MILWAUKEE, Wis. (BP) -- Five men from the Missouri Baptist Bikers Fellowship struck up a conversation with a former pastor at a motel in Canada. The former pastor was newly married to an unbeliever and had grown frustrated with the church.
"We had the opportunity to have a rather lengthy conversation with him ... and my heart really went out to him," Randy Shipman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Clinton, Mo., said. "... He was struggling and very open to conversation."
The former pastor, who isn't a Baptist, willingly took a Biker Bible even though he said he already had many Bibles. He said his wife might read that particular one.
This was just one of many one-on-one conversations the Bikers group had with strangers on its "Spy out the Land" motorcycle tour of the I-29 corridor for the Heartland Interstate Strategy (HIS) task force with the Missouri Baptist Convention. The purpose of the strategy is to see reproducing churches planted up and down the 800-mile stretch of interstate that runs from Kansas City to the Canadian border and is largely lacking in Southern Baptist and evangelical presence.
The group covered 2,900 miles from July 30 to August 6. They took the "scenic" route home, which allowed them to stop in out of the way cafes and gas stations.
Doug Schildknecht, a member of the group and pastor of First Baptist Church in Buckner, estimated they handed out 50 Bibles -- all of which were provided by the Cooperative Program.
"Each Bible represents a connection, a contact with someone," he said.
One such connection came after a rainstorm forced them off the road near Winnipeg. They pulled into a convenience store for refuge and two other bikers pulled in behind them. The two bikers were much younger and riding different types of bikes from the Harley-Davidsons that Schildkecht and the rest of his group were riding. Schildknecht says the two cultures don't ordinarily connect easily, but this time they did.
"They approached me before I approached them and we engaged in conversation," Schildknecht said. Shipman, who was standing nearby, handed both bikers a Bible.
Schildknecht added, "... They seemed truly appreciative of receiving the Bibles. They had never seen anything like that before. We encouraged them and told them we would be praying for them and their safety on the wet highways.
"We never saw them after that, but that was a standout moment for me," he said. "It was just one of those divine moments in which we ran into a rain cloud and all of us had to get off the highway at the same time. If it had been a sunny day, we probably never would have connected."
The group also met with pastors and prospective church planters in the upper Midwest. The work in that area will be long and difficult, says Stephen Noyes, another member of the biker fellowship and pastor of Bluff's Biker Church in Rushville.
"The farther north we went, the lonelier the church planters seemed to be -- primarily due to a lack of other Baptist churches or workers," Noyes said. "It's really lonely out there for them, and it's not for a lack of people, but rather a lack of Christian fellowship and a sense of brotherhood."
The Missouri group gathered around and prayed for each planter it met along the journey. One church planter in Canada appeared visibly emotional during the prayer, Noyes recalled.
"I'm confident it's because that doesn't happen often for him," Noyes said.
The I-29 corridor needs partnering churches to get involved with boots on the ground, members of the group say. Of course, many of these startup works are small and struggle financially. Many of them need established churches from the South to travel up the corridor to help with outreach, encouragement and a various projects, said Rick Hall, a group member and director of missions for Crossroads Baptist Association.
"In the past we've always sent money to missionaries, but I get the feeling that we need to overwhelm the North with our presence -- not just sending money, but going and connecting with people, and helping to encourage those who are there doing the work," Hall said. "Here's a place that's not that far -- we don't have to buy plane tickets overseas or worry about safety."
Hall, and the rest of the biker group, encourage churches in the South to work directly with state leaders and church planters in the North to determine how much help is needed. Often these small plants only need a few people.
Shipman says he met with Jonathan Land, a church planter in Sioux Falls, S.D. The church planter told Shipman he needs 18 people for one week.
"Lots and lots and lots of small groups just penetrating that area could make a significant difference," Shipman said.
To read more about the ministry and its tour visit mbbf-mbc.org.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer for The Pathway based out of Omaha, Neb. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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