Connie Clatt hated seeing a certain billboard on her way to parties. She did everything she could to avoid looking at it, including pulling down the mirror in the car to check her makeup.
“It got to the point that I told myself I wouldn’t look at the sign,” she said. “But it never failed. God made me look up at just the right second. It made me realize I wasn’t living the right kind of life.”
The billboard, emblazoned with the words “Missouri, Jesus loves you,” was God’s way of tugging at her heart, Clatt said. After having a difficult childhood and getting involved in alcohol, drugs and rough motorcycle groups, Clatt said at first she didn’t want to give up her life of partying.
But after the death of a friend in a car wreck, the near death of her husband, Noah, in a car crash and several other tragedies, Clatt said she began to accept God. She eventually began going to church and became a Christian.
“I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “God truly changed my heart. When I talk about the things I used to do, it’s like talking about somebody else.”
Clatt said one of the ways she and her husband have served God was by becoming foster parents. Over the course of 16 years, she said, they have housed more than 50 foster children. “It’s important to get ahold of these kids before they went down the same road we did,” she said.
However, their continued love of biking led the Clatts to seek out the Son-Rise Riders, the Jefferson City chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. Because there was no chapter where they lived in northeastern Missouri, they made the 100-plus mile trip to meet with the Son-Rise Riders in Jefferson City.
“As soon as we met them, it was like we were already friends the first night,” she said. “We felt like we were at home, like we were with family, because they accepted us right away. When we first got involved, we were so excited we couldn’t sleep at night.”
Clatt said eventually God called the couple to start a CMA chapter in their area, and 16 attended the last meeting. She said she is looking forward to trying to minister to women at the next secular rally she attends.
“Women in those groups feel like possessions,” she said, reflecting on her earlier experiences in rougher groups. “I’m looking forward to going and talking to women and letting them know they are important and that they aren’t a possession, and that Jesus will accept them. No matter what they’ve been through, Jesus loves them.”
The members of the Son-Rise Riders are committed to spreading this message to anyone who will listen. With members ranging from a judge to a church organist to an assembly man at a local hardware store, the Son-Rise Riders is a diverse group whose members share two things in common: their love of riding and their love of Jesus.
“We get along well together because our focus is on Jesus Christ and not on church doctrine,” longtime member Mel Callahan said. “If we focus on Jesus Christ, we’re going to be more unified and strengthened because of that unity.”
Son-Rise Riders, or Chapter No. 75, is one of hundreds in the United States affiliated with the Christian Motorcyclists Association. Founded in the mid-1970s to minister to motorcyclists, CMA now has more than 100,000 members in several countries worldwide.
Callahan, who joined the group when the Columbia chapter was founded in 1982, said he and his wife are the only two remaining charter members of the area chapter. Although CMA was founded to witness to motorcyclists at rallies, Callahan said having a motorcycle has expanded his ministry to non-motorcyclists. He thinks of his 1993 Harley Davidson as a witnessing tool, he said.
“Because motorcycles attract so much attention, it gives us opportunities to go into other areas,” he said. “If we’re parked at a restaurant, someone sees the motorcycles, and they stop and ask.”
Callahan said that although the public often thinks of motorcyclists as rough and tough, the Son-Rise Riders are trying to counter that image.
“The CMA has earned a reputation as being honest, upright and serving individuals,” he said. “And because of that reputation, most CMA members are accepted because of the colors they wear. Regardless of the groups that other motorcyclists belong to, they recognize those colors, and that the individual wearing them has a certain walk to walk.”
“The colors” — which is how members refer to the large CMA logos on their backs — are not worn by just anybody, Callahan said. Members must be Christians and uphold the group’s standards to wear the colors, he said.
“What we as Christian motorcyclists do is to try to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ and to be helpful to our fellow man wherever we have the opportunity,” he said.
To do that, the CMA provides members with nine areas in which to serve, including in prisons, as mechanics (helping bikers whose bikes break down, for example) and as children’s ministers. Member Larry Sherman said in a devotional at a recent monthly meeting that everyone can serve somehow.
“It could be scrubbing the toilet. It’s the simplest thing,” he said. “We’re all chosen to do something. We’re all here to unite as one to work, right? If we work as one, we can get something done.”
Member Mike Kufrovich said the camaraderie between motorcyclists in general often allows them to minister to complete strangers.
“Sometimes we run into other people that need prayer… (there are) a lot of hurting people,” Kufrovich said.
Members of the Son-Rise Riders serve in several different capacities at rallies, sometimes handing out coffee and water to bikers who have overindulged in alcohol, taking care of children who parents have turned loose and, for female members, passing out gift bags to women.
“You get the ones that don’t go to church — that’s the ones that really need to be reached,” chapter president Joe Lee said.
Clatt believes CMA is effective because no matter how big or small the gesture, members are able to touch people’s lives.
“A lot of people in churches think that where the answers are is in a building, and that’s not where they’re all going to make a difference in the world,” she said. “Some of the ones that will make a difference are the ones going on the highways and byways. Many (people) aren’t going to go into a church, and they won’t hear if we don’t go out there and tell them.”