The long-haired, weather-beaten man wearing a biker’s vest and boots dropped in unannounced for Sabbath worship at a newly dedicated Seventh-day Adventist church in the central Argentine town of Crespo.
The Crespo North church, the second Adventist church in the town of 18,000 people, had just morphed into a full-fledged congregation after being opened as a center of influence offering health talks and vegetarian-cooking classes to the community. Despite its unorthodox beginnings, the sight of seasoned motorcyclist Carlos Román was uncommon in the mostly mainstream congregation.
When Román returned for a second week, church member and fellow biker Marcel Matto decided to approach him.
Matto learned that Román had ended up at Crespo North after reading the Sabbath commandment in his Bible and seeking a church that worshipped on that day. In addition, Román had a dream of using his love for motorcycles to share his newfound faith.
That informal encounter between two bikers would be the first of many that engaged Román in Adventist mission even before being baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church last August. Those initial interactions, however, would not have come to fruition except that Matto, a carpenter by trade, had joined hands with other bike-loving Adventist friends some time before to create a local chapter of the Adventist Motorcycle Ministry, a supporting church ministry that seeks to meet the spiritual needs of bikers and other neglected groups in society.
The Adventist Motorcycle Ministry was established in 2008 by a group of pastors and lay members in the Fort Myers Seventh-day Adventist Church in the U.S. state of Florida. Its motto: “Every ride is a mission.”
Eight years later, the burgeoning ministry has expanded to chapters in 15 U.S. states and a dozen other countries on five continents, according to its website, adventistmotorcycleministry.org. The ministry strives to follow Jesus’ footsteps by meeting the needs of the people where they are, catering specifically to bikers at their events and gatherings.
From the beginning, “it was agreed that [the Adventist Motorcycle Ministry] would be a ministry and not a club,” says the history section of its website.
Members pledge to not only ride their bikes together but also become part of “a ministry to raise awareness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and win souls for the kingdom of heaven,” the website says. “Our mission is to share the good news as we ride with a mission.”
In Argentina, Matto is the leader of the Adventist Motorcycle Ministry’s first local chapter, L. S. Martín, which takes its name from Libertador San Martín, a small town of 6,000 people situated 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of Crespo, home of two prominent Adventist institutions, River Plate Adventist University and River Plate Adventist Hospital.
“We are passionate about motorcycles,” said Matto, who with his wife transferred their church memberships to Crespo North when the congregation was just a church plant project. “But above all we are passionate about helping people and bringing them to Jesus.”
Even before the chapter’s official induction last August, its members were already well known in the region for being present where people needed them most. The bikers are always seeking opportunities to assist others, distributing food and other supplies in underprivileged neighborhoods, giving away clothes and toys to orphanages, or visiting the sick and shut-ins to offer words of encouragement and prayer.
“We are always looking for opportunities to serve,” Matto said. “We are ready to work together with anyone, be it the local police, the Adventist hospital, or any other organization that may share our passion and goals.”
Understandably, the ministry on wheels has a soft spot for meeting with and witnessing to other bikers. Its members attend regional events and gatherings to chat and pray, share Christian literature, and offer healthy living tips and advice to fellow riders. In early September, the Adventist bikers attended a gathering of 5,000 fellow bikers in a park in Diamante, a town 12 miles (20 kilometers) west of Libertador. Enlisting the help of the Adventist university’s physiotherapy students, the bikers pitched a tent offering healthy posture tips, stretching exercises, and relaxing massages to dozens of riders who had spent days riding their motorcycles to the event.
Alan Orellano, a third-year physiotherapy student, said he had felt apprehension initially in working with the bikers.
“We were conscious that we were stepping out of our comfort zone,” Orellano said. “We were wondering how the bikers and visitors would react to one another.”
But the fears disappeared as the students and Adventist bikers held special sessions of prayer outside the tent, asking God to open doors for mission.
“The bikers showed great appreciation for the health tips that they learned and our desire to help them,” Orellano said. “Above all, it was a superb opportunity to witness about the message we have so wholeheartedly embraced.”
A few weeks earlier, on Aug. 12, the bikers ministry officially opened with a special induction ceremony at the University Church on the campus of River Plate Adventist University. Local members received leather vests that prominently display the ministry’s name and the logo of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A special prayer of dedication was offered.
The ceremony was crowned with the baptism of Carlos Román, the biker who had walked into the local Adventist church several months earlier. Román became the first direct result of the group’s missionary efforts.
“We have great plans for the future,” Román said. “We want to increase our presence in regional events as we also tour Seventh-day Adventist churches in the area to increase awareness about our ministry.”
While every step of the ministry may not be clear at this stage, the group leaves no doubts about its motivation.
“It’s all about using the means we have to share this message of hope,” Román said.