BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–A 24-member Baptist cycling crew set out from Kingsport, Tenn., on June 24 with one mission in mind: to ride their bicycles from the eastern corner of the state to Collierville, a suburb of Memphis, while sharing Christ along the way.
“When we first started, we all basically knew each other, … but by the end of the week it became not just about us,” Mary Beth Hettinger, a recent high school graduate, said. “It was about everybody finishing, and it was about the team.”
The idea of a youth team biking across Tennessee started in the heart and mind of Rick Wiggins, a member of Brentwood Baptist Church in middle Tennessee who has a love of racing bicycles. Around the time of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, Wiggins conceived the idea of a cross-state bicycle trip, but he had not yet sensed how God wanted to use his idea as a ministry.
Wiggins developed a logo for Chain Reaction Fellowship, what he named his idea, and had T-shirts printed. But the shirts sat in a box in his house for a few more months as he continued to pray seeking God’s direction. In October, Wiggins approached Jay Austin, the Brentwood church’s youth pastor.
“I had always wanted to do a ride like this,” Austin said. The youth pastor then took the idea to the youth council where the members talked excitedly about the idea for an hour.
With the decision made that the trip would take place this summer, the youth and adult counselors began training for the trip.
“We started meeting at the Brentwood YMCA on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and started by riding stationary bikes for about an hour,” Elizabeth Moore, a recent high school graduate, said. “We didn’t know exactly what we were getting in to, and nothing compared to the actual trip.”
The group spent nine months in training, graduating from stationary bicycles to a seven-mile loop around Brentwood to longer bicycle routes on main roads around the Brentwood area south of Nashville. The committed youth and adults spent a minimum of three hours in training per week, plus some Saturday rides.
On June 24, the group converged in Kingsport where they began the ride across Tennessee. Half of the 24-member team came from a mission trip to Charleston, W.V., while the others drove up together from the church.
“We all rode the first 11 miles,” Moore recounted. The group then broke up into groups and some rode while others rested. Four adults who did not ride bicycles drove vans and helped whenever needed. That Saturday, the group rode about 65 miles to Rutledge, Tenn., where they stopped to eat dinner and prepare for the Sunday morning worship service at Fairview Baptist Church.
“I believe God really moved the people,” Ashley Vandergriff, a high school junior, said of the worship service. “We had people give their testimonies, had a dramatic interpretation of a Kirk Franklin song and Jay spoke. … God was preparing the people for us to be there.”
After church and lunch, the group got back on their bikes and rode another 60 miles to Harriman, Tenn., where they led Sunday night worship service at Trenton Street Baptist Church. Hettinger said this service was special because the Brentwood team shared their message after the youth group from Trenton Street Baptist talked about their recent trip to camp.
On Monday, the group rode 64 miles to Sparta, and then remounted their bikes Tuesday morning for the 70-mile trek to Murfreesboro.
Wednesday night, the youth and adults arrived in Brentwood where the team led a bike clinic for the TeamKid members at their home church. The clinic for first- through sixth-graders included tips about how and where to ride and how to use hand signals.
“We taught the kids to be prepared in mind, spirit and body,” Austin said.
The youth on the trip worked one-on-one with the clinic participants and Karyn Caldwell, a high school junior on the trip, helped lead a child to the Lord while at the clinic.
“I had trained for the Billy Graham Crusade but didn’t get to counsel anyone there and was kind of disappointed,” Caldwell said. “But I think I went through all that training so I would be ready to help this little girl.”
Thursday morning the Brentwood Baptist team started the day with an on-air interview at WAY-FM, a Christian radio station in Nashville. The group then returned to the place they had stopped the day before and remounted their bicycles for the 70-mile ride to Linden, Tenn.
The team shared with Girls in Action and Acteens campers at Camp Linden by leading in the separate worship times for the girls. Moore said counseling one GA helped prepare her for giving her testimony later that evening.
“The girl just asked me, ‘How do you know God’s there?’ and I just talked about what I was going to share later on at the campfire,” Moore said. She said God helped prepare her and calmed her nerves.
On Friday the youth and adults worked the hardest riding 82 miles to Bolivar and then riding just 47 miles to Collierville on Saturday to end the trip.
“This was not just a mission trip for ourselves,” Hettinger said. “It was for each other and the team. It was easy to get discouraged sometimes, but we supported each other and at the end we were this huge family, a cohesive group.”
Anyone interested in starting Chain Reaction Fellowship or starting a biking missions team in their church can contact Jay Austin at Brentwood Baptist Church at (615) 373-2992 or at [email protected].