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Good news goes whole hog

LUTZ And lo, the disciples rode in with great noise to carry a message to their brethren.

By SHERYL KAY, Times Correspondent
Published September 25, 2007


When Larry Ficca reaches out to spread the word of God, he's always sure to have his most important implement nearby: his 2002 fire engine red Harley-Davidson Road King.

As director of the Faith Riders chapter at Idlewild Baptist Church, Ficca heads a group of 65 motorcyclists, men and women, who minister to the greater biker community.

"I use my bike as a tool, and I witness to these guys," said Ficca, 56, of Lutz. "I let them know I don't need to hit the bars and get all drunk. I can just enjoy the gifts God has given me."

Now in six states with 17 active chapters, the Lakeland-based Faith Riders share the Gospel using their motorcycles as ice breakers. Groups have monthly rides and social gatherings and perform volunteer services for the community.

Ficca said the group is particularly successful when meeting with nonreligious and sometimes hard-core motorcyclists because bikers relate well to bikers. Even bikers who have never met, he said, will wave to one another as they pass on the highway.

Although he may be different on the inside, Ficca said that on the surface, he fits right in with any secular group of bikers.

"I look like them, I dress like them, and I ride like they ride," he said.

Some are especially taken with his bike, the Firefighter Special Edition, issued by Harley to commemorate the fallen firefighters of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ficca, a retired Hillsborough County firefighter, has all 343 names of those who perished on the fuel console of the bike.

The key is to build rapport with the nonchurchgoing Christian biker world.

So unusual was the concept of a motorcycle ministry, said Mike Toma, founder of the chapter at Idlewild, that it took some time for the church to approve the group. No one was quite sure how it would fit in to the overall programming or how it would be classified.

"Just selling the idea was kind of a challenge," said Toma, 44, also of Lutz.

Then someone suggested that the group could offer a Bible class, and Faith Riders at Idlewild was born. Toma, a project manager, teaches the class.

"There are some people that have motorcycles and maybe normally they wouldn't get plugged into a class, but when they see our motorcycles, they get interested," he said. "All of a sudden they're going to a class, and then the next thing you know, they're coming to church."

Even though Faith Riders is not officially a ministry at the church, Toma said that unofficially, it is.

In addition to the day-to-day evangelism, Faith Riders also work in the community. In the past year the group held a Ride for the Kids for foster children and families, provided pastoral support for prisoners at Falkenberg Juvenile Detention Facility and at Polk County Federal Correctional Facility, worked with Pedal Power Bicycle Ministries repairing bicycles for children in need, participated in the Lutz Fourth of July parade, made hospital visits and helped feed the homeless.

Activities have become so broad, and the kinship is so strong, that a few members of Faith Riders don't even ride bikes.

"We're an interesting, eclectic group of folks," Ficca said, "but we're all about the same thing. We're obedient disciples, spreading the word of God."

Contact Sheryl Kay with religion news at skreporter@hotmail.com or call 813 230-8788.

Fast facts

Who can join

Faith Riders is open to anyone, including people who do not belong to Idlewild Baptist Church. There is no fee to join the group or to attend the Bible class. Bike nights are from 6:30 to 8:30 the second Thursday of each month, and the Bible fellowship class is every Sunday at 11 a.m. at Idlewild, which is at Van Dyke Road and Dale Mabry Highway. For more information about the group, call Larry Ficca at (813) 949-8401.