Revved up for the Lord: Motorcycle enthusiasts join hobby with faith
Eddie Oller had seen the patches before, the shields with the hand on the cross-emblazoned Bible, at hard-core rallies and gatherings. Oller was pulled emotionally to members of the Christian Motocyclists Association; physically, he kept his distance.
“I knew in my heart I could trust them, that they were my allies, and I was drawn to them,” Oller says. “But I avoided them. My worldly attitude wouldn’t let me close to them.”
It was years later, after Oller had undergone a spiritual and physical metamorphosis, that he could best understand a wise member’s heed to wear the CMA patch with a remembrance of not only Christ’s blood, but the blood and sweat of early CMA members who paid a physical price for evangelizing to the biker community.
“They used to get beaten and thrown out of some (biker rallies),” says Oller, a witness to such violence. “They’d earned the right to be at those places.”
The Harley-riding Oller is now 53 and a Department of Corrections guard living in Springfield with his wife, Ruth. Several years ago, he says, he unshackled himself from a litany of abuses —drugs and alcohol among them — and became a Christian.
Then came the dilemma: Could motorcycles be a part of his newfound Christianity? The answer came out of the blue, from “a friend of a friend of a friend,” as Oller puts it, who invited him to a meeting of the local CMA chapter.
An interdenominational group evangelical in nature, CMA has a primary outreach to the motorcycling community, though dirt bikers and ATV enthusiasts are a growing segment of the population, says Don Brown, the state coordinator who oversees 18 chapters and 4,000 members.
Oller says the ministry is less about getting in motorcyclists’ faces and more about sharing testimony to those willing to hear it.
“Our motorcycles are our pulpits,” he says.
The Springfield group — the Boanerges (or Sons of Thunder) Chapter — re-chartered recently after a two-year absence, though it had been around for more than two decades before that. Part of that outreach includes an annual presence at the AMA Grand Nationals — the Springfield Mile — and assistance to southern Illinois chapters at HogRocktoberfest, “a mini Sturgis rally,” at Cave in Rock, Oller says.
CMA has cachet in the local biker community. When the Outlaws opened their clubhouse in Springfield, the group called on CMA to christen it. They’ve officiated at biker funerals; at least one current CMA member is an ordained minister. When a well-known CMA member died recently, Outlaws, Iron Sleds and members of Steel Justice — secular biker groups in the area — all poured out.
“There’s a common interest in motorcycles,” Oller says. “You ask bikers about their bikes, they’re going to talk about them.
“When I put on my earrings, my leathers and all my rings, they trust us. The (CMA) patch opens a lot of doors. It really does. They know they can count on us.”
Jack Herman admits he did “a lot of things I’m not proud of,” running with the hard-core “one-percenter” motorcycle clubs in the Chicago area. A born-again Christian, Herman “wanted to get together with a group with morals, integrity and do good in the community.”
Had he not left that lifestyle, says Herman, a 57-year-old former truck driver living in Virden who becomes the Boanerges Chapter president next month, “I would have wound up dead or in trouble.”
“I’m proud of the (CMA) colors,” he adds. “It opens up people to you. It’s just a good family.”
Oller says the CMA patch has started many a conversation on the road, at a rally or in other public places.
It’s also a point of diffusion.
Ruth Oller recalls walking into a fast-food restaurant in Havana during a recent ride.
“Two older women sitting in the restaurant looked at me with this frightened look in their eyes. I said, ‘Hello,’ and then I purposely turned around and let them see the (CMA) patch on my vest,” Ruth Oller says. “One turned to the other and said, ‘Oh, they’re church people.’
“It changed the whole demeanor of the place,” Eddie Oller says.
Though not the sole motorcycle ministry, CMA, founded in the mid-1970s by Baptist minister Herb Shreve Sr., is the largest and most recognizable.
Members don’t pay annual dues and only are required to fill out an application and watch an informational DVD.
In May, the association’s annual national fundraiser, “Run For the Son,” netted more than $4 million for overseas and at-home missionary ventures.
Locally, chapter members recently took part in a motorcycle run for the Inner City Mission of Springfield. The Ollers and others have been involved with Bikers Against Street Hunger, or BASH, sponsored by the Illinois Baptist Association. Individually, members minister to inmates at the Sangamon County Jail, work with the homeless and visit the sick in hospitals.
The Ollers, who married in 2007, say they’re glad to have their pasts in their rearview mirrors. Drugs and alcohol exacted a heavy toll on Ruth Oller, 50, a computer programmer for the State Board of Education, before she got out of the “muck and mire” and found Christianity in 1991.
When Eddie Oller answered an altar call in 2004 from the Rev. Stan Summers at Koke Mill Christian Church, he had his motorcycle family with him. He also was able to win over his son, who faced charges as a juvenile, to Christianity. (The Ollers now attend Living Well Church in Springfield.)
“Back when I was doing things that bikers do, I had a false sense of freedom because I was tied up with alcohol,” Oller says. “I can still live with my motorcycle and talk about the things I love, mostly God and Jesus Christ.”
Says Don Brown, 53, of Chatham: “We’re called to go win souls. I can’t think of a better way to go than on a motorcycle.”
Steven Spearie can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 622-1788.
WHAT IS CMA?
The Christian Motorcyclists Association is an international ministry with primary outreach to motorcyclists.
* Founded: In 1974 by the Rev. Herb Shreve in Hatfield, Ark.
* Membership: In the U.S., more than 125,000 members in 800 chapters. Internationally, CMA is in 22 countries.
* Main fundraiser: Run For the Son (100-mile ride held regionally)
* Locally: Boanerges (Sons of Thunder) Chapter meets the first Friday of each month at Pasfield Southern Baptist Church, 411 W. Lenox Ave. in Springfield
* For more information:www.cmausa.org or (870) 389-6196