Special interests

National | While some churches struggle, hundreds of Christian niche groups-with names like Christian Chefs, Cops for Christ, and the Christian Wrestling Federation-are making waves. Here are accounts of four

Issue: "Something's rotten," Sept. 30, 2000

Easy riders
Like metallic June bugs descending with the hot summer sun, two dozen motorcyclists-with tattooed arms protruding from fringed leather jackets, and scraggly ponytails poking out of scarf "doo-rags" embossed with white Harley-Davidson wings-rumbled up to Ryan's Family Steakhouse in Mesquite, Texas, 20 miles east of Dallas. It was business as usual: another Monday night meeting of the Crossroad Riders of Mesquite, a Christian motorcycle club. Members prayed and talked of God over plates lumped high with barbecue and chocolate pudding. And this meeting was like many others around the country: Composed of about 50 riders ages 21 to 70, Crossroad Riders forms one chapter of a national organization called the Christian Motorcyclist Association. CMA, with 76,000 members, lists three reasons for its existence: love of Jesus, love of motorcycles, and love of people. WORLD spoke with Crossroad Riders president Ben Chipley, who travels more than 17,000 miles a year on his bike and spends his weekends attending motorcycle rallies where beer and corndogs are more plentiful than Christ-like virtues. "It's a wide open ministry," he said. "Most people who go to church think of themselves as good people. You've got to convince them that they're sinners. But the bikers are different. They know they are sinners." A 40-year-old minister's son and former police officer, Mr. Chipley joined Crossroad Riders after deciding he could accomplish more for Christ on the "open road" than in a closed cop car. He looks the part: On this Monday night he sported a sleeveless black leather jacket littered with metal buttons commemorating his road travels. Black jeans, a silver-studded belt, and black boots completed the picture. Not every Crossroad member dresses that way. At meetings polo shirts and floor-length skirts mix with the tattoos and leather jackets. Occupations vary as well: Accountants, police officers, former bartenders, and a computer engineer fill the ranks. Despite different backgrounds, their bikes and their faith make for camaraderie, said Mr. Chipley: "When we are on the bikes we are all the same. We call each other brother." Crossroads members wear a bright yellow patch featuring a Bible, two hands clasped in prayer, and the words "Riding for the Son." The patch-worn by all national CMA members-has gained worldwide recognition at motorcycle rallies run by big secular clubs such as Gypsy, Scorpion, and Hells Angels. Yellow-backed Crossroads Riders take advantage of that recognition at local biker rallies, where they come with gospel tracts featuring motorcycle handlebars, a dead-end sign, and the words, "We have all found ourselves on the wrong road before." What is not on their back also distinguishes them. "We don't claim territories," said Mr. Chipley. "Secular groups fight and die over them," he said. "But we understand that our motorcycles and Harley gold wings are going to be left behind some day." Crossroad Riders' preference for heavenly citizenship over earthly claims has earned them the freedom to attend local biker rallies without being perceived as a threat, and as a result they are often trusted with sacred rally duties such as collecting registration money. Behavior also sets Crossroad members apart. According to Mr. Chipley, women in secular bike clubs are often regarded as property and forbidden to talk to men to whom they don't "belong." "I have heard of women traded for bikes before," he said. At Crossroad meetings, however, men and women talk freely to one another on equal terms. Gypsy club member and former biker bar owner Suzy Wojtkowiak noticed the difference: "These people have found something everybody else is looking for. The Gypsies are still looking and they don't know what they are looking for. They are just being wild and crazy and spinning their wheels." Hard pedalers
Like the Crossroad Riders, bicyclist Judy Bowman transformed her passion for the road into a platform for her faith. Her inspiration came after she participated in a 1991 secular Across America bicycle tour. "Every day I heard the same two questions: Who are you and where are you going?" she told WORLD. "Those two questions haunted me." The next year she founded Wheel Power, a nonprofit bicycling ministry that claims 5,000 members worldwide and trains mobile missionaries called to pedal for a purpose. This year the organization is sponsoring its ninth annual 4,000-mile, three-month trip across America with a team of 24 bikers, the oldest 68, the youngest 18. "We are a mission trip disguised on a bicycle," said Ms. Bowman, a brisk-talking 50-year-old who once set a world record for pedaling 3,000 miles in seven days on a stationary bike. "Our cross is the road," she said. Interviewed in Winslow, Ariz., this summer, Ms. Bowman noted that her riders had traveled nearly 900 miles and averaged 65 miles a day to that point, braving 110-degree temperatures without rain and suffering 15 flat tires. "It's pretty slow here. I see where the town gets its name," she quipped. But small-town slowness has its advantages: The team's neon-yellow jerseys splashed with patriotic stars and stripes easily attracted the attention of bored passersby. By the time the riders left Arizona, they had prayed with and witnessed to hundreds of people and spoken in 16 churches. "These are the same people you meet every day, at the post office or in the grocery store," said Ms. Bowman. "The bicycle gives us the availability to talk to people. You are not locked behind car doors; you are totally wide open. The key thing is availability." Pedal to the metal
Omaha, Neb. chaplain David Hertle knows about availability, but he never knows whether the congregation at his 24-hour chapel will consist of one, 35, or none. His chapel address is the Sapp Brothers Truck Plaza on Highway 50 and his sanctuary is a blazing-white 18-wheeler with the words "Mobile Chapel" scrawled across the side in red. The 48-foot truck is one of 24 "mobile chapels" stationed across the United States by the Pennsylvania-based group Transport for Christ. Started in the 1950s by a truck driver who converted to Christianity, the organization caters to the nation's estimated 3 million full-time truck drivers by hosting truck rallies and producing a trade magazine called Highway News and Good News. Transport for Christ also has three mobile chapels in Canada and Russia. "I've sat in the smoking section while truckers blow smoke in my eyes," Mr. Hertle told WORLD. "And they tell me right out, 'We will never go into a church, but you are different because you come where we are.' "A lot of churches have forgotten about that segment of the population called the truck driver, but Satan hasn't," said Mr. Hertle, who, during his 30-plus years as a truck diver, had difficulty finding churches with parking lots big enough for his trailer. Some congregations turned away grisly, sandal-footed drivers at the door, he said. Meanwhile, truck-stop parking lots offered prostitution, pornography, and drug use as the featured commodities. "Chaplain Dave" has made his chapel comfortable for wary newcomers. Yellow light bulbs in the shape of a cross welcome visitors into a carpeted chapel decorated with metal chairs and a simple wooden table holding a Bible and a fishbowl full of Scripture verses for the road weary. Today, a drawing retrieves Psalm 105:4: "Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face evermore." "The highway is a journey just like our whole life is a journey," Mr. Hertle told drivers during a truck-stop sermon. "When you get bogged down in life you've got to call the Triple A: the Almighty Author of All things." Wading in the water
In St. Louis, Mo., this summer, strange sounds wafted through the hallways of the Green Park Nursing Home. Surprised visitors heard acoustic guitars accompanied by odd lyrics: "Please release me. Let me go. I'll come back after I grow. To kill me now would be a sin," sang the Heavens Anglers-a group of about 50 Christian fisherman who like to entertain the elderly with quirky fishing songs. The Anglers practice what they sing: At their fishing tournaments held 10 times a year, the catch always returns to the water unharmed. Along with free lures and hats, non-Christian tournament guests receive a gospel tract that depicts a large bass and asks, "Who is the greatest fisherman of all time?" "They always want to know," said Heavens Anglers president John Reidler, who joined the club in search of partners who prefer to "fish on Saturday and go to church on Sunday." Many share that preference. Heavens Anglers is one of 76 chapters forming the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society (FOCAS), a 7,000-member organization. One of Focas's most popular events-Kid's Day-attracts nearly 500 children a year to Oklahoma's Lake Tenkiller where attendees receive free tackle, T-shirts, and a fried chicken lunch. During lemonade breaks, Focas members teach children their trade secrets and spiritual truths. In a St. Louis version of Kid's Day, Heavens Anglers treat inner-city youth to an all-day fishing trip, pairing them with Christian club members. "We talk to them about having peace in the middle of the storm and about how Jesus went along the banks of Galilee 2000 years ago and picked fishermen to share the gospel," said Mr. Reidler. "We are still doing that.... We are those fishermen."

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