THE MAN BEHIND THE VEST: MIKE STEWART
A Wheels Of Grace exclusive interview
W.O.G. Mike, you are the National Director of the F.A.I.T.H. Riders, a motorcycle ministry that God has been using to reach other motorcycle riders for over 15 years. Thank you for being here and allowing us to do this interview.
Stacy and I have had the opportunity to spend sometime with you the last year and a half, and got to know you a little more at places like Daytona Bike Week, the F.A.I.T.H. Riders Nationals, and at a couple of places we had the pleasure of hearing you preach. This interview is about people getting to know the Mike Stewart our readers may not know – the man behind the vest. I remember recently when we were having lunch and you were telling Stacy and me about your experience in the Navy. I asked a question about Viet Nam once you did not want to answer and I very much respect that. But, that’s what I do. I ask questions that our readers will like to know the answers to. It’s what makes a good story. So, if you prefer not to answer any questions, feel free to let me know. Fair enough?
M.S. Yes sir, let’s do this. Only reason I wouldn’t answer was because some of the questions were classified.
W.O.G. So let’s get right to it. Where were you born?
M.S. I was born in Warren, Ohio.
W.O.G. Where did you grow up?
M.S. My family moved to Deming, New Mexico when I was around 4 years old and I lived there until 1968 when I graduated from high school and joined the Navy. I have wonderful memories of Deming.
W.O.G. Tell us a little about the young Mike Stewart, from when you were a child, until the age you enlisted in the Navy. What was the kid and the teenager Mike Stewart like? Was he the same as he is today? Same interests, same passions? Did the young Mike Stewart grow up in a Christian home?
M.S. I grew up with two brothers and two sisters (I am the fourth of five). My mom was fantastic and raised us Roman Catholic. My father, unfortunately, died when I was in the third grade so my memories of him are not very clear. I was really involved in sports and, being from a small town, if you were getting into trouble everyone knew it. Often times I would do something stupid and my mom would know about it before I got home. I was very fortunate to work for a Veterinarian for six years before and after school and weekends and summers, so I spent a lot of time on farms and ranches and with Dr. Hopson, where I learned a lot of good values.
W.O.G. Great! First and foremost THANK YOU for your service. We are very supportive of our military and forever grateful. Tell us, why did you decide to join the Navy?
M.S. I joined because our nation was involved in a very ugly war and some of my hometown friends had been killed. I wanted to serve our country and I wanted to serve in Viet Nam.
W.O.G. And you have shared with me that you served in Viet Nam. What is your most unforgettable memory of serving in Viet Nam?
M.S. I would rather not talk about that.
W.O.G. What other countries have you served in? Have there been any other countries where you have felt particularly drawn to their people and why?
M.S. Over my 30 year career I have had the privilege to visit 27 different countries. I think one of the things that really stands out to me is how polite and friendly everyone I encountered in Japan were.
W.O.G. I have to tell you Mike, it is fascinating to me that you spent a lot of time in a submarine. Can you share with our readers a little about that? Only what you can share of course.
M.S. It is an experience you have to live to fully understand. I have never been around a group of more professional people in my life. You knew that in an emergency, everyone was there to do the immediate and the right thing. You experience an incredible sense of pride to be a part of something so great.
W.O.G. What were your responsibilities as a Hospital Corpsman?
M.S. To provide medical and dental care to the crew. We did not have a medical officer onboard so we were trained to provide that.
W.O.G. Did you have the opportunity to share Christ with your fellow servicemen during your tenure in the Navy and can you share one of those experiences?
M.S. I did and it was just like sharing today. People everywhere are willing to listen if you are willing to speak so I wouldn’t say it was any different. I learned the key is to listen with your heart and not be ready to give a pat answer before you really hear what someone is saying.
W.O.G. If Mike Stewart could say something to a younger Mike Stewart today, what would he say to him?
M.S. Oh my! That is a loaded question. Probably first and foremost is that, as hard as it is to believe, the world really does not revolve around you. Forgive often and always. We are all in this thing called life together and do your best to not repeat the same dumb mistakes you have already done. There is not one person on this planet that is more important than another.
W.O.G. Was there a profound moment in your life, a life-changing experience that made you believe in Jesus and have the personal relationship you have with Him today?
M.S. August 11th, 1979 while living at Mare Island, California someone loaned me a tape of a testimony of Mike Wernke who had been a pretty bad actor, joined the Navy, became a Hospital Corpsman and served in Viet Nam with the Marines; his story related to me in a very deep and personal way because it was like he was telling my life story. I knew after hearing that, that I could have a more meaningful life. I had been trying to live my life with me in control and was really messing it up. I gave Jesus control and everything changed.
W.O.G. Let’s talk about F.A.I.T.H. Riders. How did you get involved in F.A.I.T.H. Riders and how long have you been a part of this ministry?
M.S. I have been involved in F.A.I.T.H. Riders since 2007. Started a chapter at my local church (Hibernia Baptist, Fleming Island, FL), and after a couple of years was asked by Buddy Newsome to be the state coordinator for Florida and then about a year later was asked to be the assistant National Director. Prior to that, my wife Diane and I were active members of another very large Christian Motorcycle Ministry for seven years.
W.O.G. How long ago were you asked to be the National Director?
M.S. I was asked to step up from Assistant National Director to become the President/National Director in April 2016.
W.O.G. I know that F.A.I.T.H. Riders is actually an acronym. What does F.A.I.T.H. Riders stand for and what is the F.A.I.T.H. Riders’ mission?
M.S. Forgiveness, Available, Impossible, Turn, and Heaven. Main mission is to be a motorcycle ministry passionate about sharing Christ with the world. Our main scripture is 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. We all call that: “No One Left Behind”.
W.O.G. I heard you have recently expanded F.A.I.T.H. Riders outside of the country. Is that true?
M.S. Yes, we recently started a chapter in Cuba and are looking at starting a second chapter there as well.
W.O.G. And, in one of the most unusual countries for a motorcycle ministry and one that motorcycle ministries did not exist until F.A.I.T.H. Riders.
M.S. We will go anywhere and there are hurting people in every country. Our chapters are an extension of the senior pastor of the local church to try and reach people with a message of hope.
W.O.G. What age were you when you rode your first bike?
M.S. Sophmore in high school. I didn’t even have a kick stand and I had to push it to pop the clutch and start it everywhere I went, but loved it to death.
W.O.G. What was the worse bike you owned? And why?
M.S. It was not a bad bike but way too small and underpowered for me. It was a Yamaha Virago 535.
W.O.G. How old were you when you read the Bible for the first time?
M.S. Probably… late twenties. I was in a Catholic seminary for a time and thought I was going to be a priest. I do not remember ever reading the Bible while there though. First time I went to a Bible study I was scared to death because I knew absolutely nothing. A Navy chaplain showed me incredible patience and began to help me.
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.S. I would say to not be intimidated by it. It is a love letter written from God to you personally. I know an awful lot of people misquote it or try to use scripture as a weapon. I am sorry for that. It is a wonderful compilation of books (66 of them) to make up one book. I would say start with the book of John and read it about five times from start to finish before anything else. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you understand it before discounting it and giving up.
M.S. My lovely wife Diane and I have been married for 28 years. It is not a secret but a pillar that can get you through anything is, forgiveness. Neither one of us is perfect. For every mistake she may make, I make ten more. We have also pledged to one another that we do not confess each other’s faults to someone else.
W.O.G. What would you say, has been the biggest blessing being married and in ministry at the same time?
M.S. Diane loves to ride. She has a 2006 Harley that she has put 80K miles on. We do everything together and she is my best friend as well. She teaches a ladies’ class with around 35 women in attendance so we spend a good bit of time talking about lessons and bounce thoughts and ideas off of each other almost daily. I am a blessed man beyond description.
W.O.G. Yes indeed! By the way, congratulations on your wedding anniversary and as you shared with me about your Anniversary-Motorcycle-Trip from Florida to Kentucky, 800 miles each way, riding next to your Beloved, I can totally see what you mean.
M.S. I have three of the most wonderful daughters any man could ask for. They have all married great men of integrity and walk closely with the Lord. We have 10 of the brightest, most beautiful grandchildren on the planet. I am so blessed that each and every one of them knows the Lord and it shows in how they live their lives. They are much better at living a Christian life than I am. Every man hopes to leave a legacy when he dies, and my wife and kids and grandkids are certainly mine.
W.O.G. Back to chrome and horsepower. After many years of logging in all kinds of miles on two wheels, can you share with us a little about how F.A.I.T.H. Riders was in the early days different from today?
M.S. Different only in that we have grown greatly from one church in 2002 to now having chapters in 324 churches and one in Cuba. We should see about 10 more in the next couple of months. For the first 13 years of our existence we were supported by one large church in Lakeland, Florida and had a budget given by the church. We are not that way now. We are a stand-alone 501c3 faith-based ministry and rely solely on the generous benevolence of donations to continue.
W.O.G. Being the National Director of F.A.I.T.H. Riders, what would you say was and maybe still is the hardest thing to face?
M.S. I have come to quickly realize that everyone does not have the same passion as others and that I need a double portion of patience and understanding. It has always been said that if you think you are a good leader, lead volunteers. That is really true.
W.O.G. What makes F.A.I.T.H. Riders different from other ministries?
M.S. Biggest difference is that each of our chapters is a ministry of a local Southern Baptist church and under the ultimate leadership of that senior pastor. Theologically, that makes it very easy for us to all come together and do ministry anywhere.
W.O.G. One of your favorite quotes is by pastor Adrian Rogers: “You can’t really live until you are no longer afraid to die.” I am sure that many of our readers can relate to that quote. Why is that one of your favorites? What does it mean to you?
M.S. It means to me that once you have eternity settled, then you have no fear whatsoever in what awaits you when you die.
W.O.G. To someone that rides and wants to serve God but is not sure how to go about it, what would you tell him or her?
M.S. Be yourself and don’t try to be a phony copy of someone else. There are people that are hurting everywhere you look. Listen with your heart and don’t pretend to have all the answers because you don’t.
W.O.G. If tomorrow morning, you could start a chapter of F.A.I.T.H. Riders anywhere in the US, where would it be?
M.S. I would love to see us expand west of the Mississippi more than we have.
W.O.G. What about anywhere in the world? If you could start a chapter of F.A.I.T.H. Riders anywhere in the world, where would that chapter be?
M.S. We are exploring some possibilities in Canada, but the sky is the limit for us, so I can’t single out just one country.
M.S. The obedience of Buddy Newsome. Many naysayers told him it could not be done and I know from many conversations with him that he never saw this ministry growing beyond his local church, much less to 324 chapters in 29 states and in Cuba.
W.O.G. Being a retired Navy Master Chief Hospital Corpsman after 30 years of service, why the heart for bikers?
M.S. It is not just for bikers but that certainly fits perfectly with my love of riding motorcycles. It was a marriage made in heaven.
W.O.G. Do you ever have doubts?
M.S. Who doesn’t?
W.O.G. Apart from accepting Christ, what was the best decision you ever made?
M.S. I have certainly made a ton of bad ones, but asking Diane to marry me is probably the best one I made.
W.O.G. I have had the blessing to hear you preach. If you were told you could give only one more sermon for your entire life, what would it be on?
W.O.G. Why that sermon? Why is that so important to you?
M.S. Without the Cross, we would have zero hope and be lost for all eternity.
W.O.G. What’s your favorite quote? Or one of your favorites?
M.S. Never, Never, Never Give Up.
W.O.G. What’s your favorite or one of your favorite Bible verses?
M.S. 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul was speaking of himself, but it very much applies to me. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
W.O.G. In summation, F.A.I.T.H. Riders, is what?
M.S. A Motorcycle Ministry passionate about sharing Christ with the world. We are not an MC. We are an MM. We are a group of people who love people and would love to see them all know Christ. Most ride motorcycles, but it is not a requirement that you do. It is an organization that was birthed in the heart of one man and has now grown to thousands with one primary mission. Reach the lost.
W.O.G. What is your vision for F.A.I.T.H. Riders in the short-term and your lifetime?
M.S. Short-term is to continue to grow not only numerically but spiritually. We could have 500 chapters, but if they are not fulfilling the great commission, we are then just another riding club. Long-term is to see this ministry in all 50 states, flourishing and doing great things, and to see us expand to other countries as well.
W.O.G. Now let’s get into the fun stuff! What’s your favorite hobby?
M.S. When not getting wind therapy on two wheels, it is playing golf.
W.O.G. What about some of your favorite TV shows or movies?
M.S. Favorite movie of all time is Shenandoah, with Lonesome Dove a close second, and TV show would probably be a series I saw called “Great American Cowboy”.
W.O.G. Some of your favorite books or magazines to read? Be honest.
M.S. Anything written by Max Lucado.
W.O.G. What is your dream bike? Not to purchase necessarily, if someone dropped off your dream bike in your driveway, what would it be?
M.S. I own it now, a 2016 Ultra Limited. Put 21K miles on it in the first 12 months. Very satisfied with it.
W.O.G: Do you have a dream car or truck?
M.S. I drive a 2015 Ford F150 that I love, so I don’t want to trade it either. Very content on both accounts.
W.O.G. What’s your favorite color?
M.S. Steak with baked potatoes, then Mexican.
W.O.G. What’s your favorite animal?
M.S. Horses, just love them. Always have and probably always will.
W.O.G. Who are your heroes?
M.S. My wife and my three daughters.
W.O.G. Aside from the Bible, what is your favorite or one of your favorite books?
M.S. I still say anything by Max Lucado.
W.O.G: How do you want to be remembered?
M.S. Just a country bumpkin who was forgiven much and hopefully helped some people along the way.
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.S. I have never met anyone who decided to follow Jesus and regretted it. I have met several who decided not to follow Him and did regret it. The Lord loves you enough to go to an extremely cruel cross to die for you and He loves you very much.
W.O.G. Very well said Mike, very well said. Thank you for this opportunity to share your heart and some of your life experiences with our readers and thank you and all of F.A.I.T.H. Riders for your support.