Life: six days in Sturgis
Rows of choppers, cruisers
and custom motorcycles line the streets in downtown Sturgis, S.D.
The near-deafening rumble of these motorized works of art reverberates
as hundreds of riders cruise by on display. The sidewalks are no
less jammed. Vendors, makeshift beer gardens, exhibits and an eclectic
throng of bikers, weekend riders, tourists and locals vie for space.
On one corner, a woman entices people into a tattoo parlor while
a nearby T-shirt salesman barks into a bullhorn proclaiming the
virtues of his 100 percent cotton garments.
At a nearby bar, women
dance on tables while thirsty patrons guzzle beer and slap back
shots of whiskey. Of the nearly 600,000 people who have descended
on this tiny town of 6,000, many have come to bask in the pervasive
"anything goes" attitude. In its 62nd year, the Sturgis Motorcycle
Rally is known as much for being a bastion of hedonism as it is
for attracting bikers from all over the world.
Day One: Unconventional
There is a brotherhood among bikers, and that family is well
represented in downtown Sturgis by the leather, chrome and tattoos
that seem to blanket the town. Today, its at least 100 degrees
in the shade. A well-meaning ministry team dressed in country club
attire stands ready with free ice water for any biker willing to
stop, but the bikers arent interested. The preppy clothes
scream, "Were not one of you," and the bikers let the offer
When I meet Assemblies
of God Home Missions motorcycle chaplains I come face-to-face with
real bikers. These men and women are not typical Sunday morning
preachers. They wear leather, they are passionate about motorcycles
and they live nomadic lives traveling from rally to rally covering
as much as 20,000 miles per year. Along the way, they minister to
everyone from the children of biker families to hard-core bikers
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In the biker world, hard-core
bikers are called "One-Percenters," distinguishing them from the
remaining "99 percent" of bikers who supposedly ride just for fun.
One-Percenters are often associated with gangs like the Hells
Angels and Pagans. For A/G chaplains Rick and Carol Rigenhagen,
based in Michigan, One-Percenters are a vital part of their mission
field. The Rigenhagens are not deterred by riders appearance
or affiliation, and are intent on building cogent relationships
with the goal of eventually leading them to a personal encounter
"Bikers and prisoners
dont usually respond to white-shirt ministers," says Rick
Rigenhagen. "Preaching in leathers, we recently had seven people
saved in a service of 17."
Building trust and ministering
to such bikers takes time and is not always easy says Rigenhagen,
but much prayer and patience have brought breakthroughs. The leader
of one gang wanted nothing to do with the Rigenhagens, but Rick
was persistent in developing a friendship with the man. After weeks
of resistance, Rick eventually was invited to a gang dinner. When
he stood to pray he found it difficult to get everyones attention
until the leader gruffly commanded everyone to be quiet. Although
unorthodox, the encounter proved to be a turning point in Ricks
acceptance with the leader and the gang.
"As long as it takes,
we are here for these guys and they are seeing a little bit of Jesus
every day," says Rick.
Day Two: A way of
The sight and sound of hundreds of motorcycles racing through the
Black Hills sends chills down my spine. Riding can hardly be considered
"quiet time" amid the cacophonous roar of a throng of tailpipes,
but for me riding is often a time to think and talk with the Lord.
I often sing while I
ride my Harley and have become adept at singing with my lips closed
after eating a bug or two midway through a chorus. The peaceful
solitude of riding is renewing and recreational for me, but for
Assemblies of God chaplains Phil and Linda Wright, riding is a way
Highways & Byways
Ministry, which the Wrights started eight years ago, is not for
the faint of heart. Last year, Phil and Linda were on the road 270
days enduring rain, scorching sun, and even ice as they traveled
to rallies. Linda recalled being so exhausted from a ride that she
told Phil she physically could not climb back on the bike if they
Big Phil, as he is known
on the streets, says one of the keys to biker ministry is understanding
the bikers spiritual, emotional and physical needs. As we
talk bikes and ministry I ask why they would put themselves in harms
way to minister to such a tough crowd. Phil responds flatly, "Because
His answer is not meant
to be accusatory, but lays down a simple fact: If not them, then
who will minister to bikers?
"Were not here
to judge people," says Linda, emphasizing the philosophy of their
ministry. "Were here to show them love and to share Christ."
Day Three: Shinier
In the biker world, as highlighted here in Sturgis, sex, drugs and
rock n roll are the fuel that helps drive this counterculture.
In Sturgis, the Buffalo Chip is the king of the campgrounds where
25,000 campers swell to 50,000 for nightly concerts. Each night
as the festivities grow, inhibitions fall. Exhibitionists and drunks
fill the area.
Just inside the main
entrance of the Buffalo Chip is a fabricated building that once
was a topless bar, but now serves as home for the Christian Riders
Ministry (CRM), which was founded by DQ and Beth Roberts.
Every morning CRM serves
nearly 700 free pancake breakfasts to anyone who comes through the
doors. A chapel area inside offers spiritual encouragement, and
a mechanics corner features free bike repair.
A few minutes into my
visit at CRM a man walks up to DQ saying he heard they would help
him fix his bike. DQ pulls a staff member over and they go to work.
"I can get my bike, belly, and soul all fixed in one place," says
Thats exactly the
"Whatever the reason
they come by, they will end up knowing we care about them and theyll
learn about the sacrifices Christ made for them," says DQ, who started
ministering to bikers at Sturgis 11 years ago in a small tent that
humbly boasted a duct-taped cross. Today, CRM is one of the largest
ministries in Sturgis.
Assemblies of God chaplains
Curtis and Teresa Hubbell partner with CRM by ministering to bikers
children, who often wander aimlessly around the campground. With
puppets, balloon animals, face painting and music, the Hubbells
share the gospel with children who might never set foot in a church.
At some of the Hubbells high-energy services as many as 100
kids gather with parents in tow.
"Parents will see the
puppets and sit through the entire show," says Curtis Hubbell. "Weve
even had One-Percenters listen to the program."
When the Hubbells minister,
its a family affair. Their three children ages 4, 8,
and 10 help by passing out Bibles and toys to the children.
The Assemblies of Gods Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade is
providing an inflatable bounce house for the Hubbells ministry
and that, says Curtis, will help many more children come to a personal
relationship with Christ.
"God told us that these
children need protecting," says Hubbell. "We give them a fun, safe
place to hang out and hear about Jesus."
Day Four: Meeting
Walking down Main Street in Sturgis is like swimming upstream regardless
of the direction. Although many people push the limits of decency,
and alcohol consumes the masses, the atmosphere is electric and
the crowd is friendly. Among the frenzy, the gospel is being preached
in some of the most notorious places.
At one of the main intersections
stands a three-level bar called One-Eyed Jacks. The bar is
known for its food but has become legendary for its nightlife. While
surveying the open-air bar I spot a large, gruff biker wearing a
shirt with the Harley symbol and the words Jesus Christ across it.
Intrigued by this combination, I enter the bar and seek out this
mountain of a man.
Brother Bert, as he calls
himself, works as a bouncer at One-Eyed Jacks, but the bar
also serves as his mission field. Minutes after I meet him he climbs
a couple steps, grabs a microphone and starts preaching to the nearly
100 patrons who are having lunch.
"I dont want anyone
to leave, just keep eating," instructs Brother Bert. Everyone is
agape at this anomaly and remains seated. Brother Bert proceeds
to share his testimony with the crowd in a way that is, at times,
uncomfortably abrasive but somehow poignant and perfect for the
He tells about his former
work as a third-generation drug smuggler and the fact that he has
broken all of the Ten Commandments. Yet through it all the Lord
transformed his life and delivered him from the worst of circumstances.
"The best part of my story," he tells his captive audience, "is
that the Lord can do the same for you."
Day Five: A changed
I opt out of a ride to Devils Tower and venture into downtown
by myself. As I walk, it begins to rain and I duck into a vendors
tent for cover. The vendor is a custom seat maker and the only other
people in the tent are a married couple who are having a seat made.
I notice a Jesus patch on the mans vest and a Jesus tattoo
on his arm. For the next 30 minutes, I talk with Frank Seifert,
a fellow biker, who came to Sturgis with his wife, Arlene, to minister
in the streets.
I learn that Frank has
a background similar to many of the bikers I have met this weekend.
Alcohol, profanity and fighting used to be daily parts of his life.
But when Frank committed his life to Christ he was freed from all
of that and now spends his time telling others about the transforming
power a relationship with Jesus offers. Since becoming a Christian,
Frank has led several people to Christ, including his tattoo artist,
a former Satanist.
Frank hands me his business
card that has a passage labeled "Jesus The Biker." The passage tells
of Jesus being rejected, cast out, and hanging out with people who
were much like bikers of today. It ends by saying if Jesus were
on this earth in the flesh, He would be next to bikers on His Harley,
telling them He loved them so much that He would die for each one
Day Six: Realities
As we approach the exit for Mount Rushmore, we come upon the scene
of a motorcycle accident. A man lies dead in the road and his wife
lies screaming in a pool of her own blood.
Passing only 20 feet
from the dead man, I cant help but think that he was alive
just minutes ago. At that moment, I think, he is seeing heaven or
hell for the first time and will for all eternity. The finality
of the moment is crushing and I cant help but wonder if the
man had ever committed his life to Christ. As the woman screams,
people come to her aid and one man asks that we pray for them. I
pray for her, but for the dead husband it is too late.
Usually when we ride,
its common to pull up next to each other and talk and make
frequent stops to see the sites, but this ride is different. As
my three friends and I ride toward Spearfish Canyon we never break
formation, no words are spoken and we pass several spots where we
would normally stop. Weighted in thought I talk with God and realize
Ive just experienced a life lesson.
One minute were
breathing, laughing and enjoying life, and the next were in
heaven or hell for eternity depending on our decision to serve Christ.
With the wreck fresh
on my mind, I feel a sense of urgency to help motorcycle chaplains
get the word about Christ to those who do not know Him. As I ride,
my thoughts go back to the conversation I had with the Wrights and
I am utterly convinced of the important role motorcycle chaplains
play in the eternal destiny of bikers. And I wonder, "If not them,
who will take the gospel to bikers?" The more I think about it,
the more Im convinced Jesus would wear leather chaps and ride
Pitt lives in Springfield, Mo.