MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Call it “Sturgis South.”
Just like the infamous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D., each August, a similar rally in Myrtle Beach, S.C., also draws a half-million bikers in May. And like Sturgis, some bikers drive to the rally — their tanks physically and spiritually on empty — and depart with a life changed by Jesus Christ.
Some with ZZ Top-sized beards, tattoos and assorted piercings — and most decked out in black leather, straddling shiny, pricey motorcycles — they roar into this beach resort town to spend up to 10 days partying hearty. The last thing these tough men and women expect is to meet Jesus in Myrtle Beach. But almost 200 did during last year’s rally.
While some ministry had been going on during the annual rally for several years, Todd Wood, the North American Mission Board’s resort missionary based in Myrtle Beach, wanted to have a greater impact and touch more lives at the rally.
“It’s amazing to serve as a resort missionary here at Myrtle Beach,” Wood says. “These bikers come here looking for a good time to party, but it gives us the opportunity as Southern Baptists to step up and share with them the real hope in life, and that’s Jesus Christ. The only problem is that the rally is spread 40 miles up and down the coast, from the North Carolina line down to Garden City (South Carolina). It’s a big area to cover.”
Wood — with support from the local Waccamaw Baptist Association, the South Carolina Baptist Convention, the Carolina Faith Riders of North Carolina and the South Carolina Faith Riders — studied Christian ministry at the Sturgis motorcycle rallies.
“We saw that in Sturgis, they were touching a lot of lives with three-minute testimonies,” said Wood. “So we took that and transitioned it into giving away free gasoline to bikers. We felt like if we could give every person that comes through our line $10 worth of gas, we’d have three minutes to share our faith story with them. And we would ask them if they knew what it means to have a relationship with Christ.”
So with a gasoline budget of $10,000, Wood and about 100 volunteers — representing 12 different Christian motorcycle ministries — turned a Citgo gas station on nearby U.S. 17 into a filling station for Jesus.
“The first thing bikers would ask is ‘What’s the deal? Why are you doing this?’ Then we told them that the gas had already been paid for, that someone had purchased it on their behalf. Then we translated that into what Christ did — how he paid for our sins committed in the past, present and future,” said Wood.
Wood said many had never heard the gospel message before. But who better to share the gospel with these rough-and-tough bikers than Christian bikers — some tattooed with crosses and images of Jesus, and who had escaped their own past lives of despair and hopelessness by accepting Christ.
“I came here to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ with my peers,” said one big, middle-aged biker sporting a full, salt-and-pepper beard and bandana. His sleeveless vest identified him as a biker chaplain. “He gave me a testimony because of my past life. Today is the day to glorify Him.”
Although some 200 bikers accepted Christ during those brief three-minute stops for free gasoline, Wood said,
“It just breaks my heart that we could only share with 1,500 or so who came through for gas.”
Wood and his volunteers also handed out 2,500 free gift bags, each filled with a Biker’s Bible and a DVD featuring Pastor Joe Covino, a Columbia, S.C., pastor and former biker himself.
“Many of our folks, even within our local association here in Waccamaw, don’t understand who the bikers are,” Wood said. “A lot of times we’ll see the big, bushy hair, the beards and we see the rough-cut guys in black leather and we don’t understand who they are.
“But this is somebody’s dad, somebody’s mom, somebody’s child. And we begin to understand how Christ pictures every one of these people. They all mean the same to Him. It’s a lost soul, another person He desires to have a relationship with,” Wood said. “For us, it’s so desperately important that we get out there and share the message of Christ with as many bikers as possible.”
Todd and his volunteers are already working on the 2009 Myrtle Beach Bike Week set for May 11-16. Instead of free gasoline, this year his Intracoastal Outreach ministry will be giving away a brand new $12,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. They also will serve bikers 1,100 lbs. of free barbecue. The attending bikers, of course, also will get a strong dose of the gospel.
As a NAMB missionary since 2002, Wood, 38, serves as director of intracoastal outreach with the Waccamaw Baptist Association. He and wife Amy are the parents of three daughters: Ellyn Kate, Caroline and Abby.
A native of Greenville, S.C., Wood is a graduate of Carson Newman College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
The Week of Prayer for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is March 1-8.
Goal: $65 million