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‘Hogs’ with hearts for Christ

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–On a brilliant Sunday, the tranquility of the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery and surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains was filled with the steady hum of 300 motorcycles.

Not your stereotypical rowdy biker rally, there was no straight pipe revving or showing off Harleys, BMWs or Hondas. These riders had a higher purpose and a lower volume. Their leather riding gear sported prominent Christian logos and messages.

The only police presence was the escort by the Black Mountain Police Department to guide the respectful procession to the cemetery to pay respects to fallen war veterans and pray for those currently in the armed forces.

Christian motorcycle enthusiasts from throughout the Southeast and from as far away as Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio converged at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center for the second annual “Rally to Ridgecrest” -– a Memorial Day weekend of worship, seminars, fellowship and, of course, rides through the scenic mountains.

The event was organized by LifeWay and F.A.I.T.H. Riders, a motorcycle ministry started five years ago at First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla. The name is based on the F.A.I.T.H evangelism acronym in a widely used Southern Baptist evangelism strategy.

“A lot of people have talked about [the rally] being like a revival,” said organizer Ron Pratt, LifeWay’s national conference center event planner.

“God really blessed this event. It’s grown from 190 at last September’s inaugural event to 300, and we think it can grow to 500 or more. It’s a great opportunity for men and women who like to ride motorcycles to get away and be encouraged in their faith,” Pratt said.

Pratt led the service at the cemetery, standing next to two Florida-based F.A.I.T.H. Riders, Mike Toma and Rick Lamb. Both are Purple Heart recipients -– Toma from the 1983 terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut and Lamb from the 1993 battle of Mogadishu in Somalia.

Toma and Lamb led the motorcycle procession on the five-mile route from Ridgecrest to the veterans cemetery.

“During the ride, I looked in my rear-view mirror and seeing the line of motorcycles made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said Lamb, who wore his U.S. Army uniform for the ride. “It was an honor to be there and remember.”

The rally’s theme, “No Greater Love,” from John 15:13, was singularly appropriate for the Memorial Day weekend event, which organizers hope will become a tradition.

Toma, who helped start a F.A.I.T.H. Riders chapter at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., said leading the procession was a humbling experience. “When I wear that Purple Heart pin, it reminds me of the 17 comrades and friends I lost that day,” he said. “It’s great that they put this kind of [theme] to this weekend and remember what it’s about.”

Pratt, Toma and Lamb -– flanked by more than 300 bikers and observers standing several deep in a semicircle -– stood near a large red and white carnation wreath to be left at the cemetery by the riders, along with a letter of remembrance.

“How do we please God? By obedience and service,” Pratt said, addressing the gathering. “We are to honor those who sacrificed for our nation. The greatest sacrifice was Jesus on the cross as He died for our sins.”

The rally’s evening worship services featured three evangelists who happen to be avid motorcyclists: Dale Brooks from Charlotte, N.C., Florida Baptist Convention evangelism division director Dave Burton and Sammy Gilbreath, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions evangelism director. All three emphasized the same message: Do not be afraid to win souls for Christ by using the skills God gave you.

“If you’re saved, you want to share Jesus with others,” said Burton, who preached from 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. “Satan blinds lost people, but he has no power to make us do anything. We give Satan a lot of credit that’s not due him. The Bible says we are to be the light to shine into the darkness. Light beats darkness every time.”

During the day, the bikers had opportunities to participate in either guided or self-guided rides over the western North Carolina mountain roads to scenic locations such as Maggie Valley, Mt. Mitchell, Boone and Lake Lure. At night before worship, they participated in workshops ranging from evangelism, riding techniques, “the care and feeding of motorcycles,” motorcycle ministry and chaplaincy and starting a daily Bible study.

For the first time, there was a seminar called “From Heels to Wheels” especially for women. Taught by Michelle Newsome, wife of F.A.I.T.H. Riders national director Buddy Newsome, the seminar looked at women’s roles in ministry and how they also can work via a motorcycle ministry to serve God.

“The Book of Ephesians says we are placed here for a special assignment,” Newsome told the overflow crowd. “You are called to serve. We have dying churches because people don’t want to serve ‘the body’ anymore. We have to be part of it, not just exist in the church.”

The weekend also saw a celebration of the fifth anniversary of F.A.I.T.H. Riders, who have made jaunts to Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings in recent years. Newsome and Dave McClamma, associate pastor at First Baptist at the Mall, helped start the ministry after Newsome attended a Christmas gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in 2001. A few months later, Newsome talked about using motorcycling as a ministry tool to McClamma, himself a biker, and F.A.I.T.H. Riders was born.

“This is an extremely out-of-the-box ministry,” said Newsome, a former motorcycle policeman. “Our goal is to use this as an equipping tool to be obedient to God. I love to see people change when they accept Jesus Christ and I love to see people change when they become an active participant in a full-fledged viable ministry within the church.”

    About the Author

  • Jerry Higgins