News Articles

Mont. pastor seeks miracle via bike ride

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (BP)–Blackened brick walls and mounds of burned material were all that was left when a fire swept through the Set Free Ministries’ building in downtown Great Falls, Mont., during the Memorial Day weekend a year ago.

Set Free’s ministries quickly rebounded. Each month, its food ministry provides food to more than 7,500 people while its clothing ministry provides clean, wearable clothing for at least 300 people. Its anger management, youth programs and family events reach out to all people across the city, such as the recent Easter Sunday egg hunt with more than 25,000 donated plastic eggs stuffed with candy and prizes.

“We try to help those who are less fortunate or just needing a hand up through a time of difficulty,” said pastor JT Coughlan, who with his wife Nona started Set Free Ministries in 1995 as a church home for those who might not feel comfortable in a traditional church. They bought a four-story former office building (with six stories at the back and basement space) that same year for $200,000 — a fair-market price for the long-neglected yet historic building, which they were still renovating at the time of the fire.

“We just never had the money to insure it after 9/11,” Coughlan said. “Everything that came in went out almost immediately for ministry of some kind.”

In order for its various initiatives to be gathered together for efficiency, Free Ministries is aiming to rebuild what was first built in 1914 so that, as Coughlan envisions it, the people of Great Falls and Montana can see God’s hand at work.

“Phase I of the rebuild project consists of a new roof and replacing the windows,” Coughlan said. Five construction companies were contacted about the roof, and only one has submitted a bid, for $300,112.

“We have numerous bids with all different types of windows and are working in conjunction with the city of Great Falls Historical Preservation Department as to which windows to install,” Coughlan continued. “The cost will be around $200,000. Our goal for Phase I is $500,000 to get the building closed in.”

What to do when a half-million dollars is needed for the first phase of a massive renovation project? True to his nature, Coughlan is going to get on a bike and ride.

It’s a brand-new 27-speed, black and silver Sequoia Specialized 2010 Road Bicycle, which is to be auctioned off after a cross-state ride.

Starting from Superior, Mont., on May 10, Coughlan plans to ride on I-90 (the state has no law against bicycling on an interstate) through Butte, Bozeman, Livingston, Billings, Forysth and on into Miles City, a distance of about 550 miles. His goal is to raise the money by people donating so much a mile.

In “Riding 4 a Miracle” (www.riding4amiracle.com), Coughan plans to ride 70 miles each day, in fair weather and foul, with a Set Free crew trailing behind him in a flatbed truck and motorhome for spending the nights in campgrounds. The support crew plans to shoot video of Coughlan’s trek and upload it to the Internet each evening.

Once the goal is reached, a roof and windows are to be installed to protect the Set Free building from the weather, and all the church’s ministries will come home.

Then what?

A strengthened outreach to share the Gospel with “the drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals and those less fortunate — God set us here to give these people an opportunity to help themselves,” Coughlan said. “We are here to give them a hand up, not a handout. We want to get people back into the working force of America. Through classes, studies, physical labor and being around people who love them, we want to see good citizens emerge.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of The Montana Baptist and the Louisiana Baptist Message, official newsjournals for those state conventions.