Who but Christ was going to open his arms to the misfits and scooter bums?
No one takes issue when Terry Lobell asks the question. He was a misfit, himself, at one time, a biker with no direction. That changed when he dedicated his life to Christ and founded the Freedom Church in Denham Springs some 25 years ago.
But then a second transformation in 2009 took him outside the church and into the Hammond Harley-Davidson parking lot, where on this 42-degree Sunday morning after New Year’s he’s holding services.
Some 75 people gather to listen to the minister they call Pastor T, most of them clad in leather jackets and blue jeans and sitting on motorcycles. These are the people Lobell set out to reach when he founded In the Wind Ministries, and they’ve become his loyal congregation, meeting in the parking lot the first Sunday of each month and in the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds Barn on the third Sunday.
“Mistfits” and “scooter bums,” they’ve been called, but most people would recognize them as bikers, people who love the freedom of the open road.
But at this outdoor gathering, they’ve discovered an even greater love.
“There’s one guy we call Gray Ghost, who thought about putting a gun to his head and ending it,” Lobell says. “I tried for years to reach him, but it wasn’t until I got on a motorcycle that I was able to reach him. He came here, heard about Jesus and got saved. He’s been coming ever since.”
Rain clouds hover over the parking lot on this Sunday morning as worshippers pull up on their motorcycles.
“We call the bikes our pews,” Lobell says.
Before the service, the bikers mingle, some having brought their families, then open the service by revving their bikes.
“We usually average between 200 and 500 people for a service, but we’re down today because of the weather,” Lobell says.
But then something happens after the motorcycles roar gives way to Lobell’s guitar — the clouds part and the sun comes out beating back the drizzling rain and raising the temperature.
Pastor T, accompanied by fellow guitarist Herb Boudreaux, sings several songs with the crowd joining in at the choruses, then takes a break before delivering the message. Mingling in the crowd is Sheree Harrell, who helps with the ministry.
She and husband, Robert, met Lobell five years ago and began attending his services.
“At the time, we didn’t have a home church,” she says. “But all of our (ministry) workers are required to be plugged into a home church, so we can get those who come to the services involved in a church. We go to Albany Community Church, and when some of the people there ask me about what they should wear to church, I say, ‘These are my church clothes.’”
Harrell is dressed in blue jeans, biker boots and a black leather jacket with “In the Wind Ministries” emblazoned on the back. Many of the congregants wear the same insignia and ride as a group five or six times a year.
“We meet other bikers along the way, and we share our message,” Harrell says. “We tell them that we’ll pray for them, and we give them one of our wooden crosses. Sometimes they’ll say they don’t need us to pray for them, and that’s fine, too. But there are times they come back and ask us to pray for them.”
The wooden crosses are made by people associated with the church.
They’re usually about 2-by-3-inches and a half-inch thick with four beads strung into a leather string at the top.
“The bottom bead is black, signifying that we all have sinned,” Lobell says. “Next is the red bead, which represents Christ’s blood, then there’s the white bead that represents how Christ’s blood has wiped away our sins. Finally, there’s the blood bead, which represents Jesus’ promise of eternal life. All of our members carry these.”
One member prominently displaying his cross is Ottis Arnold, who lives in the small community of Bedico near Madisonville. Arnold grew up in the Pentecostal church but drifted away upon reaching adulthood.
“I told my dad that I wasn’t going to have any of that anymore,” he says. “My dad made the mistake of buying me a minibike when I was young, then he bought me a motorcycle the following year. I became what some people call a ‘scooter bum.’ ”
Then Arnold was diagnosed with hepatitis C. He didn’t receive treatment at first, and it was too late when he did.
“I was basically taking chemo, and the doctors told me I should start getting my business in order,” Arnold says. “Then I attended a service with Church in the Wind, and I gave my life to Jesus. When I went back to the doctor, he couldn’t find a trace of the hepatitis in my system. I was 100 percent hepatitis-free.”
Arnold’s doctor didn’t know what to make of it.
“He said that there have patients who have been cured but are 98 or 99 percent free, never 100 percent,” Arnold says. “I d him that he would have to look up to find the answer.”
Arnold and his wife, Renee, never miss a service, even on a chilly, rainy morning. Lobell has his stocking cap pulled low, but his smile is wide. His day job is providing mobile temperature units for the movie industry, but his love is found in this parking lot.
“I’m mixing my love of motorcycles with my love for Jesus here,” he says. “My daddy got me involved in the motorcycle community, and we rode all over the country. I’ve always been involved in it, and after a few years of roaming, I dedicated my life to Jesus.”
That’s when Lobell founded the Freedom Church, of which he’s still a member. But his true ministry is In the Wind Ministries, which now has branches in Illinois, Texas and Arkansas and is working on establishing one in Tennessee.
And though Lobell rides a 2014 CVO Classic Harley-Davidson, those who come to the service aren’t required to own or ride motorcycles.
“Our ministry is for everyone,” Lobell says, “and everyone is welcome here.”