STURGIS: 539 professions of faith & first volunteer fatality

Baptist Press
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Posted: Aug 19, 2011 5:22 PM
STURGIS: 539 professions of faith & first volunteer fatality
STURGIS, S.D. (BP) -- Encounters at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally between 160 evangelistic volunteers and 4,800-plus biker enthusiasts led to 539 professions of faith in Jesus Christ over an eight-day period at the famed event.

It was the sixth year for the outreach to bikers, biker-wannabes and onlookers organized by the Dakota Baptist Convention (DBC) and supported by volunteers from across the nation drawn by word of mouth and by the ministry's website, www.sturgisbikegiveaway.com.

Motorcycle enthusiasts comprise one of the nation's largest affinity groups, with South Dakota rally drawing about a half-million participants each August.

"We know that what we do in Sturgis is not just dependent on people being prepared to share their testimony, or in the number of volunteers, but on the Holy Spirit being there in power," said Garvon Golden, DBC interim executive director and coordinator of the Sturgis ministry. "Prayer is the key component to the effectiveness of our ministry in Sturgis."

The Sturgis outreach is a multi-faceted initiative by the DBC that involves a month of focused -- often onsite -- prayer; evangelism training for the volunteers; a ministry tent in a prime downtown Sturgis location; the giveaway of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle; and chaplaincy ministry among the hundreds of vendors and city/county sanitation and law enforcement personnel.

This year, it also included the death of one of the Sturgis volunteers.

Larry and Anita Gibson, members of Wilsonville (Ala.) Baptist Church and the Alabama FAITH Riders chapter, were part of the Sturgis outreach for a second year. Larry Gibson, 50, died Aug. 12 after the Harley-Davidson they were riding left the road not long after the couple crossed the state line into Wyoming.

A video posted to www.youtube.com follows Gibson as he walks down Main Street in Sturgis, wearing his FAITH Riders "colors," smiling and joking, passing out evangelistically themed "poker tokens" and "playing cards" and sharing his faith at every opportunity.

A subsequent video shows a cut-up Anita Gibson in a hospital bed in Newcastle, Wyo., sharing her faith and the faith of her husband. Search Google for "Sturgis seed sower extraordinaire" to see both videos.

The Wilsons had played a key role in the creation of The Children's Voice Foundation based in Wilsonville which seeks to minister to Ukrainian orphans. The couple also had adopted two of their sons from Ukraine, according to a 2007 article in The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.

"Our prayers go with the Gibson family, the Wilsonville church family and the Alabama FAITH Riders family," Golden said. "We're just really saddened by the accident, but we know where Larry is today. Something like this helps us see the urgency of what we do at Sturgis."

Despite her injuries, Anita Gibson's passion for evangelism is evident in the second video. "The reason I'm making this video is to tell you how short life is, and how important it is to get your life right with the Lord," she says on the video.

The same message -- life is short; don't get left behind -- is the gist of the three-minute stories told by the volunteers to biker enthusiasts at the Sturgis rally in early August.

The biker enthusiasts had been drawn to the DBC tent by on-the-street "catchers" who'd told them their name would be entered in a drawing for a new Harley-Davidson on display at the front of the tent if they'd listen to someone for three minutes tell how Jesus changed their life.

Fifteen-year-old Dalton Boudreaux of Zion Hill Baptist Church in Negreet, La., was among the volunteers who repeatedly told his three-minute story at Sturgis.

"Dalton was scared to death at first to share his faith," Golden said with a grin, "but we trained him how to do it, and I think everybody finds a way they get into sharing their faith. When he'd be given someone to talk with, he'd start by saying, 'Hey, I need to talk to you!'"

Totals for the first six years of the evangelism ministry at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally -- an outreach event conceived by Dakota Baptists' former executive director, Jim Hamilton, and fleshed out by the entire state convention staff -- consist of 28,583 recorded Gospel seeds planted and 5,472 recorded professions of faith.

"I'm grateful God has given us the opportunity to not only sow the seeds of the Gospel but to see the harvest of that many people come to Christ," Golden said. "I don't think we'll ever know the total impact of this ministry until we get to heaven....

"One of the most exciting parts of the Sturgis story is to hear of people who go back home and continue to share their testimony, and to hear how their churches have been transformed as a result," Golden said of the volunteers. "Churches across the nation are growing and multiplying because they send their members out on mission to Sturgis."

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist Connections newsjournals.

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