SBTS team to participate in evangelistic bike ride

Communications Staff — February 26, 2009

In July a team of students and faculty from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will ride their bicycles 500 miles across the state of Iowa. But they will not be competing for an earthly prize.

Instead they will look for opportunities to share the Gospel and gain an eternal reward as they participate in the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).

Held the last full week in July, the event is a seven-day trek across the Hawkeye State involving 10,000 riders of all ages and skill levels. The ride follows a different path every year but always runs from Iowa’s western border to its eastern border. Various groups participate and use the ride as an opportunity for social interaction.

Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics, plans for the group from Southern to use their conversations to talk about Jesus. He has designed a special jersey for the seminary’s team to wear featuring Greek and Hebrew lettering along with the seminary logo. Coppenger hopes the jerseys will begin conversations with other riders.

“Your team has essentially the Gospel on your jerseys. As you’re riding along, you are passing people and people are passing you. And there is a lot of conversation,” he said.

“We take little Gospel messages on little cards and laminate them so they don’t get sweaty. And on the bike jerseys there are big pockets where you can put a handful. So even if it’s just a passing conversation, you can hand them a touch of the Gospel.”

Coppenger has participated in RAGBRAI before and had some serious spiritual conversations with fellow riders. Many are universalists and need someone to explain that Christ is the only savior, he said.

“The biggest challenge is to press the exclusive nature of the Gospel. Very few people who talk to you are dismissive of what you say. They’re just wonderfully inclusive. … It’s as though they’re on this little cultural tour or they’re going to a museum and they’ve found a new exhibit,” Coppenger said.

Some of the most important ministry work along the way is encouraging Christians, according to Coppenger. A bold witness by Southern students has the potential to inspire lukewarm believers to take their relationship with Jesus to the next level, he said.

Potential riders should not fear that the event is only for elite athletes. Coppenger said he averages 6-7 mph some days and stops to take naps in city parks and people’s yards. Along the way popcorn vendors, ice cream stands, turkey legs, pork chops, breakfast burritos and local cuisines greet riders. Because burn so many calories, riders enjoy eating as many as 7,000 calories per day without gaining weight.

“There is every kind of rider under the sun,” he said. “There are kids. There are literally bicycles built for four. You have whole families with the little kid on the end. There are one-speed balloon-tire bikes. I’ve seen a unicyclist. There are recumbent bikes, hybrids and then road bikes. … I’ve seen a farmer with his Oshkosh overalls and a straw hat just going along.”

Each night, buses run riders to showers at local schools, and campgrounds feature organized entertainment.

On occasion, riders get to meet elite athletes. Coppenger’s two sons rode and talked with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong for 30 minutes during one RAGBRAI. While every rider is not an elite athlete, preparation for RAGBRAI does involve biking 300 miles in the spring and early summer.

Students interested in participating should sign up in the Great Commission Center or contact Coppenger before March 23. Because of the event’s popularity, a lottery decides which applicants get to ride all seven days. Those who do not receive seven-day passes may purchase passes to ride individual days.

“The point is not to make the television highlights. The point is to witness at your own pace,” he said.

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