STURGIS, S.D. – As hordes of bikers attend the world’s largest motorcycle rally in the small town of Sturgis, S.D., churches of the Dakota Baptist Convention (DBC) partner with Southern Baptists from across the United States to spread the gospel.
The annual August event draws hundreds of thousands of bikers from around the world to this town of just over 6,600 people in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
Among them, 315 people accepted Christ this year after hearing three-minute testimonies from workers at the Dakota booth. The “bait” for this gospel fishing expedition was a brand new Harley Davidson “Switchback” motorcycle. It drew to the tent more than 3,500 people Aug. 4-11.
Dakota Baptists have been giving away Harleys for seven of the 72 years the rally has convened, said Garvon Golden, DBC executive director.
“We won’t compromise the gospel,” Golden said, “but we’ll do whatever it takes – I should say anything that’s legal and moral and ethical – to get someone’s attention.”
Bob Hower, pastor of Foothills Church in Piedmont, S.D., has volunteered in all seven years of the ministry.
“This year I talked with a man who shared his own testimony,” Hower said. “He acknowledged, however, what he was doing wasn’t pleasing to God. I asked what was preventing him from recommitting his life to the Lord. He said, ‘nothing,’ so he did and he repented. I encouraged him to go back to Kansas City and share with his pastor that he had recommitted his life to Christ in Sturgis.”
The effort has a worldwide impact; this year a biker from Japan gave his life to Christ.
About 150 volunteers from various states served during the rally. Several area churches provided housing for workers. Other churches provided breakfast or shuttled workers to and from the tent. State and regional conventions and the North American Mission Board provided funds.
Many have seen God’s power and love at work at the outreaches, including volunteers Chris and Starla Martin of Miami, Okla., who’ve attended four rallies. He runs a motorcycle museum and she is credit supervisor for a home furnishings company.
Chris Martin said God impressed him to testify more this year and do less “catching,” the practice of engaging passersby and bringing them into the tent, where other workers share their testimonies.
Bob Clarty, center, poses with a couple he ministered to during the motorcycle rally, Jeramey Hall, at left, and Jackie Wright.
“I was comfortable,” he said. “Catching is my style but God said don’t worry about that, just share.” He led nearly 15 to Christ.
His wife Starla added, “This has challenged me to become closer to and more outspoken for Christ.”
Bob Clarty, a pastoral care and outreach pastor at Whitefield Baptist Church in Belton, S.C., attended his first rally this year and met a young California couple.
“Jackie [Wright] was working at her father’s barbecue stand. After hearing my story she asked me to pray for her boyfriend, Jeramey [Hall],” Clarty said. “She said he was mad at God and the church. He was very bitter.”
The next day Hall came to the tent to register for the drawing. Clarty shared his story with him and listened as Hall talked about his life. Soon the two were praying as the young man gave his life to Christ.
“I saw a change in his demeanor from the time he came into the booth and when he left,” Clarty said. On the final day of the rally the two found Clarty to say goodbye and thank him for taking time to share with them.
Clarty also had a memorable encounter with a rally vendor.
The cashier asked what they were doing in Sturgis. When Hill explained the bike giveaway and the ministry, the cashier said, “I’d like to hear one of those stories.”
Clarty asked for permission to tell the cashier his experience with Christ. When he finished, the cashier accepted Jesus. “Over a cash register,” said Clarty, “she got saved!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Fred MacDonald is evangelism strategist for the Dakota Baptist Convention.)