David Gustafson had a bold summer plan. He didn’t know exactly how long it would take him to work the plan, so starting the moment spring graduation concluded May 11 was essential.
“I had that goal of just seeing America,” says David, who serves as associate professor of evangelism and missional ministry, “and doing it from the seat of a bicycle.”
He transported his bicycle and some camping equipment from a Metra train to Chicago’s Union Station, where he boarded an overnight Amtrak train bound for Penn Station in New York. There, a conductor pointed him to an elevator and an exit.
“I took a selfie, put my shoes on, and started riding.”
Thus began a 3,901-mile, two-month-and-two-day cycling journey across the United States.
The trip had been a “bucket list” item for this avid cyclist, but something always got in the way of his plan. The latest delay came in 2017, when it was necessary for David to spend the summer indoors in front of a computer terminal. A book manuscript had to be finished.
“I got to the end of the summer and I said, ‘I’ve been sitting in front of this all summer’ and it just felt like I hadn’t done much outdoors,” David recalls. “So I said ‘next summer, I’m going to do this.’”
Gospel Witness: Evangelism in Word and Deed is a textbook focused on personal evangelism. The work inspired more than just a cycling trip. The subject matter could be applied every day as he progressed across the map.
“I just knew that a trip like this would give me all kinds of opportunities to engage with people far from God, and practice what I preach. A bike ride like this opens all kinds of doors with people immediately.”
David deliberately chose less congested roads and smaller cities as he planned the route. So his trip became the topic of the day in small-town diners and convenience stores.
“They want to talk,” David says. “People buy me breakfast. They just want to sit down and hear my story. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Who are you?’ It goes from that to eventually spiritual conversations.”
Several of those discussions stood out once the trip concluded.
“Probably the most significant conversation I had was with a guy named Jonah,” Gustafson recalls. “He’s a Jewish guy, probably about 26 years old.” They met at a hostel in Monroeville, Indiana.
“That was very significant being able to just share with him in terms of my faith journey and kind of explore his.”
He recalls another meaningful conversation with someone named Curtis in Kettle Falls, Washington. All of the spiritual discussions were relatively brief and started quickly – out of necessity.
“I mean, it’s not like you have a lot of time to build a rapport and that sort of thing.”
He found a small church in Dubois, Wyoming that opens its doors to shelter cross-country cyclists, seeing it as a ministry. Even outside the cycling community, David made many new friends.
At home, his wife Sharon was using a smartphone app to track his daily progress, and pray specifically for opportunities to share the gospel in the towns in his immediate path.
“We discussed (the trip) and I expressed that I would be praying for daily opportunities for him to have gospel conversations with those he met along the way,” Sharon says. “I’m so proud of David that he went after his goal, was able to accomplish it, and many gospel conversations took place.
David was applying the very principles outlined in that textbook – the same project that kept him indoors the previous summer.
His route started along the Hudson River and then the Erie Canal, which he followed westward across New York to Niagara Falls. His journey then took him along Lake Erie in Ohio, across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.
In Boulder, Colorado, he met with family and began moving between several national parks, including Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier. His final leg paralleled the Canadian border until he reached the Pacific coast at Anacortes, Washington.
David says finding courage on such a trip is a daily process. For him, each day began with a simple ritual.
“A secret to a cross-country trip like this is putting your cycling shorts on every morning. It’s just that, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this.’ Then come the shoes and soon you’re ready.”
Keywords: cross country cycling, David Gustafson, personal evangelism
More information: http://news.tiu.edu/2018/08/22/gustafson-bikeride/