When a team of Seventh-day Adventist cyclists decided that they would ride from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, Missouri, United States, ahead of the General Conference Session in 2022, every one of the eight riders knew that they needed to train hard and get ready.
“I felt that I needed to step up my training and get fitter if I wanted to participate in such a project,” Torben Bergland, General Conference health ministries associate director and one of the participants, said. “I needed to focus on my health.”
But what Bergland and several others in the team didn’t realize is that as the start day approached, something else would fill their minds with worry. “I had never done any colporteuring, never gone to talk to people in the streets about my faith,” Bergland said in a special Saturday (Sabbath) program at the Thompsonville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thompsonville, Illinois, just one day shy of the ride finish planned for June 5.
Bergland’s comments echoed what other participants in the “I Will Go” ride felt. Several of them, self-defined as “shy” and “introverted,” were more worried about the witnessing element of the trip than about the physical challenge of the initiative. “But it has turned out to be an amazing experience,” Bergland said during the program. “I still have the shyness to approach others, but I have found that there are so many people out there who need something, who appreciate not only the books that we give them but the interaction,” he said.
Participant Rob Hansford, an Adventist accountant in Australia, agreed. “The most frightening part was sharing my faith with people. I was scared. But this experience really changed my life. I learned that I can go and tell the story of my family to anyone,” Hansford said.
A Missionary Enterprise
From the very beginning, participants acknowledged, the ride was planned not only as a fitness initiative but as a way of witnessing to others along the way. The supporting vehicles across the 1,200-mile ride west through backroads carried boxes with Adventist literature that the riders shared as they met strangers, told them about their ride, and offered to pray for them.
It all started as General Conference ministerial association associate secretary Anthony Kent and friends sought to recreate the mission initiative of Philip Reekie, a 19th-century Scottish immigrant to Australia, who rode thousands of miles on his bicycle, sharing Adventist literature with the people he met. One of those who would benefit from reading Ellen G. White’s book The Great Controversy was Thomas Kent, Anthony’s great-great-grandfather. Thomas’s eventual acceptance of the Adventist message led to the formation of a local church and several generations of Adventist pastors and committed lay members. Kent estimates that more than 20,000 people have found hope in Jesus through the years, thanks to one man on a bicycle.
Saving Toes and Limbs
The ride has other goals too, South Pacific Division president and cycling team member Glenn Townend said during the June 4 program. “In the South Pacific, someone loses a toe or a limb to diabetes every 20 minutes,” he said. “[My wife and I] have lived in Fiji, and I had colleagues who lost limbs and others who died because of diabetes.”
According to Townend, this is the reason the Seventh-day Adventist Church has partnered with other organizations for the 10,000 Toes initiative, which seeks to support efforts to curb the incidence of diabetes across the region. The Adventist Church is transforming churches into wellness centers and teaching people how to change their lifestyle habits to avoid the noncommunicable disease.
The initiative has not been overlooked, Townend said.
“An Australian university did a study about all of the health initiatives across the South Pacific,” Townend reported. “10,000 Toes won an award as the best initiative for two consecutive years.” This year, the program also won a grant of AU$37,000, which will be invested in enlarging the reach of the initiative, he said.
It’s All About Mission
The highlight of the trip, according to participants, was the outreach element of the ride.
South East Asia Union Mission publishing and health director Pham Nguyen To Phuong, from Vietnam, is the only female participant in the ride. She took up cycling five years ago and never looked back. “I used to pray, ‘Please, Lord, use my passion for your glory,’ To Phuong shared. “Through this trip, God answered my prayer.”
Australian Union Conference secretary Michael Worker said that riding through small towns and hamlets on their quest to reach St. Louis presented them with many witnessing opportunities. “Just sharing what we were doing was a great conversation starter,” he shared. “People would wave, would welcome us, and sharing our story opened the door to witnessing. And as we shared and interacted with other Christians, it happened many times that they wanted to pray for us. We came to give, but we received,” Worker said.
South Pacific Division senior ministry systems specialist Russ Willcocks agreed, adding that he felt God was ahead of them preparing the way and the hearts of people to interact with them. “It often happened that when we arrived to meet with people, we discovered that Jesus had arrived first,” he said. “They were ready and open to receive us.”
The key, Willcocks said, is to be willing to follow God’s lead. “Don’t ask, ‘should I go,’ or ‘can I go,’ ” he said. “Just say, ‘I will go,’ and Jesus will meet you there.”
Answering the Call
During the program, Adventist Review Ministries executive editor Bill Knott reminded the in-person audience and those following the livestream that the call to do mission does not originate in us but in God. “We don’t move into serving the church because we think we have something to offer,” Knott said. “It’s Jesus’ call. Without the call, there could be no mission.”
Thompsonville church pastor John Lomacang agreed. In his closing thoughts, Lomacang emphasized that the trip did not match most of the participants’ comfort zones. “But I learned that God can do anything with a willing heart,” he said.
Lomacang added that these cyclists might never know the full impact of their ride until they reach heaven. But again, he emphasized, the key is that we accept God’s call to reach out. “God can do anything through us if we just say the words, ‘I Will Go,’ ” he said.