Saturday, September 18, 2004
A motorcycle rally - indoors
Rain or shine, the Virginia Christian Motorcyclists Association rally is under way at the Appalachian Conference Campground.
But come here they did. They even bought the T-shirt. Whether it said "Holy Rider," "Go to Church! Don't Wait for a Hearse to Take You" or "What Would Jesus Ride?" it carried the message that members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association unroll in their motorized ministry.
"The motorcycle is a tool," explained Jim Palmer, president of the local CMA chapter, Mountain Curve Riders in His Service. "Our love of motorcycles led us to the Lord."
For the second year in a row, the annual Virginia Christian Motorcyclists Association rally is under way at the Appalachian Conference Campground owned by the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Palmer said the spot has been popular, especially this year with cyclists traveling from all over Virginia and surrounding states. The campground offers lodging, conference rooms and a place for large gatherings.
Even without the rain, the bikers planned to make a switch this year and head indoors for some events.
"In the past we haven't been able to find an enclosed auditorium," Palmer said, noting that many of the weekend activities involve worship services for the whole group. Rick and Eileen Steffy, evangelists for the association's northeast region, are leading several of the services for an expected 200 people.
While some participants decided not to challenge the elements by riding their bikes and opted for alternate transportation, others didn't let the forecast bully them. They mounted their motorcycles and put on their three-piece suits - leather chaps, leather vests, leather jackets.
Linda and James Collins rode 583 miles from Cuba - Kentucky, that is.
"You just put your rain suit on and you get wet," Linda Collins said. "You're not going to melt. The Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust."
The Collinses - married 37 years - joined the association in 1993. They each have a motorcycle. James Collins steers a massive Classic Harley and Linda Collins roars around on a Fat Boy.
"I have two fat boys," she joked, smiling at her portly partner in his leather vest.
"He bought this for our 35th anniversary," she added, nodding toward her bike. "I asked for a diamond. I got a Harley. The Lord knows best. If I had a diamond, it'd be locked up in a safe box."
The couple surprised their three grown children when they decided to take to the open highways and use motorcycles as a way to spread Christianity. At first, they said, their children were frightened for their safety and, perhaps, their sanity.
"Now, they're gung-ho," Linda Collins said, noting that her children look after the pets and the house while she and her husband are on the road. They're gone nearly every weekend for different events sponsored by the Christian Motorcyclists Association.
"They call us the weekend warriors. We go wherever we're needed, wherever God sends us," Linda Collins said.
"Our motorcycles belong to God," James Collins added. He said strangers they meet always come up to admire the bikes, and that offers a perfect opportunity to introduce them to the original owner.
"Somewhere in the conversation, we ask them if they know Jesus."
Organized in 1975 by Herb Shreve of Hatfield, Ark., the association now numbers around 90,000 members, Palmer said. The Dublin group, with more than 40 members, formed in 1996, following some failed attempts by efforts to get a group started in Christiansburg. There are no dues for membership but groups nationwide sponsor projects to raise money for a number of ministries, including prison outreach. In fact, proceeds from T-shirt sales at this weekend's rally will support Roanoke's El Shaddi prison ministry.
"During these rallies, people exercise the ministries they're in," Palmer said, explaining that money raised is used to buy Bibles, religious films and even motorcycles for pastors who want to take up the cause.
Joe McKinney, 57, rode his bike from north central Ohio. He joined the association in 1998 because he "was looking for something other than how I had been living." After seeing an ad for a Christian Motorcyclists Association rally in a magazine, he decided to check it out.
"I went to one rally and was saved at the next rally," he said. "It's part of me now. It has changed my entire perspective. Not CMA - Jesus. CMA is the tool."
Dennis Horton, a member of Hillsville's Heirborn Bikers chapter, was in charge of keeping the tent over the welcome center from blowing away Friday. He said he used to ride motorcycles with "them ol' outlaw biker gangs." In 1996, he got saved. Now, the bearded, bandanna-clad biker wears a patch on his leather vest that proclaims "100% for Jesus."
His first date with his wife, Donna, was on a motorcycle. She hopped on the back of his Harley.
"I said, 'If this woman will ride with me, she's a keeper,'" he recalled. "She has her own bike now."
The 2004 Virginia Christian Motorcyclists Association Rally continues through Sunday. Events planned today include bike games from 2 to 4 p.m. in Fairlawn's Wal-Mart parking lot. The local chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association meets the first Saturday of each month, 9-10 a.m., in Fairlawn's Pace Union Hall. Call Jim Palmer, 674-4478, for more information.