Bikers again will get their motors runnin’ to benefit Modesto mission

From left, Soldiers of the Cross President Ben Hardister, Modesto Gospel Mission CEO Kevin Carroll and SOTC chaplain Joe Harmon talk outside the motorcycle ministry’s clubhouse in Modesto.
From left, Soldiers of the Cross President Ben Hardister, Modesto Gospel Mission CEO Kevin Carroll and SOTC chaplain Joe Harmon talk outside the motorcycle ministry’s clubhouse in Modesto.

Members of the Soldiers of the Cross motorcycle ministry in Modesto have seen poverty and hunger in Cambodia, where they’re building a women’s shelter in Phnom Penh. They’ve seen it in Mexico, where they support an orphanage they visit about once a year on a ride. And in San Francisco, where they minister to the homeless in the Tenderloin area during the annual City Impact event.

But seeing it in Modesto – especially on the faces of children – may be most painful of all. “If you go down – which I would suggest anybody do, because it will change the way you view things – to the rescue mission (Modesto Gospel Mission) on any given night, where they serve dinner at around 8, you’ll see that before the adults eat, a line of about 30 to 40 little kids, all holding each other and standing there waiting to get a plate of food,” Soldiers of the Cross President Ben Hardister said. “... You say to yourself, ‘Man, this is here in Modesto.’ 

Soldiers of the Cross conducts the evening service the first Wednesday of each month at Modesto Gospel Mission. The food, shelter and other services it offers area homeless are a blessing, Hardister said, “but then when you start thinking that there’s 30, 35, 40 kids that are turned away, what happens to them? As bad as it is to see these little kids standing in line to get some food, at least they’re getting some food. What happens to the 30 or 40 that didn’t get any food because the mission didn’t have any room for them?”

When you walk into the (mission’s) dining hall and see 15 high chairs, the reality of it is the need is getting greater and the resources are getting less. ... At the end of the day, partnerships like this make a big difference.

Mission CEO Kevin Carroll on the support of Soldiers of the Cross

That’s why Hardister said the effort to build a new women and children’s shelter at the mission is “our heart.”

Anticipated to cost about $2.5 million, the L-shaped, two-story building is expected to have 80 beds and will go up next to the current women and children’s shelter, which has 54 beds. Participants in the mission’s Women’s New Life Program, which prepares homeless people to return to society, will relocate to another building, freeing up 20 more beds, said mission CEO Kevin Carroll.

So the total shelter capacity for women and children will be about 154. The new building also will have a kitchen where the mission will have healthy-eating classes, Carroll said.

For the second year, SOTC is holding Ride for the Rescue, a benefit ride, raffle and lunch for the mission. It has joined forces for the May 20 event with the Modesto group Veterans in Action. Last year, the event and related donations generated $54,124, which has gone into a fund designated for the shelter construction, Carroll said. This year, Hardister said, SOTC has set its sights on nearly doubling the funds raised – to $100,000.

The mission itself hosted the first ride, two years ago. It’s an understatement to say it underperformed: The ride drew between 30 and 40 bikers, and the mission lost about $2,500. When SOTC took over last year, about $30,000 of the $54,000 raised came from the raffle of a brand-new Harley Davidson motorcycle. Twenty $1,000 sponsors also contributed to the success.

We’ve got a corporate CEO, a corporate president, welders, steelworkers, a carpenter, a guy who has a window-washing business. We’ve got a policeman. ... We have five or six guys who don’t have bikes, because we need someone to follow us if we break down. We have three pastors.

Soldiers of the Cross President Ben Hardister, adding that at least a dozen churches are represented in the motorcycle ministry’s membership

This year, the first prize in the raffle again is a bike – a 2017 Harley-Davidson Dyna – while second prize is a restored M1919 A-4 machine gun that’s been made semiautomatic, and third is a three-day Mexican cruise for two. The $100 raffle tickets are on sale at So are ride tickets, at $20 per person or $30 per couple, as well as $10 lunch-only tickets.

“The best decision for us as the mission was to give this over to the SOTC,” Carroll said. The group has elevated Ride for the Rescue tremendously, he said. “Bikers know bikers, and not only that, but they have a passion for what we’re doing and they have the ability to communicate that effectively with those folks.”

Simply put, SOTC members are people who love to ride motorcycles and want to use their bikes to reach others through Christ, Hardister said. The developer, who also served as a volunteer chaplain on death row at San Quentin State Prison for 13 years, said the members come from all walks of life, including substance-abuse and prison backgrounds.

“Who you hang with is who you become like,” he said, and members who’ve found Jesus “don’t want to hang around people who will drag them back to their old life.”

Among those is SOTC chaplain Joe Harmon, who came out of Pelican Bay State Prison with a new commitment to Jesus after serving 10 years for attempted murder.

Among his projects now is ministering to convicts and youths. “I have a saying,” he said at the SOTC clubhouse near the mission. “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you your future.”

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Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327