Daytona Bike Week draws 500-plus to Christ
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP) -- Would you trade three minutes of your time for a chance to win a black 2012 Harley Davidson Road Glide motorcycle?
That was the question posed to bike lovers ambling along Beach Street during the 2012 Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Tattooed and leather-adorned bikers strolled down the sidewalks to ogle the latest bike accessories in equipment and clothes as vendors hawked their wares and services.
With a baby strapped in a carrier on his chest, Stephan and his wife pushed a second child in a stroller along Beach Street. Once inside the Faith Riders' tent, the young African American began talking to Clayton Reeves, a biker from Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Blairsville, Ga.
Stephan was reluctant when Reeves began sharing his personal testimony, but the Holy Spirit was working.
When it came to the question, "If [you] died today would [you] go to heaven?" Stephan answered that he was a good man. "I explained to him that I was a good man," Reeves said, "but good ain't gonna get you in heaven."
"After he prayed, he didn't look like the same man," Reeves said. "His whole demeanor had changed. You could see it in his eyes."
Given a New Testament Bikers edition, Stephan grabbed Reeves before he left.
"He hugged me and everybody else. He wouldn't let go. He kept saying he couldn't thank me enough for taking the time to talk to him," Reeves said.
"He left here a changed man."
Stephan's name and phone number would be forwarded to Reeves to make contact within a week. His name also will be sent to a Baptist church near his home for follow-up.
As Stephan filled out a card indicating his spiritual decision, a bell loudly clanged within the tent and a roar erupted from nearly a dozen Faith Riders staked out there, cheering as another life had been changed for eternity.
During the weeklong effort, the bell tolled more than 500 times -- as many as 20 times within an hour -- for those who prayed to receive Christ as their Savior. In all, the Gospel was shared with 3,744 bikers.
Now in its second year of ministry at the World's Most Famous Beach, the March 10-17 outreach, sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention and Faith Riders Motorcycle Ministry, drew 145 volunteers from at least 10 states -- Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"They are so passionate about Christ," volunteer coordinator Mike Stewart of Hibernia Baptist Church in Fleming Island, Fla., said. "They come all the way down here, taking time from their vacations and paying their own way here to sleep on a church floor, all to share their faith."
Housed at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach around the corner, volunteers are trained to witness using their personal testimonies and then are put to work among the bikers.
This is the second year for Rick Weathers as a volunteer, driving 12 hours from The Glade Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn., with seven other Faith Riders.
After last year's involvement, Weathers said he wouldn't miss the opportunity to see God work through something as simple as sharing how his life has been changed. He has taught the concept to others in his church.
"It is a blessing to see people share their testimonies in a way that will advance the glory of God -- people who in the past would have never even prayed in their own Sunday School class," Weathers said.
The volunteers are young and old, male and female from all walks of life. Many have overcome addictions and failures in their own lives through faith in Jesus.
As these ambassadors for Christ share their testimonies with mostly receptive bikers, Chris Conley of Richmond, Ky., said the Holy Spirit provides just the right entre, particularly when their lives mirror the needs expressed by the bikers.
"You can't explain an experience like this. There is something different. If you feel God's call to speak to a person and don't, you know you are quenching the Spirit," Conley said.
In their three minutes with the bikers, the volunteers seek prayer needs, often hearing emotional stories. Several have been on the brink of divorce while others have lost loved ones and jobs. Still others have found their addictions have cost them dearly.
Each night at the church, the Faith Riders gather and share the day's victories.
This is the 10th year of Faith Riders, a national organization envisioned by Buddy Newsome, who was led to Christ as an adult through the ministry of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla. Newsome, a retired policeman, serves as national coordinator for the organization, which has grown to 226 Southern Baptist chapters in 21 states.
An avid biker himself, the quiet and reserved Newsome wears tattoos of the cross and an eagle on his upper arms. With more than 6 million motorcycles registered in America, bikers are an unreached people group who need the Gospel, Newsome said. They represent their own culture and lifestyle.
"Ninety-five percent of them are average persons -- doctors, lawyers and businessmen who come to a week like this and dress the way they do to assume a different identity. They are desperately seeking a new identity," Newsome said, noting that a new identity can be found in Christ.
The Harley that served as the week's enticement was purchased by donations from Faith Rider chapters and other organizations.
The witnessing model utilized by the Faith Riders at Bike Week can be replicated in almost any setting, said Harley owner David Burton, lead strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention's evangelism group. While few churches can afford a motorcycle, other items can be used as a raffle prize at local fairs and other events.
When he left Daytona last year, Clayton Reeves believed God was calling him to preach. He began serving in a jail ministry and chaplaincy ministry, determined to be the church not just inside but outside the walls. "That's what God has called us to do," he said.
"People ask me, 'How can someone be saved in three minutes?' You don't know what has gone on in their lives," Reeves said. "It could have been a Sunday School teacher or someone else who planted that seed. And we get to see it reaped by the Holy Spirit."
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.