When I was a young college student I had the opportunity to go with a friend to a “revival” in the town of Hollywood, Georgia. That’s right, there is such a place: Hollywood, Georgia. “On a clear night you can see all the stars,” the locals say (Go ahead and groan). In reality, Hollywood is more of a county crossroads than a mecca for the rich and famous. It has a diner, a church, and not much else.
In the South a “revival” has at least two very different things. First, it is a spiritual awakening, a holy renewal where those who have wandered from the straight and narrow return to the fold. Second, it is a church event, a scheduled series of meetings. So a “revival” can be something deeply spiritual that people pray for, and it is a traditional ceremony placed on the congregational calendar. Whether or not the two different meanings of this word cross paths is always up for debate.
This revival was the typical affair. It was a week-long gathering when people of the community crammed their families into the pews to sing rousing gospel songs, to hear the pleadings, exhortations, and condemnations of the best visiting evangelist the church could afford, and for everyone to have an annual time of repentance whether they needed it or not.
As I made my way to the front door I passed by a long line of Harley Davidson motorcycles. These were not the Baby Boomer playthings so many graying men and women ride today as a hobby or youthful escape. No, these were hardcore, gang-style cycles.
And just inside the church, occupying the back pew, lo and behold, there sat the gang. Leather, studs, rippling arms, ponytails, tattoos: It was the complete Hell’s Angels package, sitting in a Baptist church in Hollywood, Georgia. Being a young, eager revivalist myself, I said to my friend, “Good. Maybe these heathen will get saved tonight.” And I meant it.
I sat several pews away from them and found myself piously praying for their salvation because I just knew they were seconds from splitting hell wide open. After the service got started, the pastor called on one of the deacons of the church to come forward and offer a prayer and word of introduction. One of those wicked bikers rose from his seat and started down the aisle.
At first I thought the call of his bladder had merely coincided with the pastor’s invitation. And being a biker and all, I was certain he was short on manners and he did not know that prayer time was an inappropriate moment to visit the latrine. When the big mountain of a man turned for the pulpit, my pulse quickened as I thought he was going forward to cause a disturbance.
He caused a disturbance alright, but not like I thought. This chaps-wearing biker with a beard to his waist was the aforementioned deacon. I found out later that this biker-deacon was a self-financed missionary to the road houses, biker bars, strip clubs, and truck stops of America.
Up and down the highways with his fellow laborers – his motorcycle gang – he rode his horse of steel and entered places that good Christian people would never be caught, not even to share the gospel. He went to places where people drank too much, showed too much skin, engaged in too much sensuality, and waged too much violence. But there he shared Jesus, led Bible studies, prayed for those who thought they didn’t have a prayer left, and even baptized a few souls in the truck stop showers when necessary.
I left that Hollywood church thinking that it would have been better to give the revival budget to this biker’s ministry rather than spending it on some flamboyant evangelist with a bouffant hair-do and expensive cuff links. And certainly I left with a lesson scorched deep in my conscience: Never point a finger or a prayer at those you consider sinners. They may be more holy than you can imagine.