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Dakota Baptists rev up for outreach
at annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

STURGIS, S.D. (BP)–The small town of Sturgis, S.D., has a population of nearly 6,700. The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, however, nearly doubles the entire state’s population, when 300,000 mostly leather-clad motorcycle enthusiasts arrive for what is often described as “Mardi Gras in the Black Hills.”

What a perfect place for an evangelistic effort.

“I lived in Sturgis for five and a half years. The motorcycle rally was the kind of event which was hard to put your arms around and put together something relevant to touch people,” said Garvon Golden, leader of the Dakota Baptist Convention’s serving people team (evangelism director).

“It’s a scary type of event. If you’re not familiar with biker folks and their mentality, it can be threatening. A lot of ministries up there were smaller efforts. It was more servant-based evangelism and not direct intentional evangelism.”

With a tremendous leap of faith, the Dakota convention ventured to this year’s Aug. 7-13 rally.

With the help of the North American Mission Board, Dakota convention leaders were put in contact with evangelist Ronnie Hill of Fort Worth, who has shared the Gospel at a wide range of venues, from small county fairs in Texas to the Calgary Stampede and NASCAR racetracks.

Hill and the Dakota convention’s executive director, Jim Hamilton, agreed that witnessing at an event like Sturgis would take some “out of the box” thought.

“I’ve gone to Sturgis the last 16 years and we were involved in things like giving out water and checking blood pressure with local churches,” Hamilton said. “I came from an alcoholic biker background, was saved at 23, and spent 25 years as a minister. I still have a soft spot for ministry to people in that kind of lifestyle.”

Hill has given away a motorcycle at some of the events where he has evangelized. A person spends as little as three minutes listening to a Gospel presentation, then fills out a card to get a raffle ticket for the prize. Hill said it’s been an effective evangelism tool because the prize brings people inside the booth and gives Christians a great witnessing opportunity.

“They heard what I did in Bristol (Tenn.) at a NASCAR race. I had a Harley [Davidson] bike as a prize and 760 people got saved,” Hill recounted. “This was my first trip to Sturgis. I always wanted to go there but didn’t have any connections. We had to get in a key location and we did that [with a vendor spot downtown]. I trained people to do what I did and they did a great job.

“You just have to get in there and present the Gospel. Did people cuss us out in Sturgis? Yes. That just made us give more presentations and more people were saved. I get tired of people saying evangelism only works in the Bible Belt. It works everywhere. We just have to do what God tells us to do.”

Hamilton and his staff sent out feelers for support for the Sturgis outreach. Financial help came in from the North American Mission Board and from the South Carolina, Florida and Alaska state conventions, as well as Hamilton Baptist Church in northern Virginia, which had been doing mission efforts in South Dakota already. Not one penny of state Cooperative Program dollars was spent for the initiative.

A motorcycle dealer in Sioux Falls gave them a deal on a limited edition Harley. In addition to renting the booth space, insurance for the bike and the booth had to be purchased. In all, the convention had to raise nearly $30,000.

Hamilton Baptist’s pastor, Chris Walker, recounted that one of the church’s laymen “had a dream seven years ago to sponsor a team to go out on an Indian reservation and we went out to the Cheyenne River Reservation. We had opportunities to interact with the staff of the Dakota state Convention and they spoke to our folks here. We were very moved by the enormity of their task.”

“It’s amazing how God confirmed what we were doing,” said Golden, noting that the booth space was leased from a Jewish man from Daytona Beach, Fla., while “the insurance guy is a Lutheran from Fargo and now his church is praying for us.”

The Dakota group shared their testimonies with 2,900 people, 718 of whom said they prayed to receive Christ and marked a box on the registration card indicating their decision. The cards have been sent to NAMB, which in turn will forward the contacts to churches near their homes for follow-up.

“We had a big crowd stand around when the raffle was announced and a 50-ish woman from Pueblo, Colo., won. She’s already made arrangements to come to Rapid City to pick it up,” Golden said.

Golden recounted that an international Christian worker joined in the outreach and witnessed to a couple who knew where he was serving.

After the worker shared his testimony, the couple told him they already were Christians. “They were in town going to a funeral and wanted to see what the rally was like,” Golden said. “They asked [the worker] to pray for their daughter who was engaged to a Muslim.” The worker asked the couple where they were from and it was the exact location where he is serving, and they plan to be in touch upon their return.

“That’s an example of what God can do,” Golden said.

A new Christian from Hazen, N.D., came to work at the rally for a couple of days -– “a man whom we brought a horse tub to his church for his baptism because they didn’t have one,” Golden recounted. “The first man who came up to him was from Hazen, a town of about 1,800 people. The man shared how low he was. They made an appointment to go fishing. He didn’t make a decision there, but who knows what will happen?”

“[H]ow do you put a price on one soul?” Hamilton asked. “The Dakotas never saw this kind of harvest in one week. Few places in the United States see that kind of harvest. God really blessed the effort.”

Next year, Golden said they will ask Hill to return to Sturgis and they will expand to two booths. One booth will have the electronic bull and they hope to give away another motorcycle.

“This is not your grandma’s ministry. Not everyone wants to come to downtown Sturgis and deal with bikers,” Hamilton said. “God is pushing us to be on the cutting edge to reach people. This pushed people way out of their comfort zone to talk to strangers, especially with people dressed up like bikers.

“God demands us to be obedient and we were. And He blessed our efforts.”

    About the Author

  • Jerry Higgins