Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mike Bikes for Bibles, or, the Adventures of a Cycling Chaplain

I don't wish to be smug about this, but the Canadian Forces recently paid me to ride my bike for a week. How great is that? The following is a report on the event which I wrote for Dialogue, the journal of the Canadian Forces Chaplaincy. MP+

Anyone driving through the quiet farmland and rolling hills of southwestern Ontario during the third week of July might have seen a band of twenty cyclists, legs pumping and big smiles almost always fixed in place. Indeed, with their bright yellow and red jerseys emblazoned with “Bike for Bibles”, the riders would have been hard not to overlook. This high degree of visibility was partly for safety, and partly to promote this unique form of evangelism.

The B4B team moves through yet another small Ontario town.

Every year the Canadian Bible Society arranges a series of Bike for Bibles rides in each region of Canada to support a particular goal within the CBS’ larger mission of “Sowing God’s word that hearts and lives might be changed”. In 2007, cyclists raised money for the CBS to print bibles for distribution to members of the Canadian Forces. This year’s Bike for Bibles goal is to raise funds to distribute scripture resources at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

As part of the long affiliation between the CBS and the Chaplaincy Branch, the Principal Protestant Chaplain, Col. Karl McLean, approved the participation of one chaplain to represent the Branch in this year’s All Ontario ride, a six day event covering over seven hundred kilometres of rural Ontario. I was delighted to be that chaplain and to participate in this event, and spent June and early July in training, riding Annapolis Valley back roads solo or with fellow members of 14 Wing’s ZX Cycle Club.

On July 18th I flew into London, Ontario, my carbon-fibre bike carefully stowed in its hard case. Reaching the farm town of Listowel, an hour north of London, I reassembled my bike, thankful that it had travelled well, and met up with twenty other riders ranging in age from fourteen to seventy-nine. Many were accomplished cyclists and veterans of CBS cross-Canada bike trips, and some were new to long-distance cycling. My fellow riders, members of diverse protestant churches, had come from all over Ontario. I was the only one from out of province, and in the week to come they would proudly introduce me as their rider from Nova Scotia. The Christian Reformed Church in Listowel was our home that night, and early on Sunday morning, following a hearty breakfast served by the men of the congregation, we gathered for a brief devotional time and then set off into a grey and cool dawn, making our way northwest for Lake Huron.

B4B riders waiting to start the ride at the Christian Reformed Church, Listowel, ON

Our route as laid out by Corrie Boer and her father-in-law Henk, members of the Listowel CRC congregation.

This morning would set the pattern for the days to come. We would regroup from our night’s rest, pray for God’s blessing and for travelling mercies, and set out on our journey. At each stop we were welcomed by the people of churches large and small, of many denominations, who unfailingly prepared huge meals and snacks to allow hungry riders to refresh and refuel. In the long rides in between meals there was ample time for the riders to get to know one another. I met farmers and teachers, musicians and electricians, students and retirees from places as diverse as Holland and Japan, all united by their love of God and of cycling through God’s creation. They in turn were interested in my work as a CF chaplain and eager to know more about military life. Many riders said they were grateful that we chaplains are there to serve and support the people of the CF. All of us drew on the strength and encouragement of others as we battled headwinds, hills, sore knees and long hours in the saddle.

B4B riders and roadies gather before departing the Christian Reformed Church in Drayton, near Waterloo, Ontario.

With Listowel as the center of a figure eight, our route took us from the shores of Lake Huron in the west to the hill country of Grey County in the north, to the corn and wheat fields of Middlesex and Oxford counties in the south and east. Because we avoided major highways whenever possible, staff and volunteers of the CBS in their support vehicles were always at crossroads and obscure turns, pointing the way, watching over our safety and ready to fix breakdowns and flat tires. When we came to a town we always regrouped and came in together, to enhance the power of our witness. From the many friendly honks and waves we received, I think we made an impression on many.

B4B riders push through rain on the final day, near Shakespeare, ON.

Padre Peterson demonstrates the military axioms of “Rest when you can” and “There are no prizes for being uncomfortable”.

On the morning of our final day I was asked to give the devotion before starting. Holding up a CBS CF bible as an example of the good work that these rides has achieved in past, I drew a contrast between the camouflage of the bible’s arid cadpat cover and the deliberate brightness of our cycling jerseys, designed for maximum safety and visibility. Using Romans 1:8 and 1:16 as texts, in which Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel and trusts in its saving power, I gave thanks for being part of a group with such faith and confidence in our Lord that it was willing to be so conspicuous for the gospel’s sake.

One of the unexpected perks of this trip was the opportunity to go through my former parish of St. George's, Middlesex Centre and Grace Church, Ilderton. Here I am with the new Rector, Father Daniel Bowyer, and two dear friends and former parishioners, Mrs. Eleanor Little (left), and Mrs. Hilda Bonner (right). These folks gave us a very hearty breakfast, and it was great to see them again.

The final leg of our tour swung south and east of the town of Stratford before turning northwest and returning to our starting point of Listowel. After over 700 kilometres of cycling, despite fatigue, sore muscles and some minor scrapes, we entered town in a tight group of pairs, a column of grinning riders in bright yellow and red. We had made it. A final feast awaited us, and after the closing devotions at Listowel Mennonite Church I was asked to say some final words about military chaplaincy. I spoke briefly about our ministry, from the simple pleasures of unit visits to those solemn moments when we support members and their families in times of injury and death. Once again I was impressed by the pride of these Canadians in their armed forces and by their appreciation of our work as chaplains. Speaking for the Canadian Bible Society, Rev. Wib Dawson thanked the CF Chaplaincy for sending a rider to be part of this event.

Padre Peterson holds one of the CBS arid cadpat cover bibles, produced in part thanks to funds from the 2007 B4B Ride, at Calvary United Church in Tavistock, ON.

Now safely back in Greenwood, I continue to give thanks for the opportunity to have been part of this event. I am grateful for the chance to have been an ambassador for the Branch, and I am humbled by the way that our unique ministry in the CF is supported and upheld by the prayers and good opinion of many in the civilian church. Finally, I am impressed and humbled by how these riders came together, cheerfully enduring hardship and challenge for the gospel’s sake. I challenge other chaplains to become involved with Bike for Bibles events in their region (see, and predict that they will be strengthened in their vocations as a result.

Captain Michael Peterson
14 Wing, Greenwood

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Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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