Riding his 1981 Harley-Davidson on the open road is more exhilarating for Steve Ervin since he got saved from a life of drugs and despair.
The former member of the Outlaws motorcycle club now tries to attract wayward members of groups like the Outlaws, the Hells Angels and the Pagans to a life with Jesus behind the handlebars.Riding "used to be a freedom for me, that no one could touch me," says Ervin, 49, still wearing symbols of his past life: a graying beard, leather boots and blemished tattoos.
But now he also wears a silver cross around his neck.
Now, "I ride and just talk with the Lord . . . I'm riding in his wind," Ervin said.
Ervin and his wife, Carolyn, formed His Laboring Few Biker Ministry of Jesus Christ in 1990. Since then, it has expanded to become a full-service social ministry. Hundreds of bikers wear the ministry's patch on their leather jackets, alongside or in place of the patches of their riding clubs.
The ministry has chapters in five North Carolina cities and in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.
His Laboring Few has even expanded to offer a drug and rehabilitation program and a prison ministry.
The Ervins live in a motor home on campground property in High Point owned by the Wesleyan Church. They also spend time on the road, raising a tent at biker rallies in places like Myrtle Beach, S.C., Daytona Beach, Fla., and Sturgis, S.D.
On other weekends, they attend swap meets, like one last month in Charlotte. They serve free food to thousands and offer counseling, Bibles and religious pamphlets. One is titled "Jesus Would Have Driven A Harley."
His Laboring Few is one of several ministries for a biker culture often misunderstood and ignored by churches. The Christian Motorcycle Association has more than 50,000 members; other groups include Bikers For Christ and the Tribe of Judah.
Not everyone hears the call, but people like Outlaws member John Blalock say they still are impressed with the ministry.
"It reaches out to people in need. It helps out everyone, not just bikers," said Blalock, 50, who operates a motorcycle store in nearby Lexington.
The Rev. Bob Biggers, a High Point minister, said most bikers would not feel comfortable inside a stained-glass church.
"Very few churches are set up for bikers," said Biggers, pastor of Reavis Memorial Baptist Church, whose 500 members include some bikers and some recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
His Laboring Few is "taking folks that aren't going to get help anywhere else. They wouldn't venture into the average church," he said.
"I believe if Jesus was alive today he would be at these rallies and swap meets," said Ervin. "The church is out in the streets and not shut inside the doors."
The Ervins grew up in the High Point area and were the typical biker couple, cruising around on his 1979 Harley low-rider. Ervin said he got involved in drugs and went to prison.
But the two got on their knees one day in 1987 and decided they needed Jesus. They were married, moved to Harker's Island and started a welding business. They spent their free time witnessing to the bikers at Atlantic Beach, a North Carolina resort popular with bikers.
Three years later, the couple formed His Laboring Few - named after a verse in Luke when Jesus gave instructions to 70 people preparing to be missionaries: "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few."Comment on this story
In 1994, the couple moved to High Point when officials at John Wesley Camp agreed to house the ministry for free in exchange for repair work and camp cleaning.
His Laboring Few needs about $2,500 a month to operate, but asks for no money. The funding comes anyway from nearby churches and benefactors.
His Laboring Few also gives away food once a week in poor High Point neighborhoods.
The group's drug and alcohol program offers a free, three-month stay for up to 20 men and women on the camp property. They get a simple regimen of Bible study, prayer and hard work, followed by nightly church meetings.