STURGIS, S.D. — Tears told this tale.
One couple past the first flush of youth came to Sturgis, S.D., to escape the ordinary. Winning a new Harley would have been the ultimate Sturgis souvenir, so they agreed to listen to a Christian testimony for three minutes to get in the drawing for the bike they were standing next to on Sturgis’ crowded Main Street.
It was a bronze metallic 2008 Harley Davidson 105th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Softail with a black and tan leather seat, which stood at the entrance of the large “Sturgis Bike Give Away” tent.
The Holy Spirit began working and tears began rolling down the woman’s cheeks as she prayed to receive Christ. As she prayed, tears formed in the eyes of her husband and he echoed the words she had just said.
They looked at each other. “We need to pack up and go home and start living a Christian life,” she said.
These were two of at least 1,365 decisions for Christ during the intentional evangelism thrust at the 68th Annual Sturgis Rally Aug. 4-9.
Sturgis, billed as the “world’s largest motorcycle rally,” draws about 500,000 visitors to the Black Hills area of western South Dakota each August. Many are people garbed in biker attire who in “real life” are doctors, lawyers, teachers and other sorts of professionals. Many others live closer to the edge of society; some belong to gangs of outlaw bikers.
Each year, the sidewalks up and down Main Street are filled past capacity with motorcycle enthusiasts. Open tent fronts beckon buyers to every conceivable vendor in the heart of this normally quiet town.
Nearly four years ago Jim Hamilton, executive director of the then-new Dakota Baptist Convention (DBC), envisioned an intentional evangelistic outreach at Sturgis that would involve volunteers from across the nation to share their faith with whoever would listen, and those who listened could enter a drawing to win a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“People are walking away from Sturgis with Jesus in their hearts and He is going to begin to change their life,” Hamilton said during a momentary break from sharing his testimony during the third year of the Sturgis outreach. “We have been obedient witnesses in a place that desperately needs it.”
Not everyone leaves with Christ as their 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, one of the Dakota convention’s regional team leaders. “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw them and then God to save them. We are called to spread the Good News. That’s what we do in Sturgis.”
This year, some 160 volunteers from across the United States told more than 5,000 people their personal testimony of the difference God made in his or her life, with 1,365 people asking God to forgive them and for Jesus to live in their heart and guide them.
Churches, associations, state conventions and the North American Mission Board all help the Dakota convention pay the $55,000 cost of the evangelistic thrust in Sturgis. That might seem like a lot — and it is especially to the Dakotas, which is the newest and smallest state Baptist convention — but it comes down to about $40 per profession of faith, said Garvon Golden, one of the Dakota convention’s sharing Christ team leaders.
“And that doesn’t count the strengthening of the faith of the volunteers, who endure hot weather, long hours and little sleep,” Golden said. “We’re very grateful for the volunteers, as we are for those who partner financially with us as we reach out in this unique way to do God’s Kingdom work.”
Story after story was shared of what the Holy Spirit did “under the tent” during Sturgis 2008.
One man, after hearing a three-minute testimony, said, “Where can I pray that prayer? Could you write it down so that I can pray it right now?”
A young man came to sign up for the motorcycle in the morning, listened to a personal testimony and left the tent saying he wasn’t ready to pray to receive Christ. He was handed a tract titled “Is it working for you?” and the Gospel of John. He returned later in the evening to say, “I kept thinking about this all day, it just wouldn’t leave me alone. I am ready to pray that prayer.”
A man stopped by the tent visibly troubled. After hearing a three-minute testimony, he said, “Just 10 minutes ago, I received a call from back home. My daughter was injured in an accident. She has a broken arm and broken bones in her face. I am a Christian and was asking God to send someone for me to pray with.”
Two bikers who came to the tent informed a volunteer, “We are Christians; the Holy Spirit laid it on our hearts to come and pray with you about the evil that wants to stop this ministry.” Thirty minutes later, an unruly biker came in, his dog in tow, and began to disrupt the outreach, but to minimal effect.
Training for the volunteers was provided prior to the rally through online presentations posted to the Dakota convention’s E-quip web site. Evangelist Ronnie Hill of Texas and the DBC staff also led training each morning at Black Hills Baptist Church in Whitewood, S.D., about 18 miles southwest of Sturgis.
“All of this would not be possible without the volunteers and partners who have taken this ministry from the vision of one leader to a group of leaders to a national level,” Hamilton said. “Folks who are physically not able to be at the rally are obedient witnesses by praying and by giving to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program, which helped fund this through the North American Mission Board.
“God has called all of us as a family of Southern Baptists to impact the lostness that we see here in Sturgis,” Hamilton said.
Volunteers from 14 states were involved in the effort, including a team of seven chaplains from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Three biker groups also participated: Freedom Biker Church, F.A.I.T.H. Riders and Set Free Churches. The leather vests of the Freedom Bikers, yellow shirts of the F.A.I.T.H. riders and the slogans on the Set Free Bikers shirts helped stir interest among passersby, with the biker volunteers then directing people to a person ready to share the gospel.
“The webcam was extremely useful this year,” added John Little, one of the Dakota convention’s church planting strategist. “We were able to have a connection with folks in other states by having them go online to sturgisbikegiveaway.com. This enabled churches and family members to visibly participate by praying. They could see ministry happening as it unfolded.”
Every year the ministry has grown, with it comes unexpected and very welcome outcomes.
“We were blessed with a good group of volunteers,” said Golden, co-coordinator of the Sturgis Bike Give Away Ministry. “The training has been more effective and we have seen the result of this by the number of people who prayed to receive Christ.”
Ministry partner leaders echoed the value of trained volunteers with the following statements:
Hill, of Ronnie Hill Ministries, Fort Worth, Texas: “The opening advance team was already in place so that new trainees could get right to work. We had more seasoned volunteers and, with the expanded time that the tent was open, we were able to witness to more people.”
Phil Pilgrim, of F.A.I.T.H. Riders Motorcycle Ministry, Georgia Baptist Convention: “I saw this year’s organization had vastly improved. The advantage of pre-training on E-quip and the power of prayer to fight the spiritual warfare made a difference. There was a unified presence with the churches, biker groups and individuals who volunteered.”
Buddy Newsome, national director of F.A.I.T.H. Riders from Lakeland, Fla.: “Being able to see the engagement of the three-minute testimony under the tent and the decisions that happen right before you built on the excitement for our group. We had six weeks of training before we came up here. We wanted to be prepared.”
Curt Isle, a Christian author from Dry Creek, La.: “It was exciting to see hearts engaged and the Holy Spirit change lives right in front of you as you pray with someone that you just met.”
Buck Hill of the Dakota convention: “Volunteers were bending over backwards — from the Oklahoma chaplains, to the F.A.I.T.H. riders, to our DBC family — to help wherever needed. It was neat to see so many willing to help out.”
The Oklahoma chaplains walked the streets of Sturgis for the second year.
“This year, we didn’t have to look for opportunities to minister to vendors,” said Don Hunter from Moore, Okla. “We had vendors that came out of their spaces to ask us to pray with them. One guy said, ‘Where have you been? Last year you prayed for my business and it was profitable. I need you to pray with me this year!’ We could hardly make it down the street without someone stopping us and asking us to pray for them and with them.”
The busy Sturgis outreach concluded with the bike giveaway at 1:08 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, in the sweltering 95-degree heat, with a standing room only crowd under the ministry tent. Hill, with his 3-year-old son Jake by his side, shouted out the name from the winning ticket: “Aaron Scott of Billings, Mont., you are the winner!”
After no one in the assembly responded, Hill called the cell phone number on the ticket. “Hello Aaron? Where are you?” After three back-and-forth phone calls because of weak cell phone coverage, the crowd was informed that the winner was in Hulett, Wyo a 90-minute bike ride away.
Aaron Scott was grinning from ear to ear when he arrived to take ownership of the bike. “I have never won anything like this in my life!” he exclaimed.
Scott, who said he’s a Christian and member of Home Church in Billings, Mont., said, “Everywhere that I ride on this new bike, I will be able to share how this Harley was used to win over 1,300 people to Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bricker is a regional reporter for the Dakota Baptist, newsjournal of the Dakota Baptist Convention.)