KANSAS CITY – “We pray that God will set the people in front of us He wants us to talk with, and that He gives us the wisdom to know when He’s done so.”
With these words, Norm Cornwell of Friendship Baptist in Holden explained how he and Rodney Harrison, a Christian Education and Missions professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, plan to find people to lead to the Lord on their upcoming cross-country motorcycle trip.
“It’s just highly intuitive,” Harrison said. “Sometimes you just have the sense God is saying, ‘Stop here.’”
Harrison and Cornwell over the last 18 months put together a plan for a 15,000-mile road trip on their nearly-identical Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their strategy: to ride through each of the 50 United States, stopping regularly to share their faith with whomever God puts in their path. Their purpose: to show the effectiveness of intentional evangelism.
“It’s pretty cool when someone accepts Jesus Christ as their savior,” said Cornwell, who started his new life as a soul winner two years ago at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. That’s where he learned to use his 3-minute story to lead someone to a personal relationship with God.
It’s come to be called the Sturgis model of witnessing, because it’s successfully been used for the last five years at the early August Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. It’s a technique developed by Evangelist Ronnie Hill of Texas, in which the soul winner asks people permission to share in three minutes how the soul winner’s life has been radically changed by the Gospel.
The Sturgis witnessing model is spreading across the nation because volunteers at the Dakota Baptist Convention-led intentional evangelism ministry at Sturgis continue to use it when they return to their home states.
Harrison said he wants to show that in each of the 50 United States, God can use the technique to draw people to Himself.
“I was a national missionary for the North American Mission Board,” the Midwestern professor said. “I heard over and over from people in the pioneer states, that ‘It’s different here; that doesn’t work here.’ While I understand culture and contextualization, I also believe God is always at work, readying the hearts of people to respond to an appropriate gospel witness.
“That’s one goal we have for this trip, to show sharing your faith works in every state, in every situation,” Harrison continued. “This way of sharing your faith is personal, it’s relevant – you touch people at their point of need – and it’s one of the ways Jesus reached out.”
Another goal for the duo is to come on top of what they agree will be a spiritual challenge.
“God says to give thanks for all things,” Harrison said. “On a trip like this we’re going to have hailstorms, heat, wind, flat tires, torrential rain storms … none of which would be a major issue in a car, but on the back of a motorcycle it’s a different situation altogether. One of our goals is to give thanks to God for everything along the way.”
The Missouri men’s plan is to ride an average of 500 miles a day, stopping at least every four hours. They’ll start July 4 with a send-off from Friendship Holden, where Harrison was church planter and Cornwell is now a member.
In true Missouri fashion, they’ll travel west, into Kansas. From there they’ll turn north into Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and east across the nation’s northern states. Their itinerary has them then riding south down the East Coast before heading west again.
They’ll fly from Seattle to Hawaii and to Alaska, where they will rent motorcycles. Upon their return from those states, they’ll head east, to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where they will end their trek at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on Aug. 3.
“The motorcycles have a tendency to draw people,” Cornwell said in explaining where and how he and Harrison anticipate connecting with people. “Anywhere we stop – filling stations, rest areas, truck stops – just anywhere you run into people. Our 3-minute stories are positive, and people usually respond to the positive.”
Harrison added, “As I’ve observed, God has these encounters arranged. … I’ve found that people who anticipate God is at work will see him work all around them.”
Harrison gave several examples of “providential encounters.” One involved a pastor who planned to quit the next Sunday – until a chance encounter with FAITHRiders praying in the church parking lot.
“God used that encounter to change his whole attitude.” Harrison said believes God is always at work around us.
“This is normal,” the Midwestern prof said. “That’s what’s exciting! We know God does miracles. That’s one of the things I love about Sturgis. We expect God to work, and He does.”
Harrison and Cornwell say they anticipate God will work even in providing for the expenses for their trip, expected to be about $150/day for each of them, including air travel to/from Hawaii and Alaska, and the occasional tire/mechanical repair, plus gas, food and hotels during inclement weather. (Other times they’ll sleep out-of-doors or in churches, when invited.)
Midwestern is providing Harrison the time away from campus for the intentional evangelism trip.
“That really helps, because the support we were planning on did not come through,” Harrison said. “But even that [lack of support] is cause to give thanks, for we know God has great plans.
“We want to witness to as many people as possible,” Harrison said. “Several in each state, with the desire that at least one in each state makes a profession of faith, but we can’t guarantee that. That’s God’s business. … I recognize we might not see the harvest in every place, but we will know a seed has been planted.”
He plans to post daily online updates at www.sturgisbikegiveaway.com, Facebook and Twitter throughout the 30 days, with photographs provided by Cornwell. n
KAREN WILLOUGHBY/special to The Pathway