Tim Ainslie and his wife Nora enjoy motorcycling. The Fedora residents share the road on a Honda 1500 Goldwing, with Tim at the wheel and Nora riding on the seat behind him. They have been around the country, taking in the sights of the United States.
They are also members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, an organization whose members “go into the highways and byways of America, taking the love and the light of Christ to the lost and the hurting, serving at motorcycling events of every sort,” according to the group website.
Ainslie said he has been a part of the multi-denominational group for many years. His chapter, the Prairie Fire Riders, is based out of Mitchell, and it meets regularly on the second Saturday of each month for dinner and Bible study at Marlin’s Family Restaurant.
“It is a group throughout the whole world. It’s not just a local group, we are worldwide,” Ainslie said. “CMA is probably one of the largest Christian groups in the world. Not just the United States. The world.”
The Mitchell group is one of about 10 chapters in South Dakota. The organization has chapters in every state and has an outreach presence in 40 countries around the world. That includes countries like North Korea, Russia and China, where religious groups are often shunned.
But in the United States, chapters like the one led by Ainslie focus on being a positive presence in the motorcycling world and society in general. The local group, which currently only consists of Ainslie and his wife due to members relocating away from the community, is known for offering their services during motorcycling-related events. They hand out water and refreshments at Interstate 90 rest stops for riders en route to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and have a strong presence at the Sturgis event proper.
“We’re highly into Sturgis. We volunteer at the hill climb or at the gates or at the towers, or anywhere they need a volunteer,” Ainslie said. “This year, we blessed 10 or 15 bikes and people and prayed with many people (at the Salem rest stop on Interstate 90).”
They were long-time providers of security at the LifeLight Festival in Sioux Falls, and can be found at motorcycle-centric events around the country during the year as a visible symbol of their overall mission.
They wear a prominent patch representing the Christian Motorcyclists Association, which sets them apart from the “one percenter” factions of motorcycle groups, Ainslie said. Often referred to as “gangs,” groups such as the Hell’s Angels and other notorious organizations usually give CMA members a wide berth, allowing them space to practice their faith through the fellowship of motorcycles and riding.
Ainslie said the difference between groups like the Hell’s Angels and the CMA couldn’t be more distinct. And the vast majority of motorcyclists people see on the highways are Christians themselves, he said.
“Ninety-five percent of the people on motorcycles are Christians,” Aislie said. “We have a patch, not colors. (The one percenters) call their stuff colors, we call it a back patch. They usually look at us and go to the other side of the street and try to avoid us because they know what we’re about. We don’t ask them to avoid us, just honor us and we’ll honor them.”
The difference between an outlaw group’s colors and the CMA’s patch is also important in the way the groups honor those symbols. While an outlaw group may require the completion of certain tasks to prove their loyalty to the group in order to earn their colors, the CMA operates in almost the opposite fashion. Outlaw colors may be difficult to obtain, with the required tasks sometimes being dangerous or shady, Ainslie said a CMA patch is easy to obtain, but difficult to keep.
“Our patch is the easiest to get, the easiest to join, but once you join, it is the hardest patch to honor and keep going on,” Aisle said. “If you want to get a biker patch, it’s a lot of hard work. Ours is just the other way around. You have to keep it earned.”
In addition to the Ainslies and their Honda, the group's members have included those with Spyder motorcycles and one who drove a Russian model bike with a sidecar that barely did the speed limit. Some members don’t even ride motorcycles, but drive support vehicles for hauling the group’s equipment.
And they can be found volunteering in the community. The local group has held fundraisers at the local Dairy Queen, and though they don’t directly solicit donations, they do welcome freewill donations for those who are interested in supporting some of the organization’s larger goals. That includes supporting the Run for the Son project, an effort to provide ministers and pastors around the world with reliable transportation to help with their own missions.
That’s part of the large picture that the Christian Motorcyclists Association tries to address, but Ainslie said there is plenty of work and fellowship to be found at the local level. As the Mitchell chapter of the group is currently low on participants, he encourages anyone interested in motorcycles and the Christian faith to consider becoming a part of their mission, regardless of any particular denomination to which they may be a member.
“We are Christian, we don’t care about your faith in a (particular) church,” Aislie said. “Anyone can contact me and I ask them to come to our meetings. I have a briefcase full of information.”
Those who do reach out may find themselves as part of a movement larger than themselves, Ainslie said, and he believes the work the group does can make a difference in lives both here at home and around the world.
“Anybody can find a group anywhere, not just in Mitchell, but anywhere across the United States. There is (a group) out there for you, or start your own,” Ainslie said.