Pedaling with a Purpose
I’m not famous like three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, I’ve never cycled competitively. But since 1993, I’ve cycled the equivalent of almost nine times around the equator!
Why? I have always loved touring on my bike. But on four consecutive nights in February 1993 I dreamt I was traveling by bicycle. Except for the last night, the dreams were silent. The silence was broken by one word: “GO!” The command snapped me to attention, like the blast of the shofar.
Coming from a religious Jewish background, I had read about the prophets dreaming dreams, seeing visions or hearing the voice of HaShem. Believe me, if I were HaShem, I wouldn’t pick someone like myself. I wasn’t given any special message to spread, but I knew I had to go. Within four days, I was on the road. Since then, I have crossed the country sixteen times, pedaling almost 222,000 miles.
I help with disaster relief, counsel people and help faith organizations set up compassion ministries. My ministry is called Pedal Prayers, and with every revolution of my bicycle wheels a prayer goes up to heaven. That’s over one billion prayers so far! I often pray in Hebrew. I use my actions to express my faith in Yeshua (Jesus).
How did a Jew studying to be a rabbi end up believing in Jesus? Let me take you back to my childhood in Germany.
I was born in 1956 on a small farm outside the town of Bad Toelz, Bavaria. I was the oldest of four siblings. My parents were Holocaust survivors. They were not in the concentration camps, but were rescued and hidden when they were adolescents. My father lost all of his family in the camps. The only one to survive on my mother’s side was her mother.
A lot of older people in our part of Bavaria wished for the “old days” (under Hitler). So we didn’t tell anyone we were Jewish or openly practice our faith. The nearest synagogue was in Munich, 60 miles away. My parents lived in constant fear that if we were found out we would be taken away; they had Holocaust nightmares. My father handled them with alcohol. My mother went through terrible mood swings.
My grandmother lived with us and kept a kosher home. She never told us about her time in the concentration camp and wore long sleeves to cover the number tattoo on her arm. When she lit the candles on Shabbat, she closed the thick curtains on the windows. We didn’t have a mezuzah on the door.
I remember my grandmother diligently removing every speck of leaven from the house before Pesach. I remember lighting the menorah at Hanukkah and spinning the dreidel. My favorite food was latkes with applesauce.
When I was fourteen, we moved to the Riem area of Munich so I could get medical attention for a serious ear infection and so that I could expand my education at a specialized high school. I was on track to become the first in my family to attend university.
There were Jewish people in our new neighborhood, so we could openly practice our faith and attend synagogue. I spent much time studying for my bar mitzvah, which I had on my fifteenth birthday. It meant a lot to me to be counted in the minyan.
My parents wanted me to become a rabbi. I went to yeshiva afternoons and on Sundays, but after eighteen months I dropped out. I couldn’t find the relevance in tractates thousands of years old. I wanted to know how Torah related to me now. It troubled me that we couldn’t go to Adonai directly with our wants and needs.
For the 1973–1974 school year, I traveled to a small rural high school in Ohio as an exchange student. My host family was Christian, but they didn’t proselytize me. My host mother tried very hard to prepare kosher meals, and she found a hanukkiah for me. It was hard to be the only Jewish person in the community of 1,000 people.
The family would mention Jesus, and I did peek into one of their Bibles. It made me curious, but I felt I needed to explore it later by myself.
After returning to Germany and completing high school, I moved into a small apartment in the Olympischen Dorf (1972 Summer Olympics athletes’ village) in Munich while I attended university. Now that I was on my own, I wanted to see if the Messiah in the Christian faith was the same Messiah we Jews were waiting for. During Hanukkah 1975, I bought a New Testament.
As I read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I was amazed that the majority of the people were Jewish and that so much could be linked back to the Tanakh. I discovered more than 50 prophecies in the Psalms that pointed to Jesus being the Messiah, but the strongest evidence was in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Even though Isaiah 53 was written seven hundred years before the birth of Yeshua, it foretold his crucifixion. Verse 5 says the Messiah “was pierced for our transgressions.” I became convinced Yeshua was the Redeemer of Yisrael we Jews had been longing for.
I didn’t tell anybody what I believed for almost five months. I wasn’t sure how people would react, especially my family. I found out when I went home for Passover in 1976.
Things happened quite suddenly when I rang the doorbell. My father opened the door and asked me how I was. I unhesitatingly said that I believed Yeshua is the Messiah. My father started to curse and scream that I was no longer his son. Through the open door, I could see my mother crying and going into the kitchen and closing the door. I never caught sight of my siblings. Before the front door was closed on me for good, I watched my grandmother remove a white mourning cloth from the bureau drawer to cover up my picture on the wall. Before slamming the door, my father yelled that from now on I would be a stranger to my family.
This was an utter shock. Just nearing my twentieth birthday, I was forever cut off from my family. A week later, friends told me there had been a funeral for me at the synagogue. I have never seen my family since, but I cannot deny the one in whom I have come to believe.
I finished my university education and taught a year of sixth grade before immigrating to the United States in 1979. I received my citizenship in 1984 and traveled and did social work with non-profit and religious agencies. For the first ten years of my new faith, I was mostly alone in living it out. It wasn’t until 1986 while I was working in San Francisco that I met other Jewish believers in Jesus. I attended Erev Shabbat services at the Jews for Jesus Shalom House.
People call me “The Cycling Rev.” But I am still a Jew, like Jesus – with a higher purpose. I have helped after the Great Mississippi River Flood in 1993; Hurricanes Andrew, Charley, Emily, Frances, Isadore, Ivan, Katrina, Lili, Opal and Rita; and the Los Angeles Earthquake in 1994. I try to ride to the disaster area if I am within 500 miles. I also volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
I have never been without money or food. If I come across someone who is hungry, I give them a meal and a few food items to take along. I get a lot of my funding through what I call “green-handshakes” (on-the-spot donations), “road manna” (money I find alongside the road), and speaking engagements.
I want to show the love of HaShem through my actions. The Bible says,
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” James 2:17.
And Yeshua said,
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25:40.
More than twenty years ago HaShem told me, “Go.” Until I’m unable or HE tells me, “Stop,” I’ll keep on pedaling and praying.
Visit Han’s website at www.pedalprayers.org