Longform

Heaven on Wheels

Page 5 of 7

"I knew I'd found some truth," Diana says. "And I wanted to know more."

Gary held her and talked to her all night. "It was the first time I didn't feel like a piece of meat," she remembers. After Gary left her house, she felt hopeful for the first time, and all thoughts of suicide vanished. Seven months later, in January 1980, they married. It was the second marriage for both of them.

Not long after that, Gary found his calling. "I felt the Lord tugging at my heart to work with bikers," he recalls. He decided to go to where the bikers were -- and now he had the perfect companion, since Diana had gone from hippie chick to motorcycle mama. She'd hop on the back of Gary's 1954 Harley, and together they'd ride to monthly biker events. They'd hang out in bars and wait until some biker asked about religion -- and one always would. Gary and Diana didn't smoke, drink or swear, and Gary was wearing that Jesus belt buckle, as well as a cross-emblazoned hat and T-shirt. When anyone asked what a tough-looking biker was doing with all those crosses, Gary was glad to provide an answer.

In 1984, the Davises joined a church in Broomfield, where Gary became a deacon and an elder, but they continued their motorcycle mission, too. In 1988, Gary and Diana went to Sturgis, South Dakota, for the country's biggest annual biker rally. There they met up with Preacher Mike, head of the Christian Crusaders, a group that had been reaching out to bikers for over a decade. Preacher Mike held revival meetings in a huge tent that filled up fast. Most of the bikers came to hear the music, but many ended up listening to the message.

Enough bikers were showing an interest in what Gary had to say that in 1989, the Davises began hosting Bible-study groups on Saturday nights. Since other people at the Broomfield church they attended didn't feel comfortable with a bunch of bikers meeting there after hours, Gary and Diana hosted the studies in their own home. "It got to the point where there were 35 to 40 people showing up," Diana remembers.

Although their evangelizing in Colorado was going well, when Gary and Diana returned to Sturgis in 1994, they were met with hostility -- including from some people they'd considered close friends. "People were almost spitting in our faces," Diana says.

After that week, they were almost ready to give up. They were discouraged by their reception at Sturgis and tired of having their home overrun by bikers, albeit Christian ones. One day when Gary picked Diana up at work, he told a colleague of hers what had happened in Sturgis and how they were planning to stop scooting for souls.

That colleague was a member of Riverside Baptist Church. He told Gary that Riverside's new pastor, Rick Ferguson, was thinking of ways to attract more parishioners to the gigantic church overlooking downtown.

Riverside had been suffering from dwindling attendance for years. Shortly after Ferguson became senior pastor there in 1991, he found himself staring out the window at the growing city below -- and came up with the Arms Around Denver program. "His vision was to build churches that would build churches that would build churches," Gary says.

Doing so would mean targeting people who wouldn't otherwise join a Southern Baptist church -- members of different ethnic groups, perhaps. Or bikers.

Diana's colleague suggested that Gary talk to Rick's assistant for missions, Duane Arledge. "I figured I'd talk to one more person and then shut it down," Gary says.

But Arledge and Ferguson were excited about reaching out to bikers, and they invited the Davises to join their church. Four months later, Gary became an associate pastor at Riverside Baptist and the minister in charge of motorcycle evangelism. Although he had taken some seminary classes, he didn't have a divinity degree. But the people at Riverside "recognized the calling," Gary says, and ordained him.

The Denver Association of Southern Baptists owned an abandoned church in Globeville that it wanted to see occupied, and it had leased the building to Riverside for a dollar a year. Arledge and Ferguson decided the Globeville church was a perfect place for bikers to meet for Bible studies and potlucks.

And it was, until bikers realized that it was down the street from a chophouse -- a place where stolen vehicles are stripped. The bikers worried about parking their expensive bikes outside, and attendance at Bible class suffered as a result. So Gary went back to Arledge and asked if he could use Riverside's chapel for Friday-night services. Arledge agreed.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon