Lost and Found

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Innocence and Joy

If I were you, I wouldn’t do it. So said a pastor with experience helping to plant churches in Mexico, in response to my inquiries regarding where to go and what to look for concerning the Church south of the border. He went on to explain that what we are seeing in the media is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to kidnappings, beheadings and disappearances.

I took his counsel to heart but couldn’t shake a sense that my search would be incomplete without gaining some understanding of the spiritual climate and the workings of the church in this portion of North America. Sitting in my campsite at Lake Corpus Christi I was praying once again and asking God to lead me to my next stop. With more rain on the way I logged on to Priceline to see if I could find a cheap hotel for a couple of days around Brownsville. Low and behold, I found a room on South Padre Island that was cheaper than my campsite. What’s not to love about the off-season?

These were not high-class accommodations, but I was warm and dry and closer to the border. After a couple of days of searching, sending emails to churches explaining my quest and getting no response, I was about to give up and start heading back north but decided to check one last resource. Though as reported in earlier posts, I had not had the best luck with my own denomination, I surfed over to www.nazarene.org and typed Brownsville, TX into the church finder box. What do you know, up popped a work called “Lost and Found” – there was no website for the church, just an email address, but intrigued by the name I fired of a quick message and went to get some coffee. By the time I got back to my room I had a response from Pastor Mark and after exchanging a couple more emails we made plans to meet for dinner at Kiki’s Restaurant Familiar. This was no Tex-Mex joint, but a true Mexican restaurant. Over a simple dinner, Mark and Marilyn Redwine became almost instant friends and I knew that God had led me to kindred spirits.

Mark explained that this was a different kind of work ministering exclusively to the local Mexican population most of whom live in the Colonias (A Colonia is a semi-rural subdivision of substandard housing lacking basic physical infrastructure, potable water, sanitary sewage, and adequate roads.)[1] in the area.[2] Before we parted for the night he invited me to bring the message at their Thursday evening service.

Thursday morning I awoke, giving thanks to God for providing an opportunity to gain the knowledge I sought without the risks associated with riding my bike into Mexico. I must admit that I also began my day with a certain amount of trepidation. Thus far on this trip I have found wonderful ministries serving the homeless, addicts and those with physical and developmental disabilities. Out of the box ministries for sure, but I have a fair amount of experience with these populations. Then there are the Biker churches, again, different, but as a guy touring North America on a motorcycle, these are folks with whom I have shared interest. However, with the Mexican immigrant population I have no previous exposure, nor even a point of reference.

I prayed; “God, what do I, a middle-class gringo who’s running all over the place on a motorcycle have to share with these folks?” His answer; “You have me, you have the story of what I am doing in your life, and you have a desire to learn from them. What more do you need?” With that clarity, I spent a little more time in preparation and enjoyed the rest of my day.

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Every Church Should Have a Granny

As evening approached, I headed to Mark and Marilyn’s house, having agreed to meet there so I could ride with them into the Colonia. There I met Karen, a teenager from another Colonia who spends a good deal of time at the parsonage and serves as a back up translator at times. Then Ron and Kay showed up, they’re a wonderful couple called in retirement to offer themselves as volunteer missionaries. As we headed out to the van we were joined by “Granny”, the widow of a Mexican pastor/church planter who lives next door to the parsonage, and what I assumed was her real life grandson.

After a short drive we arrived at the mobile home where the meeting is held each week. Mark explained that the deck on which we met was fairly new. When services started at this location the deck was small and rickety and the only thing steady was the fear that it would collapse at any moment. A work and witness team from another church came down and built this new deck so the group would have a safe place to meet.

There were about twenty of us on the deck Thursday night, with temperatures in the fifties and a steady twenty mph wind, gusting at times to about twice that speed. Most folks were dressed in layers and bundled up against the cold yet, undeterred. Since none of these homes have heat, they are quite used to dressing for the cold.

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Thursday Evening Service in the Colonia

After a few songs, a couple in English but most in Spanish, requests and concerns were shared and Granny led in prayer. Mark stood to introduce me to the congregation, saying he felt like we had been friends for years (the Bible does say that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years”) and invited me to share a little of my story.

Working with an interpreter, I shared J.I. Packer’s quote that Christianity in North America is three thousand miles wide and a half-inch deep, and went on to explain my search for deeper pools of authentic faith. I was just beginning to feel like the interpreter and I were getting into a pretty good rhythm when I made the statement that though I have been in ministry for almost thirty years, I have seen far too few people radically transformed after coming to know God. What happened next was absolutely precious, for instead of translating, my interpreter looked at me with shock and simply said, “You haven’t?” Suddenly, it was as if everyone else disappeared and the two of us engaged in a dialogue about how while I have seen some people dramatically changed as a result of their relationship with God, the vast majority of Christians I know are pretty much the same as people in the world, with only slightly different priorities. She then turned and attempted to explain to everyone else what we were discussing. Based on the looks on all their faces, it seems the gist of what I was trying to convey came across.

I went on to share the story of the two disciples on the original Emmaus road journey and how their eyes were opened and their hearts burned within them when they encountered the risen Christ.

While I was pleased to be able to share with these folks I am certain that I received the greater blessing in observing their faith and fellowship. It was genuine and not in the least dependent on their circumstances. As a result I decided to stick around Brownsville for a few more days, moving out of my hotel and into a guest room at the parsonage where Mark and Marilyn have been extremely gracious hosts.

A Man of Faith

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Pastor Mark Thomas Redwine

The story of my time in Brownsville, (almost Mexico) TX would not be complete without sharing a little more about the wonderful man of God who is leading this amazing work.

Prior to moving to Brownsville to plant this church, Mark Thomas Redwine was a Chiropractor living in Butte, Montana. As a Nazarene layman, Mark had traveled to Africa several times on short and medium term missions trips serving in a variety of ways as he was led by God. Each time he returned to the states he was able to rebuild his practice and get his patients back. Yet, after his last trip to Africa the Chiropractic practice didn’t recover so well and it became clear that God had other plans.

Years earlier, Mark said he felt God had called him to plant a Spanish speaking church; however, one does not find a large ethnic population in Butte, MT. He would go to Wal-Mart and Home Depot scanning the faces of the crowds looking for people with brown eyes and slightly darker skin, to no avail. So, it was that at the age of sixty-three, through those connections built during years of missions trips, Mark was prepared to respond to the opportunity to move to South Texas as part of the Nazarene Border Initiative and plant that Spanish speaking church.

With limited financial support, Mark’s days are filled with pastoral duties, compassionate ministry food and clothing distribution and a part-time job, as he puts it, pounding dents out of trumpets. In fact, Mark repairs musical instruments of all kinds in order to put food, not only on his table, but often, on the tables of the people to whom he has been called to serve.

Yes indeed my friends, God has led me to another place where Christianity is far more than a half-inch deep.


[1] Larson, J. E. (2002). Informality, Illegality, and Inequality (Vol. 20, pp. 137-82). Yale Law & Policy Review, Inc.

[2] For a more detailed explanation of Colonias click here.

A Tale of Two Churches – Part II


Lining up for a meal following the service

In Part I of this post I was pretty harsh concerning the church I visited in Baton Rouge, but I believe with good reason. You see, several times now on this journey I have spoken at length with people who have a Christian background and who will quite willingly tell me that they still believe, yet for a variety of reasons, they have become disenfranchised from the church of their youth. Some tell me that the church has become too political; others say the church is all about money or about power or cite the issues of child abuse and molestation among the clergy. Still others say it’s just so empty and irrelevant to their daily lives. They tell me they are sick of the prosperity gospel or the feel good gospel and are hungry to be challenged and called to something more meaningful.

So it is with the Holy Spirit’s conviction in my own heart that I say to all churches that are just happily going through the motions, providing services to the people who are already in, but doing little to meet the temporal and spiritual needs of those without, it is time to wake from your slumber! It is high time you/we start reflecting the nature and character of the Christ who is revealed to us in Scripture, for we are called to be his ambassadors, not his gatekeepers

When I review the history of the Church of the Nazarene, I find a denomination very different in its early days from what it has become today. I remember distinctly during my preparation for ministry a class in which we discussed the life span of a movement. I don’t claim to be an expert on organization lifespans but here is what I remember from our discussions and personal study

Everything starts with an idea. When an idea is shared and embraced by others, if it significant enough to create action, then two or more people band together to create a movement. As the movement gains momentum and grows in the number of participants, while it may seek to avoid the trappings of an institution, it soon becomes clear that without some sort of structure it becomes chaotic and ineffective. Thus rules and some form of organizational authority are developed. Over time, as the organization continues to grow and diversify, the original catalytic idea or ideal is all too easily forgotten. It is at this stage that the organization has become an institution. Institutions become their own life form and rarely look anything like the original idea or movement.

Now, let me share with you the words of Dr. Phineas F. Bresee, a Methodist minister of the late 1800’s who along with his friend Dr. J.P. Widney and eighty additional charter members, started the movement that became the Church of the Nazarene: “We were convinced that houses of worship should be plain and cheap, to save from financial burdens, and that everything should say welcome to the poor. We went feeling that food and clothing and shelter were the open doors to the hearts of the unsaved poor, and that through these doors we could bear to them the life of God. We went in poverty, to give ourselves – and what God might give us – determined to forego provision for the future and old age, in order to see the salvation of God while we were yet here. God has not disappointed us. While we would be glad to do much more, yet hundreds of dollars have gone to the poor, with loving ministry of every kind, and with it a way has been opened up to the hearts of men and women, that has been unutterable joy. The gospel comes to a multitude without money and without price, and the poorest of the poor are entitled to a front seat at the Church of the Nazarene, the only condition being that they come early enough to get there.” (Emphasis mine) (Phineas F. Bresee: A Prince in Israel, E. A. Girvin)

The movement that began nearly 120 years ago is now an institution. I am happy to report that there are still Nazarene churches that reflect the work and ideals of the original movement, but I fear they are too few and certainly not the norm.

I pray that by now I haven’t bored you to tears with sociology and griping. All the above I feel was necessary to set the stage for what I witnessed and experienced at Church Under the Bridge.


From Vacant Lot to Church

As noted in my previous post, after confirming that I had the correct address and arriving back on location, I found a small team at work setting up church, where just a few short minutes prior, had been a vacant lot in an impoverished and dangerous neighborhood in Houston. While there were a few volunteers from a supporting church or ministry, the majority of the work was being done by those who have been reached through the ministry of the church and are in the discipleship program.

As the time for service drew near, one could see the congregation gathering, shuffling in from all points of the compass. They were all dressed in multiple layers, with several sporting black plastic trash bags as their outerwear, hoping for some measure of protection from the rain. Most carried small backpacks with the remainder of their worldly goods. A few rode bicycles but the majority were truly pedestrian. Just as the make up of the neighborhood is predominantly African American, so were those present, with a few of apparent Hispanic origin and perhaps three white guys. Needless to say, this white guy, with the silver reflective strips on his motorcycle jacket, moving around snapping pictures of everyone and everything kind of stood out. Yet, I felt less like an outsider here amongst the homeless than I had in that comfy church in Baton Rouge.


Brother Tyrone Blasts the Shofar

As we huddled together under the pop-up awnings the worship service began with prayer and readings from both the Old and New Testaments. Then the guest speaker, Tyrone Obaseki, was introduced and he stepped forward. Here was another who appeared almost as out of place as I. He was dressed in fine clothes with a black trench coat and sweet black fedora. He stepped to the pulpit and blew a Yemenite Shofar, something that has become popular in some circles as a call to worship, signifying a call to battle or spiritual warfare.


Tyrone Obaseki, President & CEO of Impact Youth America

Tyrone spoke to the men (and few women) with boldness and authority, declaring their need to choose whether to continue down a path of destruction and despair through drug abuse or to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus as the solution. He was open and honest about his own past, having been raised in the foster care system from infancy to adulthood, experiencing homelessness and drug addiction first hand. He had been in their shoes, yet found deliverance and had no problem calling them to repentance. (I wish I had space to share more of Tyrone’s personal story. To read more from his website, click here.)


Pastor Kenneth Brown, Sr.

Following the message, pastor Kenneth stepped forward and reinforced the call to repentance, challenging all present to choose the better way of Christ and specifically inviting them to join in a prayer of repentance if they chose to turn things around. After that we gathered together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Several chairs were removed in order to allow folks to come forward to receive the elements. The pastor encouraged everyone to gather close, as communion is a special family time and so we all stood, shoulder to shoulder with wafer and cup in hand, joining together in the Lord’s Prayer. As I stood in this throng, repeating those familiar words that I have uttered countless times in my life, I found myself moved to tears. I didn’t understand why then and have thought about it several times since. Perhaps it was merely being in the presence of many for whom “daily bread” is an earnest concern. Perhaps, if I am totally honest, I felt a slight sense of superiority and was feeling grateful for the privileged life I have been given.

In my final analysis, however, while both of the above were factors in my emotions, I am convinced it is the hardships I have faced in recent years along with the minor deprivations I have experienced on this journey that cause me to truly hallow my God. To know that he knows my needs and promises to meet them daily, that he calls me to extend forgiveness, just as I have received it from him. Understanding that he desires to set me free from all evil and that every aspect of that familiar prayer is possible because Jesus, a man without sin, became sin for me, paying my debt on Calvary.

The conclusion to this Tale of Two Churches is simply this: For me, Church Under the Bridge did far more in helping me to see the face of Christ and is a better representation of my own church’s heritage and the New Testament ideals to which I believe we are all called, than the comfy, cozy suburban church that has become so much of main stream Christianity.

Here is the call of God that Bresee was anxious to extend to all he met:“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-39 KJV)

May the western church wake from its slumber and extend this call once again!

A Tale of Two Churches


As I trust is coming through in some of my writings, my horizons have been expanded and my world-view is being reshaped on this trip. I have met some people and attended some churches that are very different than my rather traditional white, middle class history. Though traditional, I have always considered myself fairly open-minded. I know some who know me well, including my children may laugh at that notion, but it is true. It is entirely possible to be open-minded, yet conservative and opinionated. Now, stop laughing, I have something very important to share with you all.

Following my time at Heaven’s Way Biker Church I began my westward journey. By the following Sunday I had been settled in for a few days in Baton Rouge, LA and since I hadn’t come across anything unique looking, decided to attend the local church of my denomination. Being in Baton Rouge, I expected a church of some diversity, instead I found a church that epitomized white middle class-ness, and I felt oddly uncomfortable. Why? I wondered. Here was a church that not too many years ago I might have dreamed of pastoring. The people were friendly, the music was familiar, I knew when to stand, when to sit and how to behave at the artificially friendly greeting time. I’ll admit, I was a bit underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt but as I thought about it, I knew that wasn’t the cause of my discomfort. Was it that feeling of being an outsider? Well, sort of, but then again, I have been an outsider everywhere I have been on this trip. The thing is I didn’t feel like an outsider in those other places, only here. Then it hit me, just how artificial, plastic and contrived it all felt to me. I feel terrible even saying this because I believe the people were basically sincere in their worship, or wanted to be at least, but couldn’t see just how programmed they were. It was so much like I had grown up with, yet it left me cold. Cold isn’t even adequate – more like frostbitten. When church was over I couldn’t get outside to the fifty-degree dampness fast enough to warm up a little.

I considered writing a post just about this experience but remembered the old adage on which I grew up; “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I held my tongue (or fingers if you will) and refrained. However, my experience the following Sunday has caused me to realize that sometimes you have to call out the cold deadness. Even Jesus declared: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV) Perhaps that quote is a bit strong for what I experienced, as I don’t think the folks at that church were quite as dead in their faith as were the Pharisees, but if they do not wake up, they will be soon.

As I progressed through the next week, I continued to find myself battling unseasonably cold weather in Texas. Seriously, who would have thought I would need to wear the arctic rated underwear, I normally use when hunting in New England for a few days of camping in South Texas? Perhaps the physical cold and its attending misery are symbolic of everything I want to leave behind that is less than genuine in terms of my Christian faith.

Now we come to Church Under the Bridge. A slight misnomer, as the church no longer meets under the bridge, but it’s where they started. However, the bridge in question is part of a fairly busy interchange and the crowds grew too large, so for safety reasons the city asked them to find another location to meet. Today, the church meets in a field owned by another church not far from the bridge.

IMG_0367I had discovered this church online, while researching another church in Waco that I am planning to visit soon. All I had was an address, which I plugged into my iPhone setting off from my campsite about 42 miles south. Not knowing exactly where I was going, I left plenty early. When my phone indicated that I had arrived at my destination I found nothing to indicate that I was where I wanted to be. Since this location also happened to be on the edge of Houston’s Third Ward, ranked number fifteen in the most violent neighborhoods in America, I knew it was not where I wanted to be without a clear purpose for being there.

IMG_0407I headed off in search a friendly and safer feeling place and found a Starbucks (yes, I understand that my white middle class-ness is shining through) several blocks away. I accessed the net to make sure I had the address correct and according to the ministry’s website, 1000hills.org, I was indeed in the right place, so after a quick cup of coffee, I headed back. Upon my return I found a small group setting up for church. Out of a van and small trailer, emerged a generator, a portable sound system and laptop computer, several portable instant canopies, stacks of plastic chairs, a few folding tables, a large cross and an a-frame sign that simply read, CHURCH – EVERYONE WELCOME.I have done church planting on a shoe-string budget before, but this whole packaged church, which by-the-way is set up and taken down in this location, 7 days per week, I would ball park at about a $10,000 cost, including the van and trailer. I tracked down the pastor to introduce myself and ask permission to take pictures. He greeted me warmly and told me to feel free to take all the pictures I wanted.

It was a cold, rainy day, which I know affects church attendance anywhere, but I assumed one that met outdoors might be particularly impacted. The seats were better than 80% filled, (which church growth experts say is really full, since people prefer a little personal space. Ah, see how they love one another.) I estimated the crowd at 60 to 70 but the pastor told me they usually run closer to 90 to 100 at every service. Again, that’s not just this Sunday afternoon service, but they meet in this same spot Monday through Saturday at 7:00 pm. Furthermore, this same ministry hosts Church in the Park, Wednesday through Saturday at 9:30 am, and Church in the Driveway, Monday through Friday at 7:30 am and Sunday at 10:00 am. The Driveway Church by-the-way, meets in the driveway to their Disciple Houses program, which rather than trying to describe myself, I will just share this statement from their website: “Our Disciple Houses are a residential living program for men working to get off the streets, who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and have a burning desire to serve God and work hard. The men are trained and discipled to work in the ministry, or receive support in learning skills for secular jobs.”

So, did you catch those numbers? This ministry is conducting 18 Bible preaching church services every week! Plus running a discipleship housing program and planting churches in Latin America, Columbia, Africa and elsewhere around the globe. Oh, guess what else. At every one of those services, they serve a meal to everyone who comes!

This place is the real deal, this is Christianity in action and in my next post I will share more about the authentic reflection of Christ I found in this church and it’s pastor.



Heaven’s Way Biker Church – Part II


Pastor Robert cleaning up after a day of work

For those of you trying to follow this story, please allow me a few moments to refresh your memory and mine as to how I came to Heaven’s Way Biker Church to begin with. I met Cochise in Daytona Beach and he suggested I stop in to see his friend Bobby Wells in Fort Myers, when I was down that way. Bobby and his wife Michelle provided me a guest room in their home a few weeks later and Bobby told me about Robert Happoldt and HWBC. Now I had never met Robert but through Bobby’s friend suggestion on Facebook, we shared a few messages. I had asked him if there was any place at the church where I might be able to hang my hammock or otherwise crash for the night as I came through the Florida panhandle and he simply told me to call when I hit town.

As someone who has planted churches, worked with people with addictions and spent ten years running a transitional housing program for men in recovery, I think I have seen and experienced quite a few things that many pastors never do. Yet, as I wrote in Part I of my Heaven’s Way Biker Church experience, nothing could have prepared me for what I found in Cottondale, Florida.

Having ridden all day on mostly backcountry roads from Daytona across the northern tier of Florida, I stopped in Tallahassee for the night and let Robert know I would be arriving some time on Saturday. He asked me if I preached and when I assured him I did, he simply said, “ This Sunday 2PM Biker Church.” That was my first clear sign, that this a faith based ministry as very few pastors would dare to invite a perfect stranger to stand in their pulpit. Arriving in Cottondale, I called Robert for specific directions.

To get a general sense of things, one must understand that Cottondale, FL is a poor, rural community. Located roughly 75 miles west of Tallahassee and 40 miles south of Dothan, AL, the nearest city. Cottondale proper boasts a population of just over 900 residents with a median household income of less than $19,000 per year. To put that in perspective, the median household income for the state of Florida is a little over $45,000. These and other factors combine to make this community a natural breeding ground for alcohol and drug addiction along with the other social ills that normally accompany substance abuse.

The center of town lies about three miles off Interstate 10, and then Heaven’s Way Biker Church is another six or seven miles out country roads at the end of the blacktop of Woodcrest Rd. As I pulled up, I found Robert, Wayne (who has been living at the church for almost two months and Nemo (a fellow sojourner, though traveling on two feet instead of two wheels) working out front, rebuilding the church sign. Robert greeted me, suggested I pull my bike around back, gave me at the nickel tour of the facility, showed me where to put my things then went right back to work.


Welcome to God’s Garage

What they have done is simply amazing. Old Sunday school classrooms have been converted to bedrooms and a shower has been installed between the bathrooms and the baptistry. Since the bedrooms were fully occupied, I was provided an inflatable bed set up in the sanctuary which doesn’t look like any sanctuary I have ever been in before. The center aisle is painted black with a dotted line down the middle, the pulpit is a black 50 gallon oil drum with a small wooden podium on top. The back walls are covered in original artwork depicting a Biker riding up a cross and a highway as backdrop for the baptistry. For additional decorations we find a skeleton in a rocking chair and a bedpan guitar along with various and sundry motorcycle parts, road signs, and license plates hung about.


All Artwork Courtesy of Bobby Wells

As soon as I unstrapped and stowed my gear I went back out front with my camera to begin the important act of chronicling this place. After getting some initial shots I joined the work party, not because anyone said I should, it simply felt like the right thing to do. After painting and sealing the plywood, we mounted it to the framework over the old granite sign of Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church.

As dusk began to fall we all headed inside and I met more folks who were staying at the church. I met Tina who was traveling with Wayne from Indiana. John, a guy on a sport bike from South Carolina, and K.R., a Lakota Indian who for some reason found himself in crisis in Cottondale.


Murals by Bobby Wells

Alicia had come over and offered her greeting as well, then after digging out a bunch of food from the pantry and the refrigerators which Tina set to work turning into our dinner, Robert and Alicia went back across the road to the parsonage. Wayne has a job washing dishes at a little Mexican restaurant in town so Tina prepared dinner for the rest of us. Setting it all out on the counter, we gathered into a circle and held hands for the blessing, which was led by K.R.

As dinner drew to a close, people just started getting up and taking care of cleanup. I have been in churches where everyone knows each other and knows their way around the various tasks that need to be performed, but I have never seen anything go smoother in my life. Here we were, five travelers from very different backgrounds, on separate journey’s working in near perfect harmony. As the newest “member of the family” I assumed they had been working together this way for a long time, only to discover that K.R. and John had only been around for a week and Nemo for two with Tina (and Wayne) the longest in residence at about 8 weeks. I felt so welcome, so comfortable, so at ease that I knew instantly, only the Holy Spirit can bring this kind of unity amongst veritable strangers

Over the next couple of days I had the opportunity to get to know these folks a little better. Unfortunately K.R. was suffering with a terrible toothache due to a lost filling and slept most of the time I was there so I didn’t get much of his story, but this much I came to understand. He was a traveler in need, was provided food and shelter along with a scheduled dental appointment to address his most pressing need. He was loved and welcomed and grateful in return.

John had been traveling for some time but apparently found himself out of funds to continue his journey. Finding HWBC as a temporary home he went out in search of work and found employment as a cook at a Waffle House in Dothan. Since he was off to work a great deal of the time I was around, I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked but the gist I got was that he was doing all he could to provide for himself and was looking for a place closer to work where he could settle in for a while.

Nemo, as I said was on a walking trip from Indiana. He had set out to walk a thousand miles with his destination Saint Petersburg, FL. Nemo is an artist who works with items he finds in nature. Along his journey he has created works of art that remain in place wherever he creates them. Some are made using fallen leaves, moss and twigs, so when the wind blows they are gone from view but not from memory, or in some cases a digital record. Similar to my own journey, Nemo’s is deeply spiritual in nature and it is his hope to publish his artful sojourn someday. After his R & R break at Heaven’s Way, he plans to be back on the road soon for the last two to three hundred miles of his trek.

As often happens when people find out I am a pastor, Tina opened up to me about her troubled past. Though I want to be careful not to divulge anything that may have been spoken under the assumption of confidentiality, she admitted that leaving Indiana was like running away, something she needed to do to get her head on straight. She was so thankful to have found a place like HWBC where she found such peace. She told me that while she knew she couldn’t stay forever, the notion of leaving this peaceful haven brought tears to her eyes.

Wayne had his own troubles back home; having lost much, he is fighting his own demons but looking to make a fresh start. With an appearance similar to Hulk Hogan and a down home Midwestern mindset he is undeterred by his circumstances. Working as a dishwasher in a local Mexican restaurant he has managed to convince his employer that he should pay him a salary and let him work whatever hours needed to get the job done. Thus he goes into work for a couple of hours three times per day, doing morning prep, then cleanup after lunch and dinner. I have never seen anything quite like this arrangement but since it works well for both employer and employee, everyone is happy.

While each of my fellow travelers will testify to faith in Christ, none of them look or act much like the folks I have gone to church with over the years of my Christian walk. I would say, with the certainty that none will not be offended by this, that they are all aware of their brokenness, comfortable with their imperfections and joyous in the knowledge that God loves them, cares for them and is at work in them, accepting them just the way they are. What made this brief encounter so thrilling for me was that not one of them was wearing a mask. There were no facades, no pretense and no false holiness.

Aside from these fellow travelers, I found much the same in our host and hostess, Robert and Alicia, as well as all those who gathered for church, both Sunday morning in Alford, and Sunday afternoon in Cottondale.


Cleanup After Sunday Dinner Begins

While I may not have been everywhere and seen it all, over the years I have had opportunity to travel and visit many churches of various flavors and denominations but I have never seen anything like I did last weekend. In Alford, the sponsor church for Heaven’s Way, I saw very traditional Southern Baptist ladies in dresses with classic church lady hairdo’s worshipping side by side with tattooed women in jeans and black leather. I saw Southern gentlemen in coats and ties greeting and hugging long-haired, bearded bikers. In Cottondale, I saw many of these same people respond positively to a simple gospel message brought to them by a Yankee preacher. In other words, I witnessed what church growth experts have told me was impossible, but what I took as a foretaste of heaven.

Knowing not what lies ahead on this journey, I know that my brief stay and experience at heaven’s Way Biker Church will be cherished as a great highlight of my Emmaus Road Trip. Thanks for riding along with me in thought and prayer.

Heaven’s Way Biker Church – Part I

IMG_0295 In the original Emmaus Road journey, which is recorded in the Bible in Luke 24, we are told that two disciples were walking along talking about Jesus arrest, crucifixion the empty tomb and that; “As they discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself, came up walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” (v. 15-16 NIV)

Why they failed to recognize him is unknown. Bible scholars and commentators have written a number of possible explanations but all must admit that the final answer remains elusive. Whether the issue was their vision (or lack thereof) or Jesus possibly altered appearance we do not know. All we know is that “they were kept from recognizing him.” It is this very notion, which has been key to my journey. I have been following the leading of the Holy Spirit, praying constantly for “eyes to see” what God is doing in these days and through what people and means.

Robert & Alicia2

Robert and Alicia Happoldt

As some of my recent posts have indicated, the people God has led me to as those He is using to impact this age in North America, are not people most of us would immediately recognize as reflections of Christ. So it is that we come to another case in point: Robert and Alicia Happoldt and their work at Heaven’s Way Biker Church in rural Cottondale, FL.

In 2000, Robert and Alicia were living the hardcore bikers life in southern Alabama, making, doing and selling drugs. In Alicia’s words it was a marriage made in Hell, where abuse and fear were part of her daily life. At that time, Robert was known as “Roger Rabbit” a fast living man with lots of drugs and a big gun. Occasionally Alicia made an attempt to get away, but Robert always found her and forced her back home. Then one early Wednesday morning in July, the 12th Judicial Circuit Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force came a knockin’ with search warrant in hand. It was no gentle knock, really more of a crash, and what the Task Force discovered, resulted in charges of possession and trafficking, earning both Robert and Alicia ten year prison sentences.

Robert & Alisha

Robert and Alicia – Servants of Christ

While still in county jail, awaiting final sentencing, Robert was visited regularly by a pastor who kept telling him aboutGod’s love and Jesus desire to set him free. Robert would cuss and swear and verbally abuse the preacher, rejecting everything he had to say. One day, however, the preacher showed up and said: “God is tired of knocking on your door and you not answering him.” With a few more words indicating a life of eternal torment the preacher left. In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Robert took out his Bible (one he had previously requested because the pages of Bibles made good rolling paper) and began to read. There he came across these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV) Thinking of all the people and families he had hurt because of his actions and the drugs he had provided, Robert was thrilled to know the past could be left there and a fresh start was indeed possible. There on the floor of that filthy, desolate cell, Robert knelt, confessing his many sins and seeking forgiveness from the One who makes all things new. Yes he still had to face a mandatory three years of his ten-year sentence, but for the first time in his life, Robert was truly free.

While God was dealing with Robert, he was also working in Alicia’s life, so on March 9, 2002 Alicia woke in her prison cell and decided she was through running with the devil, raised her arms to heaven and gave it all over to God. Just as Robert needed the years of his prison sentence to find grounding in the Lord, so Alicia found women who mentored her in her faith and helped her grow as a Christian.

Robert and Alicia have been out of prison for ten years now and are enjoying a marriage remade in heaven. They are part of Heaven’s Saints Motorcycle Ministry and have traveled and shared their testimony of God’s changing and delivering grace, many times with prisoners behind the very bars where they once resided. But about five years ago, Robert was asked to consider a new and unique ministry opportunity.


A Rather Unconventional Sanctuary

Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church, which was officially recognized in 1881, was for many years a flourishing congregation but by early this century it’s numbers were dwindling and it eventually closed its doors. Though some of the details are uncertain to me, Bob Johnson, the pastor of nearby Alford Baptist Church suggested to Robert that the church be re-opened as a different kind of church, ministering to Bikers and the homeless. Thus Heaven’s Way Biker Church came to be with Robert and Alicia leaving their native Alabama to lead this unique ministry.

It was while I was visiting Bobby Wells (who’s incredible testimony I first read in a little newspaper published by Cochise and Set Free Church in Daytona) in Naples Florida, that he shared with me some videos of Heaven’s Way and put me in touch with Robert. Though I was pleased with what I saw and heard from Bobby, I had no idea what I was riding into when I showed up in Cottondale. Bobby made a friend suggestion through Facebook so Robert and I connected and messaged beforehand but I had no idea what to expect. The fact is, even if I had seen more pictures and had the opportunity to read the full history, nothing could have prepared me for what I found at Heaven’s Way Biker Church.

The place, the people and the stories connected to them absolutely blew my mind. I’m afraid the details of what I found will have to wait for my next post so don’t forget to check back tomorrow.

Foolish, Weak, Lowly and Despised

Pastor James “Cochise” Powell

While I have made mention of him in a couple of Facebook posts, I feel the need to share a little more about my friend James “Cochise” Powell, as my meeting of Cochise has been a significant factor in the places I have been and some of the people I have met in the past few weeks.

My first encounter with Cochise was an interesting happenstance in itself. When I started this trip I said that I was relying on God to direct my steps and what an adventure it has been. It was a Friday afternoon in Daytona Beach several weeks ago and I had yet to find much in the way of unique, effective ministries. I had decided to try to enjoy my evening and began a search for some live music. That’s when I found Jakob’s Well and met Ray and Susan Kelley, whose story I already wrote in my post, “Just Crazy Enough to Do What He Tells Us to Do.” Ray told me about Jeremy Folmsbee and the beachside service he conducts at Sun Splash Park for the homeless and folks who live in a supportive housing facility across the street from the park. It was at that service that I met Pace Allen, a Christian Attorney, who invited me to a men’s prayer breakfast at First Baptist Church. Following the breakfast and a study on God and Country, I found a group of five or six men chatting about spiritual things and decided to pull up a chair. Sitting across the table from me was a man who was clearly looked to as an authority by the others in the circle. He was dressed casually with a black driving cap on backwards atop his longish salt and pepper hair, sporting a neatly trimmed goatee with tattoos up and down both arms. This was my first encounter with Cochise and I immediately sensed a need to talk further with him about my mission.

I left Daytona later that day in order to head to Virginia to celebrate Thanksgiving with two of my sons. When I returned a few days later I decided to attend Cochise’s service at Set Free Church. Though not specifically a “Biker Church” Set Free is a church that is geared toward reaching those who might not feel comfortable in a more traditional church. I was warmly greeted at the door and walked in to a meeting room with about 25 -30 people milling about and settling in for the service. For me, the service was oddly nostalgic, taking me back to my own church planting days. I say “oddly nostalgic” because I don’t always look back with fondness on those often, difficult days. However, somehow already on this journey, I am seeing the organic nature of that work in a very different light. (Perhaps I will have more to say on that subject later)

For those of you who perhaps haven’t been to church in a while, things have changed. As a child in a mainline church, we always had a choir. When I went back to church (an “evangelical” church) in the late 70’s I found the same formula with which I grew up, albeit a little more upbeat and less somber. Nowadays, most contemporary churches have a “worship band” instead of a choir and the words of the songs are projected on the wall or a giant screen in lieu of hymnals. In church planting, however, you have to be creative and work with what you’ve got. Set Free Church uses a laptop and projector with recorded music. We sang along to old songs like “Victory in Jesus” “I’ll Fly Away” along with other Christian classics. It just felt good to a middle-aged guy with a bass voice who sometimes struggles with the modern stuff that seems written for (if for men at all) men with a higher range.

At Set Free Church the people were friendly, casually dressed and appeared well aware of their shortcomings; there was no pretense and no facades. The message was solidly Biblical and Cochise was very engaging with his congregation. The music was familiar and the fellowship warm and inviting. In my spirit, I sensed the presence of Christ.

When I ran into Cochise a day or two later and told him I was struggling with what to write about him, he was quick to say “I don’t know that you will see the reflection of Christ in me, unless it’s in the call to be broken.” Well, as a matter of fact, I do see the reflection of Christ in that call, furthermore, I see the reflection Christ in his humility and desire to reach those who might not feel comfortable or even welcome in many churches today.


Christmas Eve Worship at Boot Hill Saloon

As further evidence of his desire to reach those who may be disenfranchised from traditional forms of worship, on the fourth Sunday of every month, Set Free Church meets early so they can conduct an additional service at Boot Hill Saloon, a popular biker bar amongst several such bars along Main Street in Daytona. Thanks to the relationships that have been built at Boot Hill, Cochise was invited to conduct a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Though I had already gone south, I decided it was worth a few extra miles to be able to attend that service, so as I headed north in preparation for my westward journey, I cut back across Florida in order to enjoy this unique setting for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Thanks to this servant of God, I have also had the pleasure of meeting his friend Bobby Wells in Fort Myers, who sent me to see Robert Happoldt, pastor of Heaven’s Way Biker Church in Cottondale, FL. This network of unconventional, ambassadors for Christ has been a wonderful blessing to me on my journey and opened my eyes further to the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:26-30 which reads: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”