THE MAN BEHIND THE VEST: MARTY EDWARDS
A Wheels Of Grace exclusive interview
W.O.G. Pastor Marty Edwards, you are known as the founder of BlackSheep Harley-Davidsons For Christ, a ministry that has been used by God to change people’s lives and witness to many motorcycle riders, in the mission field of the HOG members (Harley Owners Group). Thank you for being here and allowing us to do this interview.
As a friend, I have spent time with you on more than one occasion, we have had some adventures, had many meals together, and I can honestly say that the Marty that people see in the public eye, is the same Marty I got to know as my friend. This interview is not about theological questions; you do that all the time… This is about people getting to know the Marty Edwards they may not know because, since you don’t like to talk about yourself, our readers can get to know the man behind the vest. We get to know more about your life and your story. Fair enough?
M.E. Fair enough! For the record though, I was just one of five men that started BSHDFC (Black Sheep Harley-Davidsons For Christ) in 1999. When I was out of the room, they elected me president. LOL! (Never leave the room before a vote!) The first members were myself, Dennis Coggins, Ron Trader, Mike Rode, and Al Dobrick.
You also mentioned our ministry with Harley Owners Group. Fred Z. (Bikers for Christ) was the first to suggest that we might focus on HOG simply because no one else was – so we did, but we’re not exclusively HOG. Our members all ride American v-twins and we will care for and share Christ with anyone.
W.O.G. So let’s get right to it. Where were you born?
M.E. I was born in Mount Vernon, New York – about 25 miles north of the city. I was only there a few years before we moved out west.
W.O.G. Where did you grow up?
M.E. First of all, who says I grew up? My early adolescence was spread out all over the country; California (North and South), Florida and Reno, Nevada.
W.O.G. Tell us a little about the young Marty Edwards. Let’s say from birth to 18 when you became an adult. What was the kid and the teenager Marty Edwards like? Was he the same as he is today? Same interests, same passions?
M.E. I lived a wild and wicked life before accepting Christ at the age of five. In the weeks shortly thereafter, I would lie in bed and pretend or dream I was a pastor. (No kidding!) I would lie there thinking about leading some hymns, making some announcements, take an offering and preach a message from the depths of a five year old.
Growing up, my family was hot and cold. Sometimes we went to church, some times we didn’t. I was never a really bad kid. Jesus was always right there in my head. I cussed, looked at dirty magazines and got drunk once and puked my brains out. I liked to chase after all the girls, but I was a pretty decent kid.
I re-dedicated my life to Christ at fourteen. I had a very clear calling from God at seventeen to go into the ministry. (Makes those dreams of a five year old pretty interesting, huh?) A few month’s later, I met my wife and two years later we were married. It’s been 42 years.
W.O.G. And what about that photo I have seen in your house. The one of you playing guitar with the Motley Crue haircut? What was that all about?
M.E. Ya know, I’ve always had this desire or vision to be ministering OUTSIDE of the local church as well as IN. As a youth minister in Camarillo, CA I started the Camarillo Youth Ministers Association (CYMA). In the 80’s (still a youth pastor) I started a couple of bands (33AD which morphed into ALIEN) and we played all up and down the West Coast for three years (thus the haircut!). Even after I started my first church, I wanted to work OUTSIDE of the local church and so I went to CLOWN COLLEGE and would work car shows, fairs and parades. I would give people a KING OF HEARTS playing card with a picture of Jesus on the other side. I just wanted to CONNECT with people outside the church.
W.O.G. If Marty Edwards could say something to a younger Marty Edwards today, what would he say to him?
M.E. Keep practicing guitar. The only regret I really have is not becoming a better guitar player. I know, that’s not very profound, but I’ve always played just enough to get by and that’s a regret.
W.O.G. Most of us know that you went to seminary and pastored several churches before founding BlackSheep, but was there a profound moment, a changing experience that made you believe in Jesus and have the personal relationship you have with Him today?
M.E. Well, like I said, I accepted Christ at a very early age and it was real. Don’t tell me a small child doesn’t understand Jesus, because I did. But then adolescence and all of temptations that come with it came along. When I rededicated my life at fourteen, that’s when I got serious. I also had an epiphany one day after church. Everybody was going out for Sunday dinner, like we always did when we went to church, but that Sunday I just wanted to go home and read my Bible and be quiet. (I must have been sixteen or seven- teen). While I was alone at home I began to read and pray. Something (which I now know as someone – the Holy Spirit) came over me and there was an incredible sense of both power and peace. It was like downshifting on the bike.
W.O.G. I would say that you and Black Sheep Harley-Davidsons for Christ have been responsible for bringing the Good News of the Gospel to hundreds if not thousands. You have had Black Sheep members or chapters in 35+ US states, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Mexico. It was the year 1999 God gave you the vision about starting Black Sheep HDFC. I have heard the story of you pulling up on your Harley to the church you were pastoring and about the tow truck driver that towed your bike. Can you in your own words share with our readers a little about that?
M.E. I bought my first motorcycle in 1999. I was a pastor and I needed something to do on Mondays, my day off. A few weeks later I had a flat tire and called the dealership to come get the bike. They sent a young guy named Michael Butters (19 years old). He was rugged and ragged and hair, like a biker. After loading up the bike I wanted to talk to him a bit on the ride back to the dealer, but he wasn’t having it. He was hard and cold and I was (to be honest) a little intimidated. A few days later Michael was killed on his Harley. That hit me hard! I was likely the last Christian to ever have an opportunity to talk to him and I was intimidated. I suppose it was then that the Lord started working on my heart and so once again, I started doing ministry outside of the church.
I started by going down to the dealership (after Michael’s death) to see if I could help in someway. I introduced myself to a sad and somber Rich Quaid (the owner at the time) and said, “Hey, I’m a local pastor and a new HOG member. I’m sorry to hear about Michael. Is there anything I can do?” He said, “Pastor. This place is so f—–up, you can do anything you want.” I spent most of the day moving from the different departments talking to people and in some cases praying with them. I was surprised how receptive some were. I started spending more and more time at the dealership and riding with HOG. (That’s where I met Denny and Donna Coggins). Soon I was doing weddings and funerals and leading people to Jesus. My church could see the difference in me and I’m not sure everyone liked it. We started Black Sheep that same year and a few years later I resigned and went into full-time motorcycle ministry.
W.O.G. What was the first bike you owned?
M.E. It was a 1997 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. It had long nasty fishtails and 16” ape hangers! I have never wanted anything but a Harley-Davidson.
W.O.G. What was the worse bike you owned? And why?
M.E. I’ve had all Softails and loved every one of them! I decided I wanted a trike a few years ago but didn’t like anything I saw. Jeff Hemm from TAZMO Customs and a member of Black Sheep built a trike for me that looked and sounded AWESOME! [photo]. It was very old school: flat black, classic flames, fish tails (of course!), ape hangers and red alligator seat and pin striping. Problem was…anything over 60mph it would start “tracking” back and forth. It was pretty scary so after a few years I broke down and bought my current ride, a 2014 Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide. I’ve never had a “bad” bike unless you want to count that 50cc Honda Express back in the early 80’s.
W.O.G. How old were you when you read the Bible for the first time?
M.E. Well, I carried a Bible to church as soon as I was strong enough to carry one. It’s just what I was taught to do. I’m sure I was reading it in elementary school, but I never studied it until high school.
W.O.G. What did that mean to you? For someone that is reading this interview and does not have a relationship with God what would you tell them about reading the Bible?
M.E. There isn’t much of a relationship with GOD without the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God! Yes, God’s Spirit speaks to us all the time, but the human condition often confuses the Holy Spirit with “what seems right” or “what makes sense to me.” The Bible keeps us tethered and true to God’s Word. It is “a lamp unto my feet.”
W.O.G. What’s the secret to being married for what seems like to be a lifetime? Almost half a century!
M.E. OK buddy! It hasn’t been “half a century” yet! LOL! Actually, it’s been wonderful! Debbie Sandberg was born so that I might have the perfect partner and soul mate. Sure, we have had our share of arguments, but we know we were meant for each other. I love her more today than I did when we were teenagers.
W.O.G. What would you say, has been the biggest blessing being married and in ministry at the same time?
M.E. I love telling people this because it’s true: “There would be no Black Sheep or churches that I have planted without Debbie.” She worked (and still does) as an R.N. all of those years so that I could be a youth pastor, a musician, a church planter and a biker pastor. She’s just AWESOME!
W.O.G. You have two sons. Both married, how old?
M.E. Both are in their 30’s. Jonathan (the oldest) is married to Laura and he is a special education high-school teacher in Whittier, CA. Gabriel is married to Elizabeth and he is an artist in the Bay Area. Gabriel and Elizabeth have a 2 year old named Luna “Hushpuppy” Edwards! She is very special to her grandpa!
W.O.G. Yes the ‘Social Media Famous’ granddaughter, Luna or…Hushpuppy. Tell us a little about Hushpuppy.
M.E. You don’t want to get me started talking about my Hushpuppy! I LOVE BEING A GRANPA! I would mention, however, how sad I am for all of those other grandparents who have to live with ugly grandchildren who are not as smart as mine. LOL!
W.O.G. Back to chrome and horsepower. After 18 years of logging in all kinds of miles on two wheels and now on three for the Lord, can you share with us a little about how BlackSheep was in the early days different from today?
M.E. When I went to college, I read lots of books about youth ministry. When I went to seminary I read books and attended seminars on how to plant a church, but when I started a motorcycle ministry there were no books or seminars. It was ALL trial and error. Therefore, to answer your question, Black Sheep 1999 and Black Sheep 2017 are very different. In 1999 all you had to do was own a Harley and “say” you love Jesus. Today there is a 4-5 month mentorship. Today, we are seriously focused and strategized! That’s not to suggest that we have “arrived.” We’re still learning from our mistakes and moving forward one day at a time.
W.O.G. Being the founder and International President of Black Sheep HDFC for all this time what would you say was the hardest thing to face?
M.E. Discouragement. We have some WONDERFUL people in BSHDFC. In fact, most of our members are solid Christians committed to God, their families, their local churches and this ministry, but it only takes a few people to discourage a pastor. Read the Book of Nehemiah and look at Sanballat and Tobiah and how the devil used them to discourage the building of the wall around Jerusalem. We have too many Sanballats and Tobiahs in the church today. Sandballats and Tobiahs have followed my ministry for over 40 years and I never get used to them.
W.O.G. I would say you have had a “happy” life, serving the Lord in ministry from a young age, pastoring churches, married to the love of your youth, two sons, several motorcycles, but life is not always ‘chrome and horsepower’. Can you share with us about a time that life was difficult for you?
M.E. Most people don’t know this, but I suffered for about twelve years with depression, which manifested itself through anxiety and panic attacks. It was hard being pastor who was terrified of public speaking, but I’m over that now.
W.O.G. And how did you get through it?
M.E. Christians need to understand that we are PHYSICAL, MENTAL and SPIRITUAL beings. It took help in all three of these for me to be where I am today. It wasn’t just a prayer or just a pill or just a scripture that healed, but God used all three. I had some counseling, I took some medication and I have spent a lot of time in prayer. Funny thing, my road name is “Slow Dog” – but what people don’t understand is what a miracle it is that I can ride at all. God has brought me a long ways.
W.O.G. Billy Graham said: “God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable but to make us comforters”. You have been a Comforter to so many including me when I went through a difficult time in my life. To someone that is reading this interview and going through a hard time right now what would you tell him or her to comfort them?
M.E. Trust in God. Stay in His Word and DO what it says. Stay close to your local church. Have a couple of people in your life that know EVERYTHING about you and can keep you accountable. Remember what I said about us being PHYSICAL, MENTAL and SPIRITUAL beings. God didn’t take the Psalm writer OUT of the VALLEY of the shadow of death but He was there with him every step of the way. You are never alone!
W.O.G. If tomorrow morning, you could start a chapter of Black Sheep anywhere in the US, where would it be?
M.E. Wow, I don’t know. WASHINGTON D.C. because it is the heart of our nation? NEW YORK CITY? HONALULU?
W.O.G. What about anywhere in the world? If tomorrow morning, you could start a chapter of Black Sheep anywhere in the world, where would that chapter be?
M.E. Brisbane, Australia! I say that because we have a small team working very hard to make that happen right now. I’ve always had a heart for “Oz.” Twenty-six Black Sheep rode from Brisbane to Sydney back in 2009. I would love to see this ministry active in Australia.
W.O.G. Can you share with us a story in the history of Black Sheep that really stuck with you?
M.E. There truly are so many. Like the bike night I sat in the rain for hours and only had one rider stop by the booth…but he accepted Christ and joined BSHDFC a few months later. Or maybe it was the time my vice president shined the boots of a “tough biker chick.” She wept when we wouldn’t take a tip or a donation, saying, “A man has never wanted anything from me without a catch.” Then there was the time in Laughlin when I walked up to a booth of outlaw bikers who were laughing at us? My knees were knocking as I introduced myself and gave them my card, offering to be of service to them if they ever needed me – and they said, “Thank-you Pastor.” Man, I love this ministry!
W.O.G. So a pastor, with a seminary degree, why the heart for bikers and especially the Harley Owner Group members?
M.E. I simply stumbled upon a sub-culture of people who were “sheep without a shepherd.” Then, within that “flock” I found an even more secluded group (HOG) who not even the motorcycle ministries were paying any attention to. Let me ask you…if we found an island in the South Pacific with two million people on it, would we not send missionaries right away?
W.O.G. Indeed we would. Do you ever have doubts?
M.E. Probably, but I doubt it! LOL! Of course I do. Everybody has doubts, but in the end I know who my God is and so I press on.
W.O.G. What was the best decision you ever made?
M.E. #1 Accepting Christ! #2 Asking Debbie Sandberg to marry me!
W.O.G. What’s your most embarrassing moment you ever had?
M.E. Like I’m going to tell you and thousands of your readers? I don’t think so!
W.O.G. Fair enough. If you were to give one last sermon, what would it be on?
M.E. There’s a legend that nearing his death, the Apostle John was carried into the church each week on a stretcher, and ask to give the people a word. Each time he would raise himself up and say to the people, “Little children, love one another.” Finally someone said one day, “Father, isn’t there anything else you would like to leave with us?” To which he responded, “Little children, if you will do that, it will be enough.”
W.O.G. Why that sermon? Why is that so important to you?
M.E. I’ve been in some form of active ministry for 45 years. If I could put my finger on ONE thing that is holding the church back today, it’s our ability to love one another and simply get along. Church hoppers drive me crazy! People who bounce from ministry to ministry because they didn’t get their way disgust me. I look at all of the problems in this world and I have come to the conclusion that Christians are their own worst problem. Some will quickly excuse our sin and say, “Oh, it’s the devil in us!” Well, if you’re talking about original sin I would agree with you, but we make choices every day and most of them are self-centered. When the church changes, the world will change. Or as Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world but nobody thinks of changing themselves.”
W.O.G. What’s your favorite quote? Or one of your favorites?
M.E. “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
W.O.G. What’s your favorite or one of your favorite Bible verse?
M.E. 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
W.O.G. In summation, Black Sheep HDFC, is what?
M.E. A Christian missionary organization, sent to those who ride, with a special emphasis on Harley Owners Group.
W.O.G. Where would you like to see Black Sheep HDFC, before you retire?
M.E. I hope I never retire. I can’t find the word “retire” in the Bible, but I would like to see my role change in another 7-9 years; take a supporting role while letting a younger person come in and lead. Before I leave, though, I would like to see us expand into some more of the major US cities and in several new countries; Australia, New Zealand, Europe. Maybe South Africa.
W.O.G. Now lets get into some of the more important and serious questions. What’s Marty Edward’s favorite hobby?
M.E. I’ve never been good at hobbies. Everything I’ve ever tried and liked turned into ministry including music, motorcycles and Clown College. On my day off I like watching movies and maybe a good cigar!
W.O.G. What about some of your favorite TV shows or movies?
M.E. Braveheart is my favorite movie of all time. I don’t like documentaries but I do like historical movies, especially about WWI, WWII, and Viet Nam. I enjoy movies about people and events in history.
W.O.G. Some of your favorite magazines to read? Be honest.
M.E. I’m not a big magazine or novel reader. I do read WOG and HOG, but I rarely pick up a motorcycle magazine. I just don’t.
W.O.G. Back to chrome and horsepower… What is your dream bike?
M.E. When I go to the shows and events, the only thing that ever really catches my attention is “old school.” I’m not into ridiculously stretched and raked choppers that you wouldn’t want to ride for more than ten miles. I love an old bike restored to stock or maybe a mild custom.
W.O.G: What is your dream car or truck?
M.E. Easy! 1955 Chevy Bel Air. I was born in 1955 and I’ve always like that “shoe box” look. Not a 56. Not a 57, but a 1955.
W.O.G. What’s your favorite color?
W.O.G. What’s your favorite kind of food?
M.E. Anything that doesn’t run faster than me! Sushi is always a treat!
W.O.G. What’s your favorite animal?
M.E. Dogs! I love dogs! I’ve always had dogs and wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t have one. If I lived on a ranch or a farm I would have ten dogs!
W.O.G. Who are your heroes?
M.E. “…a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” Well, I admire a lot of people; contemporary and in history, but I don’t know that I have any heroes. I think that is because we are all so flawed. Every time I speak of someone as a hero, someone spoils it and says, “Well ya know…”
W.O.G. Aside from the Bible, what is your favorite book?
M.E. I read “Worship His Majesty” by Jack Hayford and then planted The Lamb’s Fellowship Church. I read “Wild At Heart” by John Eldredge and then started Black Sheep. I’ve read “better” books, but those are two that changed my life.
W.O.G. You have also written… Two books?
M.E. Actually, my wife Debbie and I wrote those books together. The first one, Psalms for Bikers, includes the first fifty Psalms and a stories from the road. The second book was similar only we used fifty stories from the New Testament.
W.O.G. What inspired you to write them?
M.E. The idea was to put a small book into the hands of bikers who may not be ready to jump into the scriptures. Everyone’s giving Bibles to bikers, and that’s great, but these books are culture specific and not intimidating in terms of size and content. Chapters are only 2-3 pages. Christian and non-Christians both have enjoyed them too.
W.O.G. Where are the books available?
M.E. The two books are available at Amazon.com and BlackSheepHDFC.org.
W.O.G: How do you want to be remembered?
M.E. Unless some one is really famous…like Abraham Lincoln, nobody is really remembered beyond the third generation. Very few people can tell you the name of their great grandparents. For that reason, I hope my children and my grandchildren will remember the best of me. (I would also like to be remembered for dinner.)
W.O.G. As we close this interview, anything you would like to leave us with? A final thought? About serving the Lord, following the Lord or any other?
M.E. Life goes fast! I was seventeen just a few weeks ago. The only things that we do that will have eternal benefits are those things we do in Christ. Everything else will rust or decay. Stop betting on a dying horse! The world is passing away. Invest everything you have in the Kingdom of God! “Christo Et Rego Ejus” (For Christ and His Kingdom!