The pastors who serve the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, are biking across the United States on a custom made triplet bicycle constructed from bamboo and will be stopping in Storm Lake on Aug. 4.
The pastors are traveling around 13,000 miles and stopping in 65 cities. They started the tour on May 13 and will complete it on Aug. 20. Pastor Danette Johns with the Western Iowa Synod, based in Storm Lake, says these three pastors have a goal of raising $5 million during the event. Pastor Ron Schlack say although they have a long way to go, the donations are already in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. "We don't know the exact amount of what we've raised but we're having a good time raising it," says Schlack.
Although the pastors say it's been an adventure, they say it's been challenging as well. "You don't realize how hard a tandem or triplet is until you start riding it," he says. Through the ride the pastors say they have had to become quite a team. The Pastors are stopping in each of the ELCA's 65 Synod offices which includes Western Iowa. Western Iowa primarily covers the area west of Interstate 35 serving 164 congregations.
The pastors, Reverend's David Twedt, Ron Schlak and Fred Soltown who are involved in the ride, range in age from late 50's to early 60's and serve a total of seven churches in West Virginia. They supposedly have a reputation for doing the unusual to attract attention to social issues. The idea of a cross country bicycle tour was conceived five years ago and the pastors say they've been making plans for the trip for the past two years and have received some assistance of the local ELCA Synod Hunger Team. The pastors will be riding to Storm Lake from Sioux Falls, SD. Although they aren't riding every mile between stops, Schlack says their goal is to ride 60 miles every day. A support van is available, Schlack says this way they know they'll be able to make their destinations on time.
PUBLIC INVITED TO ESCORT THEM IN
The public is invited to escort the three pastors on bikes to Storm Lake and are asked to meet at the Buena Vista County Fairgrounds in Alta at 4:30 p.m. on Aug 4. Those who'd like a shorter ride can join the ride at Frank Starr Park where everyone will ride to Chautauqua Park. While in Storm Lake the pastors will be making a presentation on the issue of hunger, both here and abroad and how people of all levels can get involved to help solve the problem. A meal will be served including pork patties, baked beans, chips, bars and a drink.
Schlack says they've been moved by the people's generosity including one woman who donated a bag containing $5.51 in pennies. He says she didn't have very much but wanted to give something too. During the presentation Schlak gives a demonstration of what world hunger is. He asks for five volunteers out of the audience who are supposed to represent the six billion people on earth. Five small boxes of raisins are used to represent all the food produced in the world - he hands four boxes to one person, that person represents all the developed countries, Schlack explains. The last box is divvied up between the remaining people. He says this demonstration sends a very graphic message of how little some have.
"I'm always amazed at how silent a room gets when I do a demonstration. People begin to see how much they have and take for granted every day. It's one of those ah-ha moments," says Schlak. Fred Soltown shares with audience members a "Poverty, Hunger and Justice," Bible which specifically highlights verses related to feeding the poor. "Schlack says the Bible has 2,100 verses that emphasize God's compassion and care for the hungry.
The pastor's first stop was Chicago, the last stop will be in Minneapolis with stops in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Texas and elsewhere in between. "We've walked on glaciers in Alaska and followed the coastline in California. We've also seen the beautiful Sedona Valley in Arizona - one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen," says Schlack.
PREPARING FOR THE RIDE
Pastor Soltow has been a competitive runner since high school and has completed five marathons. He began competing in triathlons since 1983 and qualified for the first USAT National Championship in 1985. In 2007 alone he competed in five triathlons winning his division in the National Triathlon in Washington D.C. He says bike riding has become "a strength and a passion." Schlak says Soltow has been their 'taskmaster,' during the trip. "He tells us how hard we have to work and in most cases tells us we're not working hard enough," says Schlak with a chuckle.
Pastor Twedt held a record in the 880 yard run in high school which still stands, has participated in numerous 100 mile bicycle rides; C and O Canal Assault, 168 miles in 16 hours; Lenten Wilderness Sojourn 2007 and Faith in Action Triathlon. Twedt's mother passed away during the tour so left the tour to go to Sioux Falls to be with family. Another pastor took his place momentarily but Twedt will join the group again during group's trip through Sioux Falls.
Pastor Schlak is a facilitator for Healthy Congregations.
Their website www.tourderevs.org offers details of their journey and offers a way for people to donate directly to the ELCA's World Hunger program or other programs aimed at the same issue. According to the ELCA's website their program provides immediate relief for people in the United States and across the world affected by chronic hunger and poverty, assists communities through long-term and sustainable development programs and advocates for justice. To test out the bike, the pastors completed an eight day ride in West Virginia where they were hosted by local churches and food pantries.
They raised several hundred dollars for world hunger during that ride. One of their messages is that if everyone they meet would just give up one speciality drink or a fast food lunch a week and then donate that amount towards solving the world hunger crisis, much progress would be made. In fact they are often quoted as saying that chronic hunger could be ended in the next few decades if it became a priority for both churches and government at all levels.
"Come see these three pastors who have a passion for ending world hunger. Come for an evening of entertainment and giving to a worthy cause," their local organizer says.