Stewards for Ragbrai Opens Doors

Immanuel Lutheran Church of Harlan Iowa, in an effort to house bikers, opened its doors to create an oasis for more than 1,134 riders and support crew for 24 hours. Ragbrai, an anachronism for Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, a 40 year tradition to start by dipping the rear tire in the Missouri River, then bicycle 468 miles across Iowa’s July heat to complete a dipping of the front tire into the Mississippi River.  The seven day event is estimated to draw over 20,000 riders, support crew, and sightseers as a literal city progresses across Iowa this year.
Immanuel isn’t new to this either, five years ago, the church found a need for some desperate and expensive repairs to its roof, parking lot, pews and in general building maintenance. A charter group Pork Belly Ventures offered an opportunity to Immanuel; we open our church to host the riders and they pay the church a base fee. The experience proved not only a success for everyone but turned into a sharing moment for a number of the members. Many members expressed the exhaustion, effort, and hugely spiritual moments. So when Pork Belly found out the route for Ragbrai was going through Harlan again, it was evident to everyone, Immanuel was going to host once again, with glee.
Pastor Steve Chellew was asked, “What does the stewardship of Immanuel have to do with Ragbrai?” “When I think about a Certified Electrician working for free with the roasters on a flatbed, farmers offering hogs, personalize for a welcome center, leadership skills to elicit the help, the cooks in the kitchen, the Sunday school selling pies, women raffling a personalized quilt, there were so many displays of member’s stewardship. There is no other way to accomplish such a feat without everyone’s skill set.” Why should other churches attempt at what Immanuel just did? “Well, it’s not about the money. To me it is a great example of washing others feet, but in modern terminology. Church’s have a bad representation in our culture due to the sex scandals, politics, hypocrisy and so forth. So Ragbrai is simply about being Jesus to weary, tired, hungry travelers.”
So how does Immanuel Lutheran support 1,134 guests for lunch, dinner, and breakfast? It starts with the volunteers of the congregation of course, but it’s the coordinator everyone looks to, that would be Mary Taggs. With her continued contact with Pork Belly she was able to know what to feed the riders and to provide housing for the many wanting to stay inside an air-conditioned facility instead of the tent city outside Immanuel’s door. An estimated 45 steam roasters were used to cook the seven donated hogs and the potatoes for the dinner, 310 pounds for broccoli salad and 336 pounds of three bean salad were prepared, 50 trays of tollhouse bars were parceled out. Not to be over burdened the ladies brought together 40 pies, mostly the ever popular rhubarb pie, were sliced and sold individually, to the very last slice. Even a quilt was made by the ladies stitched from a t-shirt with the logo of every town the Ragbrai riders would stay overnight in. This quilt was then raffled off and mailed to the winning rider’s home.
The outcome was the stories of sharing. John Davis lead coordinator for outside grounds was introduced to one lost rider. In the midst of the confusion, a “50ish dear sweet woman” rider became separated from her group, the cell towers were overwhelmed making communications impossible, her only solitude was the church. Frazzled and desperate she found her way to Immanuel and was introduced to John. Through her remembering certain land marks and recognizing familiar neighborhoods they were able to reunite with her support team. Yet, John didn’t just drop the lost off and return; he spent some time with her and her support team visiting. It is this outreach Immanuel members have experienced throughout the 24 hour stay of our guest.
In an effort for the members of Immanuel to be visible to our guest t-shirts were designed and then ordered for the youth organization, LYO. The LYO met one evening and were instructed for a recognizable t-shirt. The finished product had bold letters, “And on the 8th Day… God Rode His Bike… to Harlan Iowa Immanuel Lutheran 2013” onto electric green shirts, Immanuel stood out. It’s one of these t-shirts one rider sought out and found, insisting to meet the organizer, to express his sincerest appreciation for our hospitality.
In addition to many grateful smiles from exhausted, sweaty, sore riders there were many handshakes. We found out how far our friends traveled to come for Ragbrai. We found out that not all are religious, but spiritual, yet recognized what we were doing was inspiring. We found out that our gracious guest left with such appreciation the church felt suddenly void when the last guest left on his bicycle between the green fields of Iowa.

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