Biking the Holy Land

For a small group of Christians in Jerusalem, there's no better way to travel the Holy Land than on the back of a Harley Davidson.

When most people think of ways to get around in Israel, they picture cars, tour buses and maybe a camel or an army jeep, but not a motorcycle. But for a small group of Christians in Jerusalem, there's no better way to travel the Holy Land than on the back of a Harley Davidson. 'Gospel Riders Jerusalem' is a motorcycle club with a charter based on Christian values. The mother organisation is in Finland, where Gospel Riders has been operating as a registered association for more than 20 years, with members drawn from numerous Christian denominations. In 2007, the organization founded its first international chapter in Jerusalem specially designed to fit within the local multi-religious and multi-identity context. Denis Askin, originally from Ukraine, is the 25 year-old 'road captain' of the local Gospel Riders chapter, responsible for planning rides and coordinating the club's activities with other Christian organizations. "We want to create, promote and maintain our openness. Consequently, we have adopted a principle that all our members should respect the national identities and religious views of others who join us. No one is pressured to conform to certain views or agendas," Denis recently told The Christian Edition. Gospel Riders Jerusalem is involved in six key activities: Developing its members' spiritual growth, promoting disciplined riding practices, providing a social platform for members, organizing riding trips, networking with other clubs locally and worldwide, and cooperating with other like-minded organizations in the Land. The club also seeks to function as part of the local church in Israel and Palestinian areas. "We welcome all people warmly. Our members are engaged with jobs, studies and others activities... Our chapter is growing and we have members from different countries and backgrounds. So the big picture looks good," Askin said. To join, one does not even need to own a bike. There are club colors and patches, but no hazing of initiates. The club is a joint project of The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. The patron of the club is the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, a local Arab cleric. The clubhouse is located at the FELM Center on Shivtei Israel Street in Jerusalem. The FELM has been working in Israel since 1924 and has 10 permanent staff members in the country, as well as a number of volunteers. The primary tasks of the Mission are to help the elderly and poor, as well as guest workers from Asia and Eastern Europe who are often Christians who need a place to worship. The FELM center is home to several congregations that conduct regular church services, plus various Bible studies and prayer groups. Services are held in Finnish, Chinese and Amharic, a language native to Ethiopia. The center is also involved in family and single parent support, counseling services and children and young people's clubs. They provide Bibles in different languages, and cooperate with Israeli charities to provide food aid and clothing to those in need. FELM members and volunteers also assist in variois social welfare projects in Israel and the Palestinian areas. The Gospel Riders are a way to add a little fun for FELM volunteers and those they befriend. "We have a practical role in building peace and reconciliation" Askin stated. "I will see it as a major accomplishment in the future when we will have a group of one hundred motivated members with responsible officers in place, a clean record, solid structure, a good name and trust from both officials and other motorbike groups, adequate facilities and resources, and a clear history of active progress in all our activities."