By John Marcase, Special to the Message
PINEVILLE — What was supposed to be a 1,000 mile cycling trip for a growing ministry in Bossier City did not launch exactly as planned April 4.
Still, it did not prevent the group, consisting of men from Men of Courage Louisiana and the Christ Fit Gym in Bossier City, from seizing upon a ministry opportunity when it presented itself.
The “1,000 Miles for a Mission” trip had barely started when Christ Fit Gym owner Billy Weatherall suffered a malfunction with his bike.
“We were 20 miles out of Bossier and I had a blowout,” Weatherall said. Later that night at First Baptist Church in Pineville he shared his testimony and the cycling group took part in a worship service. “It was the only one we experienced” that day.
But, it just so happened the blowout occurred near some railroad tracks where maintenance was being performed.
“There was a railroad worker who I knew and hadn’t seen in years,” said Weatherall. “He came over and said he had been going through a rough time and needed prayers.
“God has been using us like this all along the way.”
Officially, the 1,000 Miles for a Mission ride is to raise funds for both Men of Courage and Christ Fit Gym. Both organizations operate from donations, and Christ Fit does not even collect membership fees.
“It’s a joint venture,” said Men of Courage’s Mark Rodie, who is a former men’s minister at FBC Bossier. “We do a lot together with Christ Fit Gym.”
In addition to the stop in Central Louisiana, the group planned overnight stops in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Pascagoula, Miss., and Perdido Key, Ala. Then, re-tracing their stops and returning to Shreveport-Bossier on April 13.
“We are representing Christ and bringing a ton of Bibles,” said Rodie. “In New Orleans, we’ll be outside Café du Monde buying beignets and handing out Bibles.”
“We like to do extreme things at the gym,” said Weatherall. “We do these extreme things and it gives us a platform to glorify the Lord.”
Extreme is a fitting word to describe Weatherall’s leap of faith that led him to establish Christ Fit Gym, and for Rodie to organize Men of Courage.
The night before the cycling trip began, Rodie’s outfit held its monthly Man Church in the Shreveport-Bossier area. They meet the first Tuesday night of the month. Usually, between 300 and 350 men – all men ages 12-120 are welcome – and roughly 10 churches are represented.
Rodie said when a man reaches a decision to follow the Lord, there is a 93 percent chance the family will follow.
April’s Man Church featured LSU football player J.D. Moore, American Idol contestant Garrett Jacobs and free crawfish. More than 700 attended and ate 2,600 pounds of crawfish.
As Rodie recounted the night’s event during the worship service in Pineville, he had to stop, overcome with emotion. He received the bill from Shane’s Catering and it was five figures.
Then, Rodie noticed the “Paid in Full” stamped on the bill.
During his testimony, Weatherall recounted a similar situation as he struggled to answer God’s calling to open Christ Fit Gym and make it free to anyone who wanted to work out there.
Weatherall said shortly after opening the gym in 2012, he called a non-believer employee to his office and told the employee the rent was due, the gym was $2,500 short and they needed to pray. When they finished, the two went to leave the office and a member of the gym was at the door and handed Weatherall an envelope containing $2,500.
But, Weatherall said, that was not the best part.
“That employee said he had seen a true miracle and ‘I want to accept Christ,’” he said.
Since then, Weatherall noted Christ Fit, which started with a couple of friends joining him for a Bible study followed by workouts, has expanded six times. Its monthly budget has grown from $5,000 to $42,000. More than 7,500 people have come through the gym, which still begins each workout session with a Bible study — and Christ Fit Gym still does not charge a membership or class fee.
“God operates on a whole different level than we do,” he said.
It took a while for Weatherall to understand that.
Following his 2000 graduation from Airline High School in Bossier City, Weatherall joined the Army, continuing a history of men in his family serving in the military.
Just more than a year later, Weatherall was at Fort Drum in New York. Then, 9/11 happened. A week later, he and his company were en route to Afghanistan and several other tours would follow.
The atrocities of war led him to drugs and drinking and on the brink of suicide. Weatherall said he actually picked up a gun, ready to take his life when he noticed the camouflaged Bible first handed to him by a chaplain while on that plane to Afghanistan.
He had never opened the Bible.
“I looked at that Bible and said, Lord, if you are real, I need you. And I need you in bad way,” he said. “If you give me something to live for, I’ll give you everything I’ve got. I’ll give you every ounce. But, please save me.”
Then he passed out.
The next day, a friend called and invited him to a Promise Keepers rally in Dallas and he turned his life over to Christ.
“I did not even know what a Christian man looked like,” Weatherall admitted.
One week later, he was in Africa carrying Bibles to distribute. Only a year earlier he had been in Africa carrying weapons while on a deployment.
“I started to radically live for the Lord,” he said. “I started to get into the Word of God.”
Weatherall said his mission in life is now rather simple, but difficult to achieve for many.
“I may die while I’m on this bike mission run, but I know I’m gonna go to Heaven,” he said. “That’s the only thing in life I’m sure of. And while I’m living, I’m gonna take every opportunity I can to tell other people about Christ because He is who He says He is.
“Be radical for Christ. He wants all of you. He can’t bless you with just a little bit. He can’t bless you if you just give him 90 percent of you. God wants all of you. When you fully surrender, then Christ can move in your life.”
Even on a thousand mile bicycle journey.