Sharing the gospel with big-hearted bikies

How a Lutheran pastor joined the life of the Redback Motorcycle Club

When Graham Jenke begins work as a Lutheran pastor in Cambrai, South Australia, he is instructed not to sit around in his office all day, but to “get out amongst the people”. Naturally, he heads out for a drink at a local hotel.

Jenke pulls up on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The Sedan Hotel sits on the corner of a large intersection, opposite the Lutheran church. Parking his red Vespa scooter outside, he enters.

Inside, two dozen bikers – the Redback Motorcycle Club – are conducting their monthly meeting.

“I got to know a few of them,” Jenke recalls. When they asked what he did, he told them about his job as a local Lutheran pastor, visiting congregation members to support them.

Jenke told one of the bikers (the club’s treasurer) about a child in his parish who was suffering from a heart condition, requiring a long trip to Melbourne for treatment. Her father was a farmer – a tough job in a dry climate.

As Jenke spoke, the biker thrust his hand into his leather jacket. It came out full of 20 and 50 dollar bills.

“I’d like to meet that family and support them,” he said. “As a committee, we’d like to support them.”

The farmer and his wife happened to be in the hotel, watching their daughter run around. They were shocked when Jenke brought over a group of bikers. They were more shocked when one held out a fistful of cash.

His Vespa earned him a nickname: “Faster, Pastor”.

The money had come from an annual rally, when people come from far and wide to hear different rock bands and share their passion for bikes. The next time the rally was held, Jenke was invited.

“You can’t park a red Vespa scooter alongside Harley Davidsons,” he explains. “Within ten minutes they’ll go and park them somewhere else.” His Vespa earned him a trophy that day. The sluggish vehicle later earned him a nickname when he arrived 15 minutes late to every riding destination: “Faster, Pastor”.

At the rally, the bikers told Jenke they’d like to support his church and its work financially. He replied, “You come to worship tomorrow and during the service, I’ll invite you forward.”

The next morning, ten of them joined in the service. Jenke invited them forward and they presented their donation: a thousand dollars. An elderly congregation member was so grateful that he stood and walked up to shake hands with them.

When Jenke gave them a certificate of appreciation he had prepared, “they got the last laugh”, pulling out a Redback Motorcycle Club t-shirt and appointing him as an honorary member of their club.

That’s how it all started.

Graham Jenke holds a donation and a t-shirt.

At another rally, two bikers approached Jenke and asked him to conduct a service for the renewal of their marriage vows. Right there, Jenke renewed their vows, preaching the gospel to 150 bikers from different motorcycle groups.

Next, a family asked him to baptise their child. Afterwards, he helped equip the parents to raise their child as a Christian.

“By this stage,” Jenke remembers, “the bikers were starting to get a bit freaked out, because they’d seen me do renewal of marriage vows, baptise someone in the lake, then a couple came along and said, ‘Could you marry us?’”

“It doesn’t matter who. When anyone loses a family member, a friend, a work mate or whoever, they want hope in the midst of death.” – Graham Jenke

As word spread, more and more bikers asked Jenke to be present and provide meaning for baptisms, weddings, renewals of vows and especially funerals.

“It doesn’t matter who,” he reflects, “when anyone loses a family member, a friend, a work mate or whoever, they want hope in the midst of death.”

Many bikers have asked him about life after death, giving Jenke a unique chance to tell them, “Jesus gave his own life for us so that we could be forgiven and saved. Everyone who dies believing in the Lord Jesus is saved.”

Being a Redback has also given Jenke countless other chances to share the gospel. Not only has he performed baptisms, wedding and funerals – “hatch, match and dispatch” as he puts it – he has also ministered to bikers in their everyday lives.

“After I became accepted, they would pour out some of their issues and their problems, and I could help them through that. There’s not very many places that employ people with tattoos and with piercings. You can imagine how a boss would feel if one of these fellas swore at him. These chaps can’t string a sentence together without a swear word. They swear like troopers. They drink alcohol like fish.”

For those without stable jobs or cohesive families, “the members of the biker group are like their family, their brothers and sisters,” says Jenke.

“I met them on their terms, but I brought the gospel.”

When asked if this provided chances to share the gospel, Jenke replies, “Most definitely.” Almost none of them spoke up against his message, and even those who did, showed up in church each year with a donation.

When the bikers visited church, Jenke wore a Lutheran alb. But when he conducted their services outside the church, he wore black riding jeans and a leather jacket. On the bikers’ jackets were patches with slogans like “Loud pipes save lives”. On Jenke’s was sewn a badge depicting a motorbike and a cross.

“I could identify with them and be a bridge for bringing the gospel to them. I met them on their terms, but I brought the gospel. I think that’s a must for anyone … to meet them on their terms and speak their language. They need to see you’re interested in them as a person. I’m good at remembering names. They loved it when Faster Pastor would come along, remember their name, say g’day and have a chat with them.”

“It blows me away. I give all praise and glory to God.”

This is not a story of revival among bikers. For over a decade, rather than conversion moments, Jenke has seen little miracles as an everyday witness for Jesus.

When the Redbacks donated to the church, Jenke always prayed with them for safety. One year, a biker approached him at their next meeting and said, “I’m really thankful that you prayed for me. I had a real close shave on the way home. I believe that your prayer saved me.”

When Jenke organised a lunch after baptising a child of two bikers, one of them asked him to pray publicly before the meal.

When Jenke joined the group, the couple of Christians in the group “were hiding their faith under a bushel – weren’t letting their lights shine.” Over time, he saw them express their faith more openly.

What was happening in the hearts of these generous bikers?

“Who knows what was going on? I used to pray before I went [to see them] that the Holy Spirit would use my words to create and nurture faith in their hearts. And I would say that in some of them, that definitely happened.”

Jenke, who still attends Redback gatherings regularly, wants this to be a story not of a faithful pastor, but of a faithful God.

“It blows me away. I give all praise and glory to God because he gave me the ability to connect with them. I can see it’s such a rare and unusual thing, something that God wanted to happen.”

As I thank him for taking the time to speak with Eternity, he says again, “praise God and give God the glory for it. My regular prayer is that this faith he’s created will continue to be nurtured and fed – that it’s saving faith.”