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For Missions, for Brotherhood, and for Marilyn

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An Interview by Candice, RMM staff writer

In July of 2013, three brothers decided to tackle Ride for Missions as a united front. RMM President Joe Showalter, along with his two brothers, Nathan Showalter and Don Showalter, as well as 63 other riders, rode a total of 350 miles from Waynesboro, Virginia through the Appalachian Mountains to Belleville, Pennsylvania. Don lost his wife, Marilyn, to cancer only three months prior to the trip, so he rode in her honor and with the support of his brothers. We asked them to share some of their journey with us.

Q: Why did you decide to do RFM this year and why did you decide to do it together?

NS: I bike regularly in Shanghai and have wanted to do a longer ride. I heard of RFM and decided the ride from Virginia to Pennsylvania could work for me. I checked with Joe and he said he was also interested in doing the ride, so we decided to both sign up.

DS: Joe and Nate decided to do the Ride and began leaning on me to do it with them. At the time, Marilyn's health was not good, so I didn't figure there was any chance I could do it. But things changed at the end of April with her graduation to Glory, and I decided to do the Ride in her honor. I think she was proud of me!

JS: For most of the history of the Ride For Missions, I’ve been a jealous observer. I’ve often been present at the ride kick-off, and have always been there at the grand finale when that beautiful processional of riders in matching T-shirts comes coasting to a stop. I’ve listened to their stories and seen the camaraderie that has developed over the miles. Each time I wanted to be one of them, but it always seemed like I didn’t have time since the days leading up to Annual Conference are usually some of the busiest days in my schedule. This year, the ride came at the end of a three-month sabbatical, so I knew I would have the time not only to ride but to make sure I was prepared to ride.

Q: What is your cycling background and experience?

NS: I bike about twelve miles a day for exercise, usually three to five times a week, with longer rides on Monday (my Sabbath) and with guys from church on weekends. I'm also part of a group of Taipei Gospel Bikers, a group who met and cycled in Taipei, and who get together every two years to bike somewhere in the world.

DS: I rode when I was a kid in Kentucky. I even made a "motorbike" with a gasoline washing machine motor mounted on the back of a bike! But I hadn't done any riding since my teen years. So for me, it felt like a rather daunting challenge to get in shape.

JS: As a teenager, I had ridden my bicycle to Conference twice. The first time, a group of about 10 of us rode from Plain City, Ohio to Hartville, Ohio. The second time, four of us rode to Kidron. Both of those rides were around 120-150 miles. In the 30+ years since, I’ve ridden very sporadically and never more than about 10 miles at a time.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the trip for you?

NS: Riding in the rain the first two days was no fun, but because it was more a drizzle than a rain, and because it was warm, it wasn't so bad. The hills were tough. I calculated we climbed about 19,000 feet, the equivalent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, over the five days. Of course we got to go down about the same amount, but I'm not so accustomed to hills since most of my riding is in Shanghai which is completely flat.

DS: Day one was most challenging without a doubt, when I allowed myself to be talked into doing the President's Challenge up Reddish Knob (at the summit of Shenandoah Mountain; 4,397 feet) by my good friend, Bob Miller! What a grueling climb! And the ride down was almost worse, just trying to keep my bike from getting away from me. And then the last ten miles into Harrisonburg, we got caught in a torrential "goose drowner!" I don't think I would have been any wetter if I was in a swimming pool!

Q: How was the route—what were the hardest and easiest parts?

NS: The route was beautiful. Our dad is from the Shenandoah Valley, so we were riding through some familiar and very beautiful terrain. The country roads were spectacular, and we also visited a couple of national parks that I hadn't biked through before. The hardest part was probably the last, long day when we rode about 80 miles with a lot of hills. And by that time I was getting tired and my behind was somewhat worse for the wear. The easiest parts were the long downhill rides, but of course we always had to earn them first.

DS: The easiest parts were the downhill stretches! After day one, the hills didn't seem too bad! The back roads of Virginia were especially beautiful. The countryside was so green and lush.

JS: Where I trained in central Ohio it’s very flat, so I was concerned about the long ride in the mountains. Some of the long climbs were definitely a challenge, but as they say, “what goes up must come down.” There’s nothing quite like a long, smooth descent at 40 mph!

Q: What was the funniest thing that happened?

NS: The funniest, but almost worst thing that happened, was on the first day Don and I were flying down a country road between Waynesboro and Harrisonburg, and a deer jumped out in front of Don. He missed the deer by only a few yards.

JS: Many of us rode with our feet clipped to the pedals. That means that when you stop, you have to quickly unclip so you can put your feet down. If you don’t unclip fast enough, you simply fall over, kind of like a tree falls. When I started riding, a veteran rider told me it’s not a question of if you’ll fall but of when.

Gary Helmuth was famous for riding like Jehu all day long, and was clearly one of the strongest riders in the group—the kind who made the rest of us sick because he’d go ride some additional miles every day just because he wasn’t tired yet. One day I was riding with him and Jason Maust through the Antietam Battlefield. When we stopped to look at a memorial, Gary unclipped only one foot. As he was standing there astride his bike, somehow his weight shifted to the other side, and he slowly but helplessly fell over. It’s funny to watch that happen, but I know my time is coming sometime so I didn’t laugh too hard!

Q: What is a favorite memory of your two brothers from growing up?

NS: My favorite memory of Don was, and is, his sense of humor. He always managed to see the lighter side of things, and kept our family of preacher's kids from taking ourselves too seriously. Joe and I are at opposite ends of the family (12 years apart), so we didn't overlap so much, but my favorite family memories are of games around the living room table, sledding down the hill in the winter (first Kentucky then Ohio), and family camping trips with a tent almost big enough to hold us all. We had a homemade game called Happy Family based on the letters of the alphabet that was one of our favorites. Pulling taffy in the winter with Don and Joe was always fun and I remember lifting Joe off the floor when I pulled taffy with him.

DS: Nate is two years younger than I; Joe thirteen years younger. Memories are different! Nate was an "idea" guy, and as a teen got into photography with a darkroom in a root cellar of sorts in the back yard of the rented house we moved into when we first came to Rosedale. I tagged along and had lots of fun taking pictures and doing some of my own developing of prints with his equipment. Still have some of those floating around, but they're blackmail material! A special memory of Joe was when the younger family members came with my parents to visit Marilyn and me in northwestern Ontario at Stirland Lake. Joe was fishing off the dock and pulled in a whopping 40-inch Northern Pike. I learned later that it was an answer to prayer for him!

JS: Nate was one of the instigators of the ride to Conference in Hartville when I was a teenager, so that’s a great memory with him. And I’ll never forget pulling in a 40-inch Northern Pike as a 12-year old while visiting Don and Marilyn at Stirland Lake in Ontario.

Q: What new thing did you learn about your brothers from this experience?

NS: They are both tougher bikers than I! Joe is no shirker. He couldn't make the first day because of a wedding, so rode 60 miles on his own in Ohio. It was beautiful biking with Don who did the ride for his late wife, Marilyn. I was honored to share this part of his "grief work."

DS: I learned that Nate was in better shape for the Ride than I expected! Even though riding a heavier hybrid because of neck surgery, he did an amazing job of keeping a good pace.

JS: I hope I still have the energy they do when I get to their age. They both did the ride like champions.

Q: What was the best day of the trip for you?

NS: I think the last day, though very tiring, was a great day because we climbed our way into Big Valley, with some of the most spectacular views of the ride. The weather was perfect, and of course we were coming to the end of a long and tiring ride.

DS: The last one! Riding into the Locust Grove Church parking lot and having both daughters with their families there to meet me was so special! But the days were all good in their own unique ways.

Q: How did you experience God during RFM?

NS: I experienced God in the beauty of the rides, the prayers with fellow bikers, the camaraderie of my brothers and the other riders, the testimonies of RMM workers in the evening, and the pleasure of conquering mountains and valleys.

DS: I could talk about that for several pages! Only to say that Jesus was there in profound and tangible ways for me, urging me on, cheering me on, riding with me, delighting in me, healing my heart, giving me hope and comfort. On one long hill, I asked, "Jesus, help me with this!" Almost immediately, I experienced a fresh burst of energy! I also experienced a hug from the Father in riding Dan Gingerich's great set of wheels. He was unable to ride because of back and neck surgery, but wanted his bike to do the Ride!

JS: Some of the views along the way were absolutely stunning. I also saw him in the lives of the riders and the SAG crew who gave up time and comfort for the ultimate purpose of “inviting the nations to worship Jesus.”

Q: Any other memories from the trip that you’d like to share?

NS: The trip was very well organized, and the support team took very good care of us all along the way. The breaks were always welcome, the refreshments and lunches were delicious, and the accommodations along the way comfortable and well-chosen. Wayne Yoder is a prince.

DS: Traditionally, on Sunday morning at Conference, the riders wear their matching Ride T-shirts and help with the Missions Day Offering as ushers. Since my focus for the Ride was to honor Marilyn, I asked the Ride coordinator, Wayne Yoder, if I could wear the yellow jersey that I had worn for the Ride, on the back of which was printed the words "For Marilyn." Wayne not only graciously consented, but also assigned me to the center isle in the sanctuary! Sunday morning, I choked back the tears, and sensed Marilyn's delight from where she watched from the balcony of heaven!

JS: I’ll always remember when we brothers and Bob Miller and Dave Slabaugh were riding together and we came up on a Dairy Queen. Don asked if we’d stop with him and let him buy us ice cream in memory of Marilyn. When they traveled together, he’d often stop at Dairy Queen to treat Marilyn. The Blizzard tasted amazing after a long day of riding, but the best part was the privilege of helping my brother honor the love of his life.

Nate Showalter lives in Shanghai, China and is the senior pastor of Abundant Grace Church. Don Showalter is the president of Hearts Alive! and lives in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. Joe Showalter is the president of Rosedale Mennonite Missions and is from Columbus, Ohio.

Next summer, from July 26-30, 2014, we invite you to join the ninth annual Ride for Missions, departing from Ashtabula, Ohio and ending in Castorland, New York (roughly 384 miles). Come enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship with other cyclists as you meet a challenge together in support of missions. Anyone can be part of the ride, regardless of physical condition or interest in cycling (those who don’t take part themselves can still support riders and spread the word about the event). Check out the RMM website for more details