70th Sturgis motorcycle rally begins
STURGIS, S.D. (BP)--For several days and into the early morning, bikers have rumbled in from across the U.S. toward Sturgis, S.D., where now a steady roar of engine and human energy is building on Main Street.
Today (Aug. 9) marks the official start of the 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. This 70-year-old event turns the 7,000-resident town into a metropolis of a half-million bikers, tourists, volunteers and an army of people pulling this seven-day party together in the picturesque plains region.
Among the crowd are scores of Southern Baptist volunteers from churches across North America who are setting up camp and hospitality booths across a 60-plus mile expanse from Main Street of a town comprising only about four squares miles to an array of outlying venues.
For years, Southern Baptist bikers and volunteers have provided a Gospel witness encompassing hospitality and often simply a listening ear. This outreach has led many in the past to give their lives to Christ in the streets of Sturgis.
"People are walking away from Sturgis with Jesus in their hearts and He is going to begin to change their lives," said Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention and a motorcycle enthusiast. "With this intentional evangelism, we have been obedient witnesses in a place that desperately needs it."
Each morning during the Sturgis rally, Southern Baptists will provide training for volunteers on how to effectively and succinctly share their faith. By training, then doing and seeing the people they encounter invite Jesus into their lives, the volunteers return to their homes inspired and equipped to share their faith in their own communities, said Garvon Golden, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary who is the Dakota Baptist Convention's sharing Christ strategist and overall coordinator of the Sturgis ministry.
Southern Baptist ministry at Sturgis will focus not just on bikers but also the "people groups" of motorcycle enthusiasts and those who provide support services for the week, including more than 1,700 vendors, police officers, sheriff's deputies, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and personnel who pick up more than a half-million tons of trash tossed during the week.
Volunteers are expected to come into contact with thousands of people each day. As they share Christ in person at the rally, Golden is encouraging Southern Baptists back home to join the efforts with prayer.
In the first four years of the Sturgis strategy, at least 16,777 people listened to someone give a personal testimony, and 3,753 people made first-time professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
Volunteers and coordinators hope to see similar results this year, with Golden noting that follow-up will be a key part of the ministry. Names and contact information of those who make professions of faith are sent each day to NAMB's Evangelism Response Center, which redirects the information to a Southern Baptist church near the contact's home.
"Not everyone leaves with Christ as personal Lord and Savior," Hamilton acknowledged. "Some say, 'That was a good story' or 'I'm at a different place in my life right now.'"
"It is not up to us to save them," said Buck Hill, the Dakota convention's strategist for starting churches. "It's the Holy Spirit's job to draw them, and then God's to save them. However, we are called to spread the Good News, and that's what we do in Sturgis."
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board on assignment Aug. 9-15 in Sturgis, S.D., for coverage of Southern Baptist outreach at the 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Karen Willoughby contributed to this story.