Franklin Graham joins more than 1,000 motorcyclists at ride.
VESTAL, N.Y. — With colorful tattoos on both arms, a black leather vest and jeans, Chuck Kaericher fit the stereotypical image of a biker.
But there was more behind the stereotype. The tattoos reflected Kaericher’s Christian faith. The vest advertised the fact that he’s a member of a Christian motorcycle club. And the blue baseball cap he wore let it be known he was a counselor willing to share his beliefs.
The 49-year-old Philadelphia man was among more than 1,000 bikers who made the trip to Broome County for Sunday’s Andrew’s Good News Ride, designed to spread the message of Christian salvation through Operation Andrew, an outreach program by which Christians pray for their “unsaved” family and friends.
“God looks at what’s in my heart. He goes beyond this skin,” said Kaericher, who acknowledged he’s abused alcohol and drugs before finding his way back to Christianity, at the strong urging of his wife, in the 1990s.
The rally was held in the parking lot of the former Van Atta auto dealership, across Vestal Parkway from the Franklin Graham Festival at Binghamton University. While the event was independent of the festival, it had “incredible support” from festival officials, said Jeff Coghlan, of Hillcrest, its chief organizer.
Franklin Graham appeared briefly at Andrew’s Good News Ride rally in Vestal. (Star-Gazette)
The support included a short appearance by Graham, who rides a motorcycle himself. “If it makes smoke, and makes noise, I like it,” Graham told the crowd before giving a brief talk, highlighting his evangelical message.
Before settling at Van Atta’s, the bikers gathered in the Sears parking lot at Oakdale Mall and rode on Route 201 to Binghamton University and circled the campus.
The purpose was to bring non-Christians, who may not feel comfortable in church, to a Christian event, Coghlan said.
But many at the rally were already believers. Typical was Bonnie Herold, 54, of Binghamton, who said: “I’m here for Jesus Christ, and my motorcycle. I love both.”
Herold, who was a volunteer, called the rally “awesome.” Jim McLaughlin, 53, of Norwich, felt the same way. The pastor of New Beginnings Church in Norwich said, “Bikers are like everyone else. They have their hopes, their needs and the desire in their hearts to know God.”
The event was well-organized, with tents for food and drinks, and a shaded area for people to sit. Christian musicians entertained the crowd, and there was a live video feed from the university’s Events Center.
The atmosphere was a very welcoming one, said Jessica Cirillo, 20, of East Fishkill, who attended with her boyfriend, Dave Pert, 19, of Endwell. While she’s a Roman Catholic, Cirillo said she felt no pressure at the rally. This was only her third time on a motorcycle.
“I came to hang out with my brothers,” said Scott Ringleben, 49, of Dixon City, Pa. Ringleben said he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior back in 1981. “After you’ve walked down a lot of roads awhile, and done everything once, you wonder about what’s on the other side,” he said.
Andrew’s Good News Ride was organized in a quick 12 weeks and promoted on radio, through churches and by direct solicitation, Coghlan said. He knows bikers rode in from across New York and Pennsylvania.
“We’ve invited people to a nonthreatening environment to offer them the Gospel,” Coghlan said. “If they want to listen, good. If not, they can enjoy the food and the music.”
Copyright © 2007 Star-Gazette