By Quinn Lavespere, Message Summer Staff Writer
ELTON – Many Christians take their ministries on the road, and one particular church is putting the proverbial pedal to the medal for Jesus.
[img_assist|nid=6609|title=Elton First Baptist Church Pastor Pat Thomas and members of FAITH Riders motorcycle ministry travel across Louisiana preaching.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]Elton First Baptist Church Pastor Pat Thomas and the members of his FAITH Raiders motorcycle ministry travel across Louisiana preaching the message of Christ and supporting the people they visit.
“We want this ministry to give people across Louisiana a chance to come and know the Lord,” Thomas said. “We also want this to be an enjoyable fellowship between those of us who are doing it.”
Thomas came to Elton First after moving from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, after he completed a master’s degree in Christian Education.
“I came to know about Elton through word-of-mouth,” Thomas said. “Truthfully, we know God sent us here. I had pastored a church in southwest Georgia before going to Fort Worth, Texas. That’s where I got my bike as a graduation gift during grad school. I was also a youth pastor in Florida before coming here, and my father-in-law owned a motorcycle store. My wife has been raised around motorcycles her whole life and likes to ride them, so it makes my job easier to have a motorcycle-riding wife.”
Thomas said the motorcycle ministry was born out of a desire he and other members of Elton First and the Elton community had to fellowship together while spending time and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others who had the same passion about bikes.
“That was the sole purpose this ministry was started,” Thomas said. “I didn’t buy a motorcycle to minister to these men; I already had a motorcycle when I came to this church almost two years ago. Similar desires and this motorcycle ministry have opened up avenues with my men’s ministry at Elton First, where some of these men have been coming to.
“The motorcycle ministry was actually commissioned as a FAITH Riders chapter in, I think, July of last year,” Thomas said. “Mike Davis, our director, helps coordinate bike rides. He’s also a state trooper. He oversees our safety and in the future hopes to get us into some rider safety courses.
“Basically, we’re trying to reach those men who don’t fit the natural caliber of people who come to Baptist churches or any church whatsoever – those who talk a different jargon, wear goatees, and so forth,” Thomas said. “I think God has used my experience as a diesel mechanic in the Navy to help me understand how to minister to the hard-working people in the community, from the crawfish guys to the farmer working on his tractor.
“I thought there might be a stigma in the community about a Harley-Davidson-riding preacher,” Thomas continued. “I remember the day we rolled a motorcycle into the church’s altar area that it was pretty much a moment of shock for those in attendance.Yet, the people responded positively to it, and the pastor search committee before we came to the church had responded enthusiastically when we asked them if it was all right that we do the motorcycle ministry.”
Thomas said First Elton’s motorcycle ministry today includes about a dozen bikes and 20 members.
“Some of our members actually don’t have motorcycles or are not members of our church, but we don’t let that keep them from being in the ministry,” Thomas said. “If they want to get involved, they can by all means.”
Thomas had a couple of interesting stories to share about the ministry’s spiritual side.
“One of the guys in our motorcycle ministry was actually in a motorcycle gang when he was younger,” Thomas said. “He was recently baptized last month. Also, the father of another member I ride with came to know the Lord at 77 years of age. He still rides and has been coming to our men’s ministry. God is blending the secular and spiritual together and has brought blessings from that mix. We are going in the right direction physically and spiritually as God intertwines us together.”
Thomas talked about other blessings the ministry had experienced in addition to the baptisms and positive future.
“One blessing is how God gives me an opportunity to do something I really love to do,” Thomas said. “Also, you can never predict the rain in Louisiana, and we pray to God before we leave on trips for a dry journey. We ask Him to help us to look ahead and see a rainhead or stormy cloud and take a different, dry route. That way, we can sit down to dinner and let God answering our prayers be the topic of conversation. God also helps us to stay dry on the return trips home. It may all sound cheesy, but it helps people to see God at work, particularly those without any true spiritual insight.
“Financially,’ Thomas said, ‘there are individuals that we have come into contact with that ask us if they can do anything for us. We tell them ‘If you guys want to donate to the church and ministry or anything, we would be happy.’ Also, many of those in our motorcycle ministry help support our Harvest Festival each October. This next year we are going to have a show and shine bike show.”
When asked about the role the Cooperative Program played in helping out the motorcycle ministry, Thomas said he was very thankful all the Cooperative Program dollars given to Southwestern Seminary allowed him to purchase his bike and use it in ministry as the Cooperative Program’s money helped offset his tuition.
Thomas also had some heartwarming things to say about his family and told a miraculous story about one of his sons.
“I can’t say enough about how my family has helped out the ministry,” Thomas said. “They give prayer, support, and availability. My wife Amy brings what I call a ‘woman’s touch’ to the ministry. She can relate to other wives in the ministry who have riding husbands, and they feel more comfortable around both of us. I have three sons who like to ride on trips, and my father-in-law also likes to ride. They are also fully supportive of the ministry.
“My son Jeremy has an incredible story,” Thomas said. “He was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer called gama delta t-cell lymphoma. On March 18 of this year, I took a chance and donated bone marrow to my son, and we matched 10/10 and 13/14. The doctors couldn’t believe it. They said it was like a 2 in 200,000 chance. God used a father to save his own son, and I just find that incredible. Jeremy still is very weak and tired at times, but he wants to go with us to Sturgis, South Dakota for its 70th anniversary.”
Thomas said the motorcycle ministry has some big plans for the future.
“As I said, we want to try and go to Sturgis for its 70th anniversary,” Thomas said. “We also were hoping in the spring that we could have a crawfish boil next year and invite other FAITH Riders chapters and have an event down at our church or at a park in Jennings. The church has no issue if we were to have a motorcycle rally or evangelistic crusade with the motorcycles. There are times when Cajun Harley Davidson in Scott, Louisiana, has a Wednesday night bike night, and my chairman of deacons asks me why I haven’t gone and made it a FAITH Riders event yet.”
For the future, Thomas said he hopes the motorcycle ministry can stay in a good direction.
“There are several men I am hoping will come to know the Lord one day through the use of this motorcycle ministry,” Thomas said. “I pray every day for them. Also, I want people to not see the men of the motorcycle ministry as strangers, but as men who love this ministry and enjoy being men of God. I would like to see the LBC take a more pro-active approach to promoting the ministry a little more than we have.”
Thomas said he, his family, and the members of Elton First have really enjoyed the FAITH Riders ministry.
“The church has completely embraced the ministry and is behind it 100 percent,” Thomas said. “My sons love it, as does my wife. We wouldn’t quit now if we could.”