At a time when people seem almost irreconcilably divided over political and cultural issues, something needs to be done to cut through the discord and bring people back together. Neil Tomba, senior pastor of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, TX, is doing something a little untraditional this month in an effort to do just that: biking across America.
His journey isn’t for exercise or competition, but to have civil, caring conversations with every day Americans about life and spiritual matters, even when opinions and outlooks disagree.
My Faith Votes talked recently with Tomba about his 3000+ mile mission. He shared with us the motivation behind the bike ride and how he hopes to see God move. Take a few minutes to watch the inspiring interview.
Starting in Santa Monica, CA, and pedaling across the country to Annapolis, MD, Tomba hopes to strike up conversations with the people he meets “about things that really matter in their heart — issues of faith and of the soul.”
Aside from the sheer physical and mental hurdles of biking across the country, Tomba faces challenges connecting with people too. He admits it can be intimidating to strike up conversations about serious heart matters with others and that some aren’t too willing to open up and share.
Perhaps the simplest challenge is finding a complete stranger every day willing to talk. Tomba isn’t deterred and says he learned years ago the key to striking up meaningful conversations with people is to be “lovingly curious about somebody else’s story.”
He remembers starting a conversation simply by complimenting another rider’s bike. After the man told Tomba all about his bike the conversation shifted to details about where he lives, what he does and about his family.
“Next thing you know he’s sharing with me some very personal things, about why he and his wife go to bed every night really sad,” Tomba recounted, adding that he asked the other rider if he could pray for him about those things. As the two men finished their ride and were set to go their separate ways, the man thanked Tomba for kindness.
The reason Tomba was able to connect with this fellow rider, he says, was because he refrained from passing judgment on the man’s story. “The key is to come alongside people, not confront people,” Tomba asserts.
Modern America fails miserably at this. It seems every entrenched view automatically dismisses and devalues any person or group that believes differently. There should be no room for the you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mentality in America’s politics or in the Church.
Tomba’s example shows how believers, when tuned in to the people around them and listening to the things they’re going through, can step into others’ lives as ambassadors of Christ.
I’m glad he has embarked on his two-wheeled trek, and his relatively small daily goal of simply talking with the people he meets is a refreshing reminder that civility in the public square can be restored and that people of faith should lead the way.
You can keep up with Neil’s progress as he bikes across America here.