DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP) — At first glance Jim “Cochise” Powell looks like one of the hundreds of bikers from the Daytona Beach, Fla., area.
His white mustache and beard, long hair pulled back into a ponytail, tattooed arms and boots certainly seem to identify him as a biker. But those who know him personally know him as Pastor Cochise Chops or Brother Jim.
Powell pastors Set Free Daytona, a church with a mission to reach the biker community in Daytona with the Gospel. Powell knows the community well, as he spent many years deep within its culture.
A native of Kentucky, Powell says he grew up in a poor home — something he didn’t realize until he started school.
When Powell was young his father had an epileptic seizure that left him unable to work and put the family in a government assistance program.
“Because I was so poor I tried to make up for it with my personality,” he said. “I tried to get people to like me by being likable.”
When Powell was 10 he saw, for the first time, a Harley biker ride through his town. At that moment he decided he too wanted to be a biker.
When he turned 25, Powell joined the Iron Barons motorcycle club.
During his time in the Iron Barons, Powell lived the hard-core biker lifestyle, which consisted of traveling long miles in large packs of bikers to places to party and drink.
But Powell said that on one Fourth of July he felt God tug at his heart and that was the beginning of a journey to become the pastor he is today.
That journey, which wasn’t always a smooth ride, and how God was at work in each part of it, is detailed in Cochise’s new autobiography, “Outlaw Chapel: ‘I’m Still A Rebel.’ ”
“I’m very impressed with Cochise and his radical, fanatical spirit for the Lord and his commitment to pushing back the evil and the darkness in Daytona,” said David Burton, founder and director of David Burton Ministries and a Christian biker.
Powell is one of the few pastors who “has the ability to communicate with bikers because he has grown up in that mindset. He’s been able to get [into] some areas of ministry that many wouldn’t be able to get into,” Burton said.
Martin Beall, director of missions for the Halifax Baptist Association, said Powell “is an outspoken evangelist who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in ministry.”
Beall also feels that the ministry Powell is carrying out is a difficult one.
“He’s ministering to people that don’t feel comfortable in the traditional church setting,” he said.
Set Free, an almost three-year-old church plant, started out meeting in the Halifax association building but now meets in one of First Baptist Church of Daytona’s buildings on Saturday nights.
Once a month, Set Free — made up of approximately 40 members — holds a service at Boot Hill Saloon, a popular biker bar in Daytona.
“We take popular songs and change the lyrics into Christian lyrics, and I preach a short sermon,” Powell said.
Bikers come to the bar and listen and even join in the worship, he said.
The church also sets up a table at a nearby Harley-Davidson dealer to pass out tracts and talk to people about the Christ.
In his book Powell is open about his life as a biker, his divorce and his ministry. He said the book was difficult to write, but it was something he wanted to share in order for people to see how God has shaped him into who he is today.