Bus trips become a ministry for expanding one’s faith

A motorcoach with custom itineraries offers Christian fellowship opportunities.

By Ronald E. Keener

Taking the church bus on a road trip is an altogether difference experience with the folks at Lightrider, a mobile retreat ministry that uses a 40-foot double-decker motor coach equipped with seats and bunk beds.

Lightrider is a non-denominational parachurch Christian ministry that began in 1987 as a spin off of Wandering Wheels (coast-to-coast bicycling), formerly of Taylor University in Upland, IN, where the idea of traveling at night to save on motel bills and time was developed.

Lightrider Ministries customizes itineraries around a group’s desires connecting the chosen destinations with overnight travel whenever practical, though an occasional motel is used along the way. A “chuck box” with eight burners opens on the rear of the bus to provide fellowship around the kitchen and serves some of the “best chili in the country.”

The concept of using sleep time to travel allows groups to maximize their experience, arriving at their destinations refreshed to sightsee. Mike Manganello, who began the service with Bob Walker and was later joined by Mike’s twin brother, Steve, believe that travel creates an ideal environment for spiritual growth.

“The group dynamics of the journey, coupled with the personal interaction of the Lightrider staff within the custom motorcoach and looking to God for his special blessings, produces a spiritually rewarding experience,” Steve Manganello says. Lightrider averages 60,000 miles a year on 26 mobile retreats.

The Lightrider Web site [lightrider.org] describes the ministry as helping “initiate and renew the faith in Christ of individuals, congregations and families” in these terms:

  • Getting people away from the pressures and problems of work and  family and the lethargy of their comfort zones;
  • Surrounding them with a warm and  friendly environment where the destination planning, food, and other decisions are made for them;
  • Mixing them comfortably with new faces and fresh insights;
  • Worshipping God through song, prayer, sharing and reflecting on His word together;
  • Joining others in an open forum on faith;
  • Sharing devotional and private times as participants travel, hike, eat, shop and swim.

Manganello also adds a side benefit to the trips in that “social barriers fall and people find themselves on the same level as they sleep in comfortable if close quarters, change clothes in the crowded but friendly confines of a McDonald’s restroom, and wake up together in one’s typical first-thing-in-the-morning mess.”

In April 48 students from Lenawee Christian School, Adrian, MI, went to Clearwater, FL, on one of the buses and a student group from Whites  Family Services, Wabash, IN, did the tour to Washington, DC and Annapolis. Groups most often originate from their own church or location although some retreats do begin in Upland, IN, at Lightrider’s campus; groups usually begin booking a year out as the bus calendar fills rapidly.

The staff at Lightrider has an apparent heart for teens in the small town atmosphere of Upland. “We don’t even have a stop light but more than 300 largely non-churched kids are registered at our RedBarn teen center. We want to be more evangelistic in these times,” Manganello says. “The kids have so few role models.” Youth for Christ has partnered with them, with a husband and wife couple ministering to the kids.

There’s the GrayBarn too, a place for senior adults to drop in for activities, and potentially develop mentoring relationships with the kids.

Lightrider’s next international retreat, another of their “ministries,” will be built around the Passion play in Oberammergau, Germany, in 2010. On the drawing boards is the development of a “low rider” coach for senior adult retreats. A bus with no steps will extend the travel window for many of America’s aging citizenry, says Manganello.

“Our founding fathers built America on biblical values,” Mangenello says. “Believing that a strong church can help to imprint these truths into the fabric of our land, Lightrider Ministries seeks to strengthen America by encouraging individual churches through adventures in Christian fellowship.”

Simple bus maintenance steps to ensure the safety of congregants

By Bob Anderson

When churches purchase a new church bus it is important to keep it maintained so that it doesn’t become just another church bus we have all seen broken down on the side of the road. There are several simple steps for church leaders to follow that will ensure a safe and efficient bus for their congregants.

Annual inspection: Church usage for a bus ranges from 1,000-15,000 miles-per-year depending on the church. Buses should be thoroughly inspected. This can be done by a competent volunteer from the church or a local service center. Some of the items that should be checked annually include: Air conditioning (system pressure), belts and hoses, brakes, fluids and filters, tires and suspension system.

Before each use: One of the easiest ways to make sure a bus will provide many years of safe, reliable service is to run through a simple inspection before each use. Churches should have a simple pre-trip inspection sheet and require drivers to complete it and return to the church office before they are allowed to leave the property (see sidebar for sample).

Continuous monitoring: Whoever is driving the bus should always be keeping an eye on the instrument panel in front of them. Gauges that monitor items such as voltage and engine temperature are there for a reason and should not be taken for granted.

The vehicle owner’s manual for additional recommendations concerning the maintenance of new buses. This ensures that features and considerations unique to the vehicle are understood.

Church leaders also need to maintain a clean vehicle. One of the items that I believe is most often neglected in the maintenance of a bus is washing the “underside” of the vehicle. This is an area where salt, dirt; road tar and other particulates can accumulate and cause significant damage to the metal underneath.

This plan may sound simple, but if followed carefully it can ensure many years of safely transporting church members. [This article is strictly the opinion of the author and MWT/ChurchBus.com cannot be held responsible for results achieved when following these suggestions.]

Bob Anderson is the national sales manager for ChurchBus.com, a division of Midwest Transit Equipment, Kankakee, IL. [churchbus.com]


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