Local UMC pastors take 166-mile ride to raise money for South Sudan

Marci Gore • Jun 5, 2016 at 12:00 PM

Last year, three area United Methodist pastors used their love of riding bicycles to make a difference in the lives of children. This year, Tom Hancock, Lew Kizer and Brad Stapleton are climbing on their bikes again and heading to the Holston Conference’s annual conference in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. This annual conference is a meeting of 2,000 leaders representing 887 United Methodist churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Northwest Georgia.

Hancock is the pastor at Cassidy United Methodist Church in Kingsport. Kizer is pastor at Salem United Methodist Church in Blountville and Stapleton is pastor at East Stone Gap, Virginia, in Wise County.

The trio of pastors has added a fourth rider this year. Stapleton’s wife, Rebecca, will join them on the nearly 170-mile ride. The four riders departed at noon on Friday, from East Stone Gap and rode to Salem UMC. At 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, they headed to Mars Hill, North Carolina. They will ride the rest of the way to Lake Junaluska on Sunday.

Last year’s ride raised $12,000, which helped send kids to church camps. This year, the ride will raise money for the construction of a conference and learning center just outside of Yei, South Sudan. Hancock says the conference and learning center will provide a safe, secure place for children, pastors, church leaders, farmers, teachers and healthcare workers to gather for educational training events.

“A lot of people don’t get too excited about a building, but a building can provide opportunities that don’t exist there right now,” said Hancock. “The Holston Conference has had a 10-year relationship with our brothers and sisters in South Sudan.”

So far, about $15,000 of the $50,000 projected construction cost for the building has been raised, Hancock said.

Although the ride is for a good cause, the pastors say some think they’re a little crazy for doing it.

The trek to Lake Junaluska from the Tri-Cities includes crossing over Sams Gap — an elevation of more than 3,700 feet — at the Tennessee/North Carolina border.

“A lot of people think it’s great that we’re doing this. Others ask us why we would put ourselves through something like this. But it’s something that we’re passionate about. When I’m peddling up these hills and about to fall over, all I think about is, ‘I’m doing this for somebody in Africa that’s going to hear the word of God because I’m helping out,’” said Hancock. “When all you can think about is the heat or the traffic and the mountains, think instead about the people you’re serving and why you’re doing it, and it helps you to persevere.”

Kizer says they trained just as hard for this ride as they did last year’s ride. But, after popping a spoke on the final day of last year’s ride, he made some improvements to his tires.

“Popping that spoke caused me a lot of trouble so I made sure to buy better wheels for my bike. We also know more about how to hydrate and fuel ourselves,” he said.

However, Kizer adds, the most important thing he learned was that he could actually accomplish this task.

“I didn’t know if I could do it last year, but I did,” he said.

Hancock said, once the ride is over, it’s time to celebrate.

“And not just because the pain’s over!” he joked. “Bike riding’s something I can do, and it’s a way I can use my talents to make a difference. I’m glad we can raise awareness and raise support. Something as simple as riding a bike can make a big difference in somebody’s life.”

To contribute to this year’s cycling fundraiser, tax deductible donations can be mailed to Cassidy United Methodist Church, c/o AC Ride for South Sudan 2016, 5801 Memorial Blvd., Kingsport, Tenn. 37664.

All proceeds will go the construction of the conference and learning center in South Sudan.