Rev. John Van Sloten felt the beauty and variety of God’s creation as he rode across Canada during the Christian Reformed Church’s 2005 Sea to Sea bicycle tour.
One of more than 160 riders taking part in the demanding journey, Van Sloten, the pastor of New Hope Christian Reformed Church in Calgary, Alberta, was struck by the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, the clear-blue waters of Lake Superior in Ontario, and the rolling, rocky landscape of Nova Scotia.
“I saw that God’s hand was all over that undertaking,” Van Sloten said. “That ride caught people’s imaginations. Momentum grew as we rode across the country. People cheered for us like we were Olympians when we rode by.”
This summer the Christian Reformed Church is at it again, staging the Sea to Sea 2008 Bike Tour. The tour will begin June 28 in Seattle, Wash., then wind its way eastward across the United States and a small part of Canada to end nine weeks later in Jersey City, N.J., on Aug. 30.
Van Sloten will be watching from the sidelines this time, but so far about a dozen cyclists from the 2005 ride will be among the 100-plus riders hopping aboard bikes this summer.
One key goal for the project is to raise about $1.5 million to support organizations engaged in fighting poverty in North America and abroad.
“I enjoyed Sea to Sea in 2005 and found the whole experience very uplifting,” said John Vander Steen, a college professor in London, Ontario, who plans to join the 2008 tour.
Especially attractive to him, he said, is the opportunity to express his faith by riding cross-country with people whose ages range from their teens into their 70s. He enjoyed the chance to share prayers and stories with fellow riders in 2005 and looks forward to doing it again.
“In my opinion, the tour will promote unity among people, among the churches, and across the continent,” Vander Steen said. Personally, he looks forward to connecting with family members in cities along the route.
The journey will be rugged, taking cyclists through the desert, over mountains, across many miles of farmland and into busy cities—no matter which way the wind blows—and riders are encouraged to put in at least 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of training between January and the start of the tour.
Vehicles will accompany the tour to haul most of the gear and food from one campsite to the next.
Doug and Joy Lutke of Dorr, Mich., say they are looking forward to the trip. When they first received a postcard notifying them of the Sea to Sea tour, they dropped it in the trash. But they couldn’t put it out of their minds. Doug retrieved the card and stuck it on the refrigerator.
Given that their three children are grown and they love cycling, Doug and Joy talked and prayed about joining the tour. They decided to ask their church, Byron Center (Mich.) CRC, to sponsor them. When the church council said “yes,” they signed up. Both are in their 50s.
“When I thought of doing this with a group of Christians, it inspired me,” said Doug. The chance to spend the time with his wife, as well as being able to see the country from the seat of a bicycle, also helped to convince him.
Doug, a carpenter, and Joy, a receptionist at a mortgage company, got the go-ahead from their employers to take the bulk of the summer off. Members of their congregation have rallied behind them in a big way, and the Lutkes are working with a personal trainer to make sure they are in shape.
“This ride is out of my comfort zone, yet I am anxious to see doors open in regards to funds that are raised for poverty and the opportunities God will give me in meeting people along the way, plus seeing God’s creation,” Joy Lutke said.
Faith and Growth
As he prepares for the ride, Hans Doef, a church youth worker in Lacombe, Alberta, reflects that there is a bit of irony in what they are doing. While their goal is to fight poverty, the cyclists will be riding very expensive bicycles, he notes. And, unlike the poor, he and the other riders will have plenty to eat.
But Doef, who also rode in the first tour, says his faith reminds him that neither he nor other riders are really in charge. The trip is in the Lord’s hands.
Fred Folkerts, who lives on a dairy farm near Delburne in Alberta, is another cyclist who went on the first trip. He is building his stamina by working out at a recreation center and through his job, which is to pack meat into a delivery truck.
A member of New Life Fellowship CRC in Red Deer, he says helping to mark his denomination’s 150th anniversary, along with the knowledge that he is making the journey to help fight poverty, are motivating him to take the cycle trip. But there is a personal aspect as well. The first trip led to a greater connection to God.
“I want to experience the ‘journey’ across the United States and see if I can continue the spiritual growth I started on my ‘journey’ across Canada in 2005,”
Last time, “being reminded, almost daily, how important my relationship with God is and constantly being in awe of the wonder and power of his creation” kept him on the bike and part of the pilgrimage.