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Off-road and online with the Gospel
April 18, 2005
By Bryan Cribb
Southern Seminary student Guy Fredrick drives his Ford Explorer off the beaten path, which is exactly where he has found an unreached people group. Fredrick ministers to adventure seekers through Internet discussion forums. God has used his efforts to bring three "off-roaders" to salvation.
Guy Fredrick's idea of fun may seem strange to some. He enjoys "breaking" his truck on rocks, spinning his tires in several feet of sludge, and slipping, sliding, and smashing on deserted, impassable trails.
For most people, this might seem more like an impending insurance claim than "fun." But for Fredrick, his weekend off-roading jaunts are not only his hobby; they have become a means of reaching an unreached people group — the unconventional "off-roading" community of America.
"It's just exciting for me to have an opportunity to reach out to an unreached people group," said Fredrick, a Wisconsin native and advanced master of divinity student. "For me, as a church planter, as a cultural anthropologist, as a missionary, one of my goals is to find people no one else can reach. …
"Just because of my natural bent, my abilities as a mechanic and my love for a sport, I've found a lot of people that no one is reaching. On the weekends, they're off in the woods; they're out camping and doing things with their trucks and their bikes and their ATVs."
Oddly enough, the medium of Fredrick's witness is not primarily off-road. It's online on the World Wide Web, through Internet forums frequented by fun-seekers like Fredrick.
He became aware of this evangelistic opportunity several years ago after taking up off-roading again following a brief seminary-induced hiatus from the hobby. The reason for the reintroduction to the sport was his son, who had just purchased a Jeep.
The two joined a secular 4-wheel drive club, and they started searching the Web for information on outfitting their vehicles. And they started participating in online discussions on adventure enthusiast websites. Every once in a while on these forums, other topics would come up and online debates would arise.
"I would start engaging in some of these online debates — full-on apologetic [discussions] with some very bright individuals that happened to just like trucks," Fredrick said. "But for the most part, [they were] people very secular and atheistic in their outlook."
Using his seminary training, he would debate theological topics — ranging from evolution to the existence of God. Two of his posts were read by some 15,000 people.
"That's a lot of exposure," Fredrick said. "They started calling me the 'Pastornator,' because my arguments were kind of devastating to atheists. That didn't mean I won a lot of people to my side, but I did lay out a full Gospel apologetic and shared my faith at every turn."
God did use his arguments to influence some, however. Three people told him that they accepted Christ and joined a local church in the last year because of some of the truths expressed online.
"What I'm presenting for them are some serious apologetic arguments for God," Fredrick said. "Apologetics don't lead to salvation directly. But what they do is move people to a place where salvation is possible."
In the forums, Fredrick always encourages people not just to make commitments online, but to get involved in a local church.
"I see it as a way of taking people out of cyber space and putting them into real space — getting them united with another believer in a city or a church somewhere," Fredrick said.
In addition to the conversions, nearly 100 people have told Fredrick that some of the things said have caused them to come back to God. Also, more than 100 readers have thanked Fredrick for his words on issues like the family, morality and apologetics.
Based on this positive response, recently Fredrick started looking around for other Christians online and found some scattered around the country. He decided to try to get a central gathering point for the believers involved in the various off-roading clubs. From that, United Christian Off-Road Alliance (UCORA) was born. He founded the organization with six other men and their wives. Currently, they have 135 registered members after only a few months of existence.
The forums also provided another evangelistic opportunity recently. One of the men who was a moderator of a forum and a Christian had asked him to perform his wedding. But it wasn't a normal wedding. The man wanted Fredrick to travel with the club to Moab, Utah, a mecca for off-roaders. The betrothed couple would make their vows at the end of a particular path called the "Top of the World" trail — a difficult, rocky trek with a 3,500-foot drop at the top.
"We went out there with a bunch of secular off-roaders, and did a very overtly Christian wedding," Fredrick said.
Through all these evangelistic encounters, Fredrick, who is also a 2000 graduate of Boyce College, is happy to have his seminary training.
"To have the solid base that I've been given here at Southern is absolutely critical, because I know that I can stand on the Scriptures and not have to worry about somebody defeating my arguments because my arguments are true," he said.
Fredrick hopes in the future to keep growing UCORA and keep participating in these apologetic debates. Why?
"There is a community there. And people who hang out there don't hang out anywhere else," he said. "… I don't know where the seeds I'm planting will end up, but they're planted and the Holy Spirit is at work."