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Seven Years and Counting: The (Always) Ride for Missions

Chad, Ginny, Eileen and Geneva after finishing their second ride in 2007.
By Andrew Sharp

Hundreds of people have taken part in the Ride for Missions since it started in 2006, but only four of them have ridden on all seven rides. They have seen the Ride for Missions grow from 18 riders to more than 60, and the proceeds supporting the work of Rosedale Mennonite Missions grow from a little over $23,000 to $110,000 in 2012.

Ginny Kauffman, her son Chad Kauffman, her sister Eileen Yoder, and their friend Geneva Miller, all from the Goshen area in Indiana, have pedaled more than 2,000 miles all over the Midwest and East, and been a part of raising more than $350,000 for missions. (For the record, Geneva said she started on the second day of one of the rides, so she can only claim about 2,250 miles instead of 2,315.)

None of them set out to do the ride every year—when it started, no one even knew what the ride would become. They just went the first year and then kept going.

The women were already into cycling before that first Ride for Missions. Between them they had done a number of long bike rides, including multiple-day events through the TRIRI (Touring Ride in Rural Indiana).

Merlin Miller, who came up with the idea for the ride and organized it that first year, attended Siloam Fellowship church, where Ginny and Eileen also attended. Chad, who was 13 at the time, had just gotten a hybrid bike that year. Merlin was his youth pastor. Basically, it was all Merlin’s fault.

“I had started biking probably about four years before he (Merlin) came up with the idea and had really enjoyed it,” Ginny said, “and so I thought sure, that would be something fun to do and a worthwhile cause.”

“We had such a good time and when it came around again and became a bigger organized thing I just kept on doing it,” Eileen said.

"My favorite so far was the very first one... you could say at the age of 13, I felt like I had conquered the world!”

“My favorite so far was the very first one,” Chad said, “because that set the foundation for the years that have passed. And the group I was with was very tightly knit since we were all mostly from the Goshen area. It was also the first time I had ever ridden over 100 miles in one day, so you could say at the age of 13, I felt like I had conquered the world!”

And they just never quit signing up.

“After the first year, I just loved the camaraderie of the group so much and just enjoyed being on the open road on a bicycle, that I have ended up joining every year since,” Chad said.

Ginny claimed they aren’t competing to see who can be the last one to do every ride. “Not really … we enjoy it. And so as long as we can, unless something comes up that we absolutely can’t go … I plan on doing it year after year.” (She’s already signed up for the 2013 ride.)

Eileen said she takes it one year at a time. “There were a few years, like last year, I really questioned if I would be able to go because I was starting a new job. We had lost a business and I just wasn’t sure if the finances would work out. And a couple of people from my church said ‘Why aren’t you signed up?’ and before I knew what was happening I was getting anonymous notes and cash in my mailbox at church.”

This year, Geneva said, she considered giving it up when she heard about the mountainous route planned. But she decided to go after all, and now she figures that if she can handle a more challenging ride this year, the next few should be easier so she will keep on doing it.

"I wouldn’t know these people if I wouldn’t ride... you make friends and then, the ride is like a reunion every summer”

Camaraderie and supporting a good cause were common reasons they gave for enjoying the ride.

“I really enjoy getting to know new people; raising money for missions,” Ginny said. “Missions is a big thing to us.”

“I have never come across another group with the same camaraderie and determination and heart set for raising money for overseas missions,” Chad said. “It’s amazing that every year the amount of money raised has been more than the previous (year), and I hope that continues in the rides to come.”

Ginny said she likes the spontaneous moments during the day, when groups will decide to stop and take pictures or breaks. “You see so many interesting things along the way … we’re stopping at the little restaurants or ice cream shacks along the way, or for coffee too,” she said. “Or laying somewhere in a park and people just cracking jokes, and you just laugh and laugh but it wouldn’t be funny to other people.”

“I wouldn’t know these people if I wouldn’t ride,” Geneva said. “You make friends and then next year get to see them again … you get to know new people.” The ride is like a reunion every summer, she said.

Making new friends can be hard, Chad said, because “I am usually a somewhat shy guy. But that has changed for the better over the years on the rides.”

"I feel fortunate and blessed that I’ve been able to do it... I hope to keep going for a long time yet.”

Another challenge, he said, is he has to remember to tell himself to just slow down and take in God’s creation while riding, “since it is definitely not a race.”

The creation can be rewarding. Geneva said a favorite memory is the trip from Columbus, Ohio to Frostburg, Maryland in 2011, a grueling route over the Appalachians. It was a real challenge, she said, but she is glad she did it. “You were up on top and you went down into the valley and then you knew you had to go up again, but the view was just something else, and that’s what I expect this year too.”

“I feel fortunate and blessed that I’ve been able to do it,” Eileen said. “I hope to keep going for a long time yet.”

Click here for information about the 2013 Ride for Missions.