Bikers, Bibles and Tattoos

by Terri Nighswonger

Imagine having the opportunity to reach hundreds or even thousands of lost souls in one place at one time. Now add to the scene a few thousand motorcycles, lots of tattoos and one big raucous party.  Most would say, "That?s not my ministry!"

Fortunately, there are men and women who aren?t afraid to share the love of Jesus to a subculture of people who might not be welcomed in a typical church. These Christians are able to share Christ, some because of their similar background, all because of their love of motorcycles.

"Changing one heart at a time," is the motto of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, a national organization dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel through rallies and activities wherever motorcycle groups gather, and providing a source of Christian fellowship among motorcyclists.

There are more than 600 chapters in the United States with more than 700,000 members to carry the Gospel to big rallies such as Sturgis, South Dakota or Daytona Beach Bike Week. Local chapters such as Cleveland?s Messiah?s Knights help on a national scale but also find plenty of opportunities in Northeast Ohio.

"When we were chartered we had 13 members and that was 18 months ago," said Rich Bartley, chapter president. "Over the course of the 18 months we?ve gone to different secular rally?s. When we rode in we would find the organizers and just, with a servant?s heart say, ?do you need any help?? We usually got put to work."

Messiah?s Knights had been dream of Rich Bartley?s for a number of years before the chapter came into existence. Little did he know, that dream was burning in the hearts of several other motorcycle enthusiasts in the Cleveland area as well. Only God could have put the group together.

Unknown to each other, Bartley, Dave Cegledi and Alan Farley had been trying to put a CMA chapter together.

"We spent about five years in different areas of the city trying to put a chapter together and we never ran into each other," Bartley said. "Three of us were trying to do things and we were in contact with people and nothing really ever clicked. But none of us let it go."

Nothing clicked that is until Bartley and Farley met on a bus to Washington, D.C. for Promise Keeper?s Stand in the Gap rally. There was somebody on the bus talking about motorcycles, Bartley said.

"We finally met on the bus to Washington, D.C. We talked quite extensively, then we met later on in the week and we started to put our efforts together," he said.

The group?s first preliminary meeting was one month after Stand in the Gap. The Righteous Rioters, a CMA chapter from Akron, came and helped Messiah?s Knights get started.

The group?s first 10 members, from different parts of the city and different denominations, started going over the materials sent from the national headquarters in Hatfield, Arkansas, and praying. At the next meeting there were 11 people and the next 12 and 13. They grew one at a time.

Over the course of the Messiah?s Knights first year and a half, the group has started to become know in cycling circles. As word spread, the now 46-member group has helped with secular rallies such as the Cleveland Clinic?s Teddy Bear run, the Carlton Harley Pig Roast, and the visit of the Vietnam veterans wall in Maple Heights, to name a few. They helped the United American Veterans with a spaghetti dinner to help bring the wall to the area.

"With a servants heart, trying to show the love of Christ, we just pitched in, bussed tables and served," Bartley said. "We helped with the setup of the wall and read names over the weekend."

The Victory for Veterans picnic is another one of club?s outreach activities. Rolling Thunder, a Vietnam veterans group dedicated to the POW/MIA issue, goes into the VA hospital and puts on a picnic for the men who live there. Messiah?s Knights lend a hand by transporting the patients from the nursing home to the picnic, assisting patients with their meals, and providing encouragement to the vets.

"We?re commanded to go out into the highways and the hedges and to talk to people and to spread the word," Bartley said. "Inside the church you can only minister to the people that come inside the door. You?ve got to go to where the people are."

Christian rallies, where CMA bikers can encourage each other, are organized by state and by region but the organization also holds an annual event, which sees millions of dollars raised for foreign and home missions.

The CMA "Run for the Son" is held the first Saturday of May every year. Money is raised through sponsorships and goes toward bibles to "restricted access" countries, the Jesus Film project, motorcycles to native pastors, and to reach motorcyclists in the U.S. In the past 11 years more than $5.8 million have been raised to take the Gospel around the world.

A state Rally in London, Ohio brings CMA people from all over the state. Messiah?s Knights also minister with Teen Challenge in Perry, Ohio, at some of their services.

Social activities for Christian bikers include a covered bridge ride in Ashtabula and a witness tour around Lake Erie, which the group did last September.

"We left Cleveland Friday morning and went to Leamington, Ontario and spent the night there," Bartley said. "We did some street witnessing to the migrant workers in their tomato factory. It was different and a lot of fun. We rode across Canada Saturday with a stop in Port Stanley where we set up and did some more street witnessing. Then we rode into Niagara Falls. There we met a Canadian softball team in a national tournament. We prayed for them, witnessed to them and have kept in contact with some of them."

Messiah?s Knights also go to churches and talk about the group?s purpose, give testimonies and answer questions.

"We show them that all motorcyclists are not bad and we let them know there are some Christian groups out in their areas," Bartley said.

With brightly colored patches on the back and front of their jackets, other bikers know when CMA bikers are around.

Often bikers will come up to the CMA?ers to ask questions or if something is bothering them, just to talk.

"They feel safe talking to us," Bartley said. "At church you?re always told to be that light in the world but how can people know that you?re that light unless you turn on a switch somehow. Our patches give that outward appearance. To take a 400-pound guy that?s 6?6" covered in tattoos and just be able to get close and get a hug and hear him say that he loves Christ. A lot of people wouldn?t approach someone like that. They wouldn?t associate themselves with people like that. It?s just something we?ve felt a calling to do. As a chapter we do it."

CMA encourages every one of their members to be part of ministry teams. There are nine different ministry teams with a teaching tape series for each. CMA members are also taught personal evangelism. The ministry areas include the areas of servant, women?s, prayer, prison ministry, music, hospitality, mechanical, first aid, and children.

CMA also has a prison ministry and ministry for women. Women like Reida Bartley, Rich?s wife, and secretary of the chapter, have opportunities to minister at the secular rallies. In fact, Rich said there are subcultures within the biking culture based on the type of bike you ride or even how you look or dress.

"There?s some rallies that I can?t reach people because I have short hair. I might not be welcome in some places. That?s why our group is so diverse. We have Japanese bikes and we have Harley?s and the big Gold Wings and the Cruisers," Bartley said. "At Harley rallies this group ministers and at Gold Wing rallies, this group ministers. There are different subcultures within the culture. It?s all about reaching the people."C