STURGIS, S.D. (BP)–“I could see it in his eyes,” said Russell Evitt, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Williston, N.D. “He got it.”
What Daniel Buie, a biker from Gardner, Kan., got was a heart-level understanding of a loving God who desires to have a relationship with him. Buie got that because Evitt gave a few days out of his life in early August to share his testimony at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
“Russell didn’t tell me anything new,” Buie said, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Others have told me about the same thing, but today -– today -– He got to me; He connected with me. Today, I got it!”
“It” is a life-changing faith in God.
Evitt was one of about 150 volunteers from across the nation to participate in the second annual Sturgis intentional evangelism event hosted by the Dakota Baptist Convention in partnership with several state conventions and the North American Mission Board.
Buie was one of 870 people to make a profession of faith in God as a result of the volunteers simply sharing, for three minutes each time, their personal stories of the difference God had made in their lives.
In all, 4,677 people moved under the shade of the Main Street tent that housed the Dakota Baptist evangelism operation and listened to someone’s story. The draw -– in addition to a mist fan that helped dissipate the 100-degree heat -– was the chance to win a shining black 2007 Harley-Davidson Dyna Glide.
Read that again: 870 people in one small town in western South Dakota during one hot August week internationally known for being “party time” said “yes” to God.
“We have bought the devil’s lie that people will not listen to us talk about Jesus and it has shaped our mentality about evangelism,” said Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Dakota convention and visionary of the Sturgis intentional evangelism operation.
“Our problem is not our message,” Hamilton said. “People are open to the Gospel…. At some point we have to stop inviting people to church and calling that evangelism, and invite them to become a follower of Jesus.”
A combination of cooperating partners, willing volunteers and onsite training, undergirded by prayer and God’s blessing, led to the professions of faith, said Garvon Golden, the Dakota convention’s Sharing Christ team leader.
“Ronnie Hill [a Texas-based evangelist] has done a real good job of helping people get in touch with their testimony and how to make it more evangelistic,” Golden said. “Last year we did it on the fly; this was much better.”
Hill led in evangelism training every morning in Sturgis for volunteers scheduled to work at the booth that day. He was paired at the speaker’s stand with Phil Pilgrim, a regional missionary with the Georgia Baptist Convention and a motorcyclist who explained “biker culture” to the volunteers.
“That’s been a real help to us,” Golden said. “It helped the volunteers get more comfortable in sharing their testimony, and it helped them see the bikers as people who need the Lord just like everybody else.
“It also helped that Sturgis was prayed over for 30 days before everything started,” Golden continued. “There seems to be a real connection…. The people who are coming into the tent are being compelled to come in, it seems like.”
John Burns, a volunteer from Bakersfield, Calif., explained from his perspective how the Sturgis evangelism operation worked.
“Eye contact is one of the important things,” Burns said. “After they pray, you can see in their eyes the change that’s happened.”
Throughout the week, the rattling rumble of hundreds of Harleys and Harley wannabes rolled up and down Main Street, which was lined with dozens of vendors selling paraphernalia of interest to bikers. At times the noise level in the tent seemed just as loud as outside, with perhaps a dozen volunteers talking with one or two people each or maybe a group of four or five.
Sturgis also includes several motorcycle races throughout the week and a non-stop party atmosphere that draws more people than virtually any other sporting event in the world.
“I think we have discovered an intentional evangelism ‘process’ that will work one on one or at any event where large numbers of people gather,” Hamilton said. “Its biblical base is found in John 4, where Jesus engaged the woman at the well in a conversation.”
That process -– relevancy, receptivity, redemption, relationship, reproduction -– worked with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and it worked with Southern Baptist volunteers and bikers who came to Sturgis, Hamilton said.
“I believe we need a national emphasis -– a strategy -– on intentional evangelism, on ‘sharing your story,'” the Dakota executive director said. “In fact, I think we’re desperate for it. We as Southern Baptists have always been at our best and most effective in doing Kingdom work when we cooperate and partner together to do more for God than we could ever do alone…. A national emphasis on intentional evangelism would not only focus us on every Christian being a missionary, it could also be the catalyst that helps us return evangelism in the local church to its rightful place.”
Hamilton expressed appreciation to the Georgia Baptist Convention, which paid the hefty Main Street space rental for the tent, and to other state conventions and the North American Mission Board that helped cover the cost of the Sturgis outreach.
“At Sturgis, we are ministering to people from every state in America,” Hamilton said. “It takes about $50,000 to do one week of ministry here. Motorcycles don’t grow on trees, booth space is at a premium and everything associated with ministry at the rally costs lots of money….
“Is being an obedient witness in a place that desperately needs it worth the 50 grand? What about the 870 people who prayed to receive Christ, who will be followed up on by local churches? That’s $57 and some change spent on each one of those people,” Hamilton said in doing the math. “Is that worth it? Does the ministry of encouragement that happens with believers make it worth it? What about the opportunity to plant seeds to be harvested later by others? How about the believers who volunteer, experience God’s activity and go back home changed forever?
“I could go on and on,” Hamilton said. “We’re building a trust fund to help provide sustainability for the rally ministry for years to come, and we need contributions to come in to the fund now, so it can begin earning interest that can be used next year at Sturgis.”
Hamilton reflected on “watching believers from all over the nation share their personal testimony” at Sturgis, noting, “After the first witnessing opportunity, the fear began to turn to confidence, boldness and joy.”
He told of watching a 14-year-old boy, who previously had never led anyone to the Lord, pray with at least 40 people during one shift. He watched a 14-year-old girl get over her fear of witnessing. By week’s end, she had led at least 14 people to turn their lives over to Jesus.
“An event like Sturgis is a place where thousands of people gather,” Hamilton said. “Most of them do not know Christ. It is a great opportunity for us to penetrate the darkness with the light of the Gospel. It is a place where we can mobilize and advance God’s army to the front lines and extend His Kingdom on the enemy’s turf.
“A second reason [for the Sturgis intentional evangelism operation] is that it teaches believers this Great Commission concept — that every Christian is a missionary,” Hamilton continued. “It’s a lifestyle that is more caught than taught. Volunteers will go back to their local church and begin to practice what they learned and experienced at Sturgis.”
Karen Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist newspapers. Debra Hanson & John Guillott contributed to this article.