Monty Van Horn was working long shifts helping build and repair Bradley Fighting Vehicles for the U.S. Army, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and polishing off nearly a dozen beers a night, when everything changed. “I was living the dream – my wife and I had 35 acres, bon fires and beer. I was working in Fort Hood, making good money and life was good,” Van Horn recalls. “I was doing a Bible study course – something I’d always enjoyed – I finished the course, and there was a piece of paper that said: for twenty-five dollars, I could be a preacher. I opened up a beer and I laughed about it. I’m smoking a Marlboro and drinking my beer, and I told God, ‘if I’m supposed to take this serious, take this (vice) from me.’ I went to work the next day and when I got home, I opened up the refrigerator to get a beer like I always did, but for some reason I didn’t want one. I always had a box of Marlboro reds in my pocket, and just then I realized that I also had not smoked a cigarette. After that, I was scared not to send in the preacher application. I told my wife Tammy everything. She was raised Pentecostal, so she was excited and started doing the Pentecostal dance. ‘OK, OK, I’ll send it in’ I replied to her and I did. Everything has been all about God, ever since that day. That was December of 2000.” Now, Pastor Monty leads Van Horn Ministries and the Highway 2 Heaven Biker Church on West Main Street in Gatesville, Texas. The congregation averages around 60, although there have been Sundays where up to 100 bikers and non-bikers crowded into the modest worship facility near the intersection with FM 116. The church was designed with bikers in mind, but anyone is welcome to attend. Less than half the active membership actually rides motorcycles. “As far as the one-percent/outlaw bike clubs, we don’t have any of those,” said Van Horn, who is the proud owner of a Harley-Davison Ultra Classic with matching sidecar. “I have quite a few members who have had a really rough life. Former addicts, some that you would never think they’d be doing what they are doing now.
Working with the law, instead of breaking the law. I don’t care who you are or where you’ve been or what you’re doing, everybody is welcome here. I’m not going to sugarcoat God’s message” Van Horn continues, “I’m going to preach the truth. But nobody is going to judge you. We will show you the love of Jesus Christ.” Van Horn was born and raised in Indiana, stepson of a construction worker who moved around the state a lot. He never rode motorcycles as a kid, but always wanted one. The dream finally came true after he graduated high school in 1980 and joined the U.S. Army, where he spent the next 12 years. “It’s just always been in my blood,” Van Horn explained. “I wanted one my senior year of high school. I almost had it paid for, too, and then I got laid off from my job. After I joined the Army, I got a Honda CB 750 custom from my ex-wife’s uncle in Odessa, Texas, and rode it back to Fort Polk, Louisiana. It was great.” Something else that has been in his blood since childhood is his faith in God. He hasn’t always been exactly what might be called “devout” but he has been a believer since he was 11 years old. “It was February 11, 1973 and a family invited my sister and I to church on Sunday night; my parents hardly ever went to church” Van Horn recalls now 54. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I became overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. I was crying and trembling, and I couldn’t get up to that altar fast enough. God has had his hand on me since then. I sure didn’t act much like a Christian growing up – I was a just regular kid. I went to Bible studies, but for the wrong reasons. You know, there was a cute girl there or whatever. I wanted to become a chaplain in the Army, but I found out you can’ t go green to gold. I was a mechanic and working on Bradleys (armored combat vehicles) and I could have gone from green – being a striper, a sergeant – to being a lieutenant, but I wanted to be a chaplain. So that didn’t work out.”
After the spiritual experience in 2000, Van Horn began a second career as a “highways and bi-ways”preacher, riding with the Christian Motorcyclists Association and delivering impromptu sermons here and there. Whether it was two people, 20, 30, or 200, it didn’t matter. “In 2006, the Lord moved me to start Van Horn Ministries. I didn’t know why I was doing it; I had no clue. I left for Iraq, and on my last trip I was a contractor, supporting Fort Hood soldiers. So, I’m over there doing a Bible study twice a week. I’ve got guys asking me to give a message, but the chaplain told me he couldn’t allow that because I wasn’t a D.O.D. civilian, blah, blah, blah… Then, he came to me one night and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be here Wednesday night. If nobody shows up, you need to have something ready to give a message.’ I wasn’t supposed to be able to preach over there, as I wasn’t authorized. I said: ‘Lord, I’ m not supposed to be preaching, I know that. But, just in case I do tomorrow night, let there be one salvation. Now, we’re talking about a Wednesday night, with usually about 10 or 12 people and all blood-bought saints. They already know God. That’s why they’re there on Wednesday nights. But I told the Lord, ‘If there’s one salvation Lord, when I get back to the States, I will start preaching in the churches.’ Then I started thinking of all the people who were (going to be) there, and they were all already saved. So I said again: ‘Lord, let there be one re-dedication.’ Salvation is giving your life to the Lord the first time; re-dedication is somebody that has given their life to the Lord, but they realize they need to re-dedicate it. There were 21 people in that sanctuary, and there were 15 re-dedications and four salvations. I’ll remember those numbers the rest of my life. I cried like a baby. When I hit the ground here in 2006, I within three or four months I was an associate pastor. I was giving three messages a week, and just knew I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do.” Van Horn opened Highway 2 Heaven Biker Church in June 2010, and today, also oversees a number of local community outreach programs. Former home to a Lutheran church, Van Horn considers his ministry to be interdenominational, meaning it is designed to accommodate a variety of Christian belief systems. “Inter-denominational is how we started out. It’s kind of hard to say that anymore, because we did go ahead and put a membership book in writing. Inter-denominational means you cater to any and all denominations – if you’re a Lutheran and you want to be sprinkled instead of dunked, I’ll sprinkle you. Non-denominational takes the things they like and don’t like, put those things in a membership book, and says: ‘This is the way we believe.’ So in all reality, a non-denominational church becomes some type of denomination. It may not have a name to it, but if you say baptism by immersion only, you became some type of denomination. I don’t want somebody coming in here who’s grown up all their life Lutheran, and then find out I won’t baptize them the way they want to be baptized. I would be standing in the way of someone becoming more intimate with Jesus, and I’m not going to do that.” Van Horn says his biker church is similar in some ways to the increasingly popular cowboy churches that are becoming more common these days. Both are come-as-you-are, non-pretentious places that welcome all comers with open arms. “The only difference between cowboy churches and biker churches is they feed their horses hay, and we feed ours 93 octane. Really, that’s about the only difference,” said the father of one son, stepfather of three boys and grandfather of three more. “The biker community is a bunch of really tight-knit folks. I wish Christians – all the different denominations – could be as tight as bikers are. We have a heart for the lost –the wounded spiritual soldiers on the battlefield. We try to accept people as they are. We’re going to preach the truth, but we’re not going to judge you. If you’re living in sin, you’re going to be convicted by the Holy Spirit (recognize your sin and seek redemption). But you’re not going to be condemned.”