“What is going on here?” a middle-aged man asks.
He’s tucked inside his van as a relentless drizzle prevents him and others from walking on the beach.
The man, who says he’s from a town outside Manchester in England, drives one of several vans that are currently parked by Norwick Beach on the Isle of Unst. Unst is the northernmost isle of the Shetland Islands and the northern border of the United Kingdom.
“Let me explain.”
As he has done many times during this bleak May 17, I Will Go Ride team coordinator Anthony Kent stops to answer the man’s question and ends up leaving a couple of Adventist books with him.
This man might be the last contacted that day, which started many hours and a couple of ferry rides before from the team’s base in Bixter on the Shetlands Mainland.
A Plan and a Schedule
Early that morning, retired pastor Paul Tomkins reflected on the example of Paul when reaching others. “He went out and took his time to meet people where they were and worshipped,” Tomkins said. At the same time, Paul “was ready to change his modus operandi and present the gospel in public places when he had the opportunity to do it.”
Kent has prepared an optimistic schedule for a route north to outer isles on the northeast of the Shetlands. They know rain is forecast for the afternoon, and they want to make the most of every moment to cover as much of the islands as possible before it becomes too wet. Their mandate and priority, however, are clear. “At the end of the day, we are not in the Shetlands just to ride,” Kent says. “We want to meet people and witness to them. That’s our first goal.”
Their desire becomes true as a few minutes into the morning ride they stop, time after time, to talk to people from all walks of life. A man waiting in his parked car; a worker fixing a sheep fence; a young lady walking by; and even a Nigerian gravedigger. This group of cyclists in light blue matching gear seem to pique their curiosity. All of them end up with flyers or a book.
The first ferry crossing puts the team on the Isle of Yell (pop. 966), and not much later, the drizzle starts to fall. After riding Yell from southwest to northeast, another ferry takes them to Unst (pop. 632). Ferry crossings are also an opportunity for Kent, who connects with and talks to some of the drivers waiting in their vehicles.
By then, the drizzle is barely visible, but relentless. After Kent and General Conference associate health director Torben Bergland ride northeast through Unst, they reach Norwick Beach. Minutes before that, the cyclists and their supporting vehicles stop by Haroldswick Methodist Church, a small sanctuary advertised as Britain’s Most Northerly Church.
“Who knows,” a wet and cold cyclist comments as they all store their bicycles for the drive back, “if a future church member won’t be able to trace their first contact to this afternoon.”
That notion is perhaps what kept them riding despite the cold and the rain.
On May 18, another cold and cloudy day, it is time to leave their bikes aside for a while to walk downtown Lerwick. The capital city (pop. 7,500) is bustling with movement, as the first cruises of the season have begun to arrive at the port.
The cycling team members each go their own way in the streets around the Islesburgh Community Centre, the venue chosen for the weekend meetings. Once again, they talk to passersby, distributing flyers and an occasional book.
Then, when team members seem ready to take a break, Inverness pastor Wilfred Masih has an idea. “What if we call the radio,” he suggests. “What can we lose?”
Masih is surprised when the person on the other end of the line at BBC Shetland 92.7 FM tells them to pay a visit to the station to be interviewed. Masih, Kent, and Scottish Mission president Jimmy Botha visit the station. Once more, they explain what they are doing on the Shetlands and why.
Then, two newspapers pick up the story and write about it. One of them, The Shetland Times, highlights the cyclists as “a group of pastors from Norway and different parts of Scotland” who are “having conversations with locals, talking to them about hope.”
The radio interview and the feature in printed media had not been in the original plans of the I Will Go Ride team. But once again, God opened doors that they had not considered.
“My heart is overflowing right now because of all that I am experiencing,” Botha writes in a message to the team. “This is heartwarming.”