must-see TV soon included Cupcake Wars, Say Yes to the Dress, and American Ninja Warrior. While enjoying access to these reality shows, Caleb’s mom suggested the family build an obstacle course for fun in the backyard. Little did she know the impact of such a seemingly innocuous idea.
“We built the course and invited friends over to the house for ‘Pancakes and Ninja,’” Caleb recalls. “We would share breakfast together and then try out the course. That was how it all got started. Soon we’d set up a new course, and then another one. The whole thing just got bigger from there, so we decided we should open a facility for it After lots of time in prayer about it, my dad passed by a banquet hall available for lease, turned around in response to what he believed was God giving direction, and then we turned it into a gym.”
The year was 2018. The family was now into all things ninja. Caleb’s dad runs the gym and competes, too, not to mention Caleb’s sister Caitlyn and her husband David, in addition to Caleb’s wife today. Her name is Ashley. Jesus is Lord and Savior of each and, for each, that fact matters more than anything else.
“I train because I love the sport,” Caleb says. “I love doing and building obstacles, which really helps me be motivated to continue to train hard. But we also have a community around it all, and I love people. I see my purpose in life, especially, is to invest in young men. I do Bible studies with them. I want to be a light for them. Thankfully, I also have a family that cheers me on. I simply wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
The family has been involved in traditional and nontraditional churches, with Caleb’s parents at the helm of organizing a faith community surrounding (and meeting, at times, in) the gym. Lately, Caleb says his dad has been actively involved in developing church leaders in the Tampa Bay area and connecting these pastors with each other. From such a context, it’s no wonder Caleb had the support he needed when he knew it was time to try out for American Ninja Warrior.
“It wasn’t that long into training, probably just a year, when I realized I could compete,” Caleb recalls. “There are a lot of local competitions you can do, and an American Ninja League finals that I qualified for the first time I tried. I realized I could do it if I trained really hard.”
This year’s successful run on American Ninja Warrior wasn’t his first attempt, but it was his best. As it turned out, this third try at victory on national TV was the charm for Caleb Bergstrom.
“I knew I was on national TV, but that wasn’t my focus,” Caleb remembers of the experience. “My focus was on performing well. In my second season I did quite poorly and had to shift my mindset. I felt like this was an opportunity, not only to succeed in competition, but also a chance for people to ask me questions about my faith. Of course the TV show doesn’t air the parts about our house church or God, but people still ask about it. And I’ll tell them.”
The physical demands of ninja training may seem too high to climb, too difficult to swing, and too far to jump, but Caleb insists almost anyone can do it—especially if starting small and simple.
“You’ll surprise yourself,” he explains. “Though kids are usually the ones trying this stuff, we actually have a lot of parents coming in. We even had a “no-pros” competition. Everyone had a blast and was surprised at what was possible. It’s so fun, you forget you’re even exercising.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.