Reaching Kids in Sturgis

STURGIS, South Dakota — In 1997, Curtis L. Hubbell attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Walking through the festival area, Hubbell felt concern for the children being exposed to unhealthy influences through some of the activities. He sensed God calling him to motorcycle ministry.

Hubbell began following that call, and a few years later, Hubbell and his wife, Teresa, started Kidz Zone ministry at the annual rally, with 12-year-old son Joshua helping. Curtis presently serves as an Assemblies of God U.S. Missions (AGUSM) missionary and endorsed chaplain with Chaplaincy Ministries. He is involved with HonorBound Motorcycle Ministries  to develop new motorcycle ministries. Joshua C. Hubbell, now 27, is an AGUSM missionary associate, endorsed chaplain, and regional HonorBound leader who continues the children’s ministry at Sturgis.

Despite COVID-19 concerns, this year’s rally went on as planned. Bikers, along with area businesses counting on hundreds of thousands of visitors during the 10-day event that wrapped up Aug. 16, successfully fought cancellation, resulting in likely the largest nationally publicized event since early March.

With his wife, Emily, and their three children, Joshua Hubbell arrived in Sturgis on Aug. 7, the rally’s opening day, towing a trailer of ministry supplies from their home in Federal Way, Washington. They joined other families pulling bike trailers behind RVs, plus thousands of individual and group riders from all over the country. Many arrived early to take advantage of local scenic drives through the Black Hills and Badlands.

For several years, the Hubbells conducted the ministry in the town park. As the festival grew, the local Assemblies of God church stepped in to help. For the past four years, Kidz Zone has been hosted by CrossRoads Assembly, just two blocks from Main Street. Following the Aug. 9 Sunday service, Hubbell and a crew of HonorBound volunteers went to work setting up an inviting venue at the church.

“We’re glad to provide space, getting children off the street,” says Linda Grenz, who was raised in the area and has served as interim pastor at CrossRoads the past year. “Lots of these kids have never heard the gospel message before.”

Many motorcycle clubs had their roots in World War II veteran groups riding together because members missed the camaraderie of the military, as many veterans still do.

“Bikers tend to be patriotic,” says Hubbell. “They value freedom, although not always in a productive way. Many are also spiritual, so they appreciate things like bike blessings, but haven’t realized they can have a personal relationship with Jesus.”

Hubbell says some motorcyclists are professionals, such as attorneys and educators, who want to relax away from career pressures. Others are “lifestyle bikers,” who grew up in a biker family and figure their kids might as well be in on the experience. Knowing the festival environment can be less than wholesome, volunteer team members walk through to watch for children and give them a flyer about Kids Zone. Children usually respond eagerly to the invitation.

Although some activities were altered this year due to the pandemic, the outreach typically includes games, crafts, a bounce house, and an arcade. Because the days children come may vary, Hubbell uses Mailbox Club curriculum, with packets the kids can take home. By attending and completing lessons, children earned tickets for the “retro arcade challenge” and tokens to spend at the ministry toy store. Activities took place throughout the day, and a daily afternoon vacation Bible school-style rally included a straightforward presentation of the gospel.

“These kids have seen a cross on a church as part of the physical or cultural landscape,” says Hubbell, “But learning that Jesus loves them enough to die for them is new.”

Kidz Zone plants seeds not only in children but in adults, especially group leaders who may be clannish and hesitant to engage since they are often treated as outsiders.

“They know we have nothing to gain personally from helping kids, so when they see us being kind to children, it opens doors,” says Hubbell. “We want them to know they don’t have to look a specific way for Jesus to love them.”

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