STURGIS, SD — Skulls. Bear. Yuck. Sinner. Wolfman. Count all of them new friends Georgia Baptists met during Sturgis Motorcycle Week.
State missionaries Marty Youngblood, Marc Merritt, and Bryan Alexander joined other Georgia Baptists at the annual gathering to share the gospel and train others to do the same. Ten days on-site yielded 2,737 gospel conversations and 227 praying to receive Christ, said Merritt. In addition, 130 Southern Baptist volunteers from around the country received the training to help make it happen.
“We taught iShare to those volunteers who came to share their faith,” explained Merritt. “It enables the volunteers to do that in three minutes, which includes a clear Gospel presentation. We also taught ‘catchers’ how to get folks inside our building to hear the gospel.
“My team and I spent 6-8 hours a day teaching this material. We also spent another couple of hours in the booth coaching volunteers. In between all the work, we found time to do some riding and sight-seeing. Naturally, these excursions lent themselves to gospel conversations.”
Training and catching
Merritt wrote the iShare materials in 2008 after attending his first Sturgis rally. At that point a state missionary with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, Merritt went to observe and learn. Since then he’s attended Sturgis five more times.
Sandwiched between two days of travel, the team spent Aug. 1-9 in Sturgis. Merritt led training sessions. Youngblood focused on prayer ministry. Alexander taught “catchers.”
Each day filled up with evangelistic opportunities, expressed Youngblood.
“Once we completed our training assignments for the day, we’d travel down to the ministry center to pray and encourage volunteers. When people came into the ministry center for the chance to win a new Harley we’d share our testimonies in three minutes.”
The chance to win a new Harley catches attention, but so has the concept of the three-minute testimony. Southern Baptists’ consistent presence at the event has allowed a foothold for the gospel to develop, Youngblood testified.
“We also went out on Main Street visiting with police, fire and rescue, vendors – anyone the Lord gave us favor with. We rode our bikes to surrounding towns and state and national parks a couple of hours each day (weather permitting).”
Those excursions were among some of the most fruitful of the trip, he added.
“Some of our best opportunities were in the parks and small towns outside Sturgis. Remember, there are 400,000 bikers scattered over a 75-mile radius,” he pointed out.
Last year the group made the 3,200-mile round-trip on their bikes, but this year decided to “trailer” them due to time constraints and the equipment they took (computers, projectors, etc.). Even so, they piled up some 800 miles while out west. Alexander rides a 2014 Harley Street Glide while Youngblood and Merritt have 2015 versions.
Getting a word
Eighty years ago on Aug. 14, 1938, a group of riders from the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club gathered in Sturgis for what was then called the Black Hills Classic. It consisted of one race with nine participants and a small crowd. Except for a couple of years during World War II, the gathering has happened annually ever since.
Now, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally routinely draws around a half-million participants. It is an event geared toward bikers. So, use your imagination as to the various entertainment provided and atmosphere. You’ll probably be right.
Wolfman played harmonica with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Harvey, from New Jersey, did come to Christ but Merritt said they had a great conversation on the former’s Jewish faith and Jesus’ connection to it.
“I got a brief word with Richard Rawlings, start of the TV show ‘Fast-n-Loud,’” Merritt said. “We also had a gospel conversation with two members of the Hell’s Angels who allowed us to pray for them. We also prayed with many police officers, waitresses, and other rally attenders.”
“Marc and I shared with a man named ‘Skulls,’” said Youngblood. “He had plenty of tattoos and dozens of skull rings, bracelets, necklaces, and piercings. When I asked him about the single cross necklace he wore, he said it protects him from the skulls.
“Like many, he didn’t receive the Gospel, but he heard it and that’s why we were there, to share and leave the results up to God.”
Results in Dakota Baptist partnership
One of those results was a year in the making. Tony Smith, a member of Peachtree Baptist Church in Byron, witnessed to a man last year who was suicidal. “That man didn’t receive Christ then,” said Merritt. “But, he couldn’t get away from Tony’s testimony. He came to Christ later that year and his life changed. The man, ‘Steve,’ came running into our building this year to tell Tony about it.”
Along with the state missionaries, Georgia Baptists from places such as Antioch Baptist in Blairsville and Prince Avenue Baptist in Bogart joined in the effort.
Youngblood, who attended his first bike week in Daytona 2003, pointed out that the Georgia Baptist Mission Board partnered with the Dakota Baptist Convention in the training. Georgia Baptist churches signed up for the outreach on their own and engaged with others once in Sturgis.
Merritt credited DBC Executive Director Garvon Golden as well as convention leaders Buck Hill and Jeff Musgrave for doing on-site preparation. “By now we’re a well-oiled machine that hits the ground running. Now, Buck will begin following up on each salvation. I’ll get the names of anyone from Georgia who prayed to receive Christ and not only send materials to them but connect them with a local GBC church.
“We need Georgia Baptists of all stripes to volunteer to share next year. Many folks who come to share their testimony have never even been on a motorcycle. It’s not about motorcycles; it’s about Christ.”