Jesus in the Detail During Sturgis Rally
by Dan Van Veen9/11/2023 7:00:00 AM
With hundreds of thousands of bikers pouring into roughly a 100-mile radius of Sturgis, South Dakota, every August for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, it can be at times a very raucous and intimidating scene of non-stop streams of bikes, beards, and people from all walks of life — from the perhaps “less-than-savory” to the servant.
Chaplain Josh Hubbell is a U.S. missionary career associate with Chaplaincy Ministries and is the north central regional director for HonorBound Motorcycle Ministry. He, his family, and fellow HonorBound volunteers, who have a passion for motorcycles, traveled to Rapid City First Assembly in South Dakota to share the gospel and serve bikers during the Sturgis rally.
But exactly how do you be a Christlike servant in a Sturgis environment?
Recently HonorBound took a new approach with promising results.
Children’s ministry used to be a big part of the long-time HonorBound Sturgis outreach, but in 2022, Hubbell and the HonorBound volunteers shifted over to a new approach aimed directly at bikers and their passion — their bikes.
“I’ve been coming to the Sturgis Rally for 20 years,” Hubbell says. “I started coming with my dad (Curtis), when I was about 10 years old. My dad’s been in motorcycle ministry for a longtime — he's now a missionary with AGWM in Poland.”
Although children’s ministry saw some interest, there was a growing realization that the “target market” — bikers who needed to know Jesus — often didn’t have young children or weren’t about to bring them to Sturgis.
“Last year we decided to try something new,” Hubbell said. “We decided to wash and detail bikes for free.”
Partnering with Rapid City First Assembly, which averages about 250 in attendance and has been providing sleeping quarters for decades for the volunteers, HonorBound set up its first free bike wash in 2022 in the church’s parking lot, with the church providing access to its utilities for water and power.
“The church is located on the main highway to Mount Rushmore,” explains Craig Moore, who has been lead pastor of First Assembly since 2014. “We’re very strategically located — everyone coming through Rapid City headed to Mount Rushmore comes by our church.”
However, during the week the team was there in 2022, only 48 bikers came in to have their motorcycles washed and detailed.
“Bikers are suspicious of anyone giving away something — nothing is free — there’s always a catch,” Hubbell explains. “Our only ‘catch’ is that they allow us to pray over or ‘bless’ their bikes when we’re through. This is something well-known and accepted by bikers — they want their bikes blessed. We also ask, when we prepare to pray, if there is anything in their lives we can pray for, and we will include that in the prayer of blessing.”
Although 48 bikes may seem like a few, Hubbell says their team was pleased because, especially in the biker world, trust is built over time and word of mouth.
Evidently trust was established as this year, with the help of volunteers distributing flyers, 79 bikes were washed and detailed.
“And that was really just in two days!” Hubbell exclaims. “The other five days we were there, it rained – we are already planning to double our setup for next year.”
Moore notes that during Sturgis, Christian bikers or those who are a part of a Christian bike clubs are also present — and typically are the ones who find their way to First Assembly’s church services during the rally.
“We don’t get a lot of hardcore bikers here on Sunday mornings looking to check out the church,” Moore admits with a laugh, “but we do have people who volunteer and join Josh and Curtis, who really know the culture.”
Hubbell says it’s important for bikers to know that the free bike wash is a safe place — they don’t even take donations for their efforts. “We build relationships as we wash and detail their bikes,” Hubbell says. “We may not see the harvest, but we are planting seeds.”
Hubbell lives about an hour southeast of Chicago in Hebron, Indiana. And like his father, he carries on the tradition of involving his family in ministry, taking his wife, Emily, and their four children, ages 1 to 10, on the roughly 1,000-mile journey to Rapid City.
“We had one gentleman, on a really hot day, park as far away from us as he could — you could tell, he didn’t want to engage with us,” Hubbell recalls. “So, I took him a bottle of cold water and invited him over.”
Soon, a conversation began as the man’s bike was being detailed. He was from Chicago – only about an hour away from Hubbell’s church. Hubbell invited him to stop by the church.
“By the time we were done with his bike,” Hubbell recalls, “he pulled me over to the side and told me he was running from some problems back home and he believed God had him run into us — that God directed him to our bike wash!”
Moore says he believes the Holy Spirit is present and active during their outreach to bikers. One occasion sticks out in his mind:
“During our conversation, the Holy Spirit really got a hold of this young man. We were able to share the love of Christ with him, how He died for him, and had a plan and a purpose for him,” Moore says. “I don’t know if he surrendered his life to Christ then, but he was really seeking the Lord . . . it was really a cool thing.”
However, bikers aren’t the only ones the ministry is making an impression on. Hubbell says his two older children are already beginning to understand the significance of planting seeds of the gospel message into lives, as they hear the interactions, witness relationships being started, and prayers shared.
Although Sturgis draws bikers from across the country and even around the world, Hubbell says that they do their best to let bikers know of a biker-friendly church near their home, noting that it’s their goal to help bikers find a church with members who understand them and can help them get plugged into the church.
“With a couple dozen volunteers participating, many times a biker may be located near enough to a volunteer’s church to receive a personal invitation to that church,” Hubbell says. “If not, HonorBound has members throughout the country we can recommend who share a common passion for motorcycles . . . and an uncommon passion for Christ.”