Helen Harwood meets new Pioneer student Luke Larner, “a rough-round-the-edges dude” who ministers among the outlaw biker fraternity and who dreams of creating a “rest-stop for ragamuffins”…
You started in your first year here just two short months ago, can you say a bit about what drew you to the course and how you have experienced it so far?
There’s probably one stand-out phrase which drew me to the course: “The gift of not fitting in”. This describes me pretty well! It was so important to find a course that wouldn’t churn me out in a ‘cookie cutter’ process, but that would empower and equip me to grow in who I am. So far this has really been my experience of the course, the tutors and leaders are brave enough to give us freedom to cut our own trails of development and discovery. The areas where I operate in mission are outside of ‘normal’ Church outreach so it’s important to be able to apply my learning and growth to the specific context I operate in.
Can you tell me about God’s Squad, what drew you to it, how you got involved and what your experience has been, please?
God’s Squad is a Christian motorcycle club which was established in the late 1960s in Australia. The club primarily exists to minister among the ‘outlaw biker fraternity’ and associated groups, where it is an accepted and relevant expression of the Christian Church. I first got involved about two and a half years ago after feeling a pull from God into ministry among bikers. This was a culture-crossing move for me, as although I grew up in a family of motorcyclists I was very naive about the ‘MC’ or ‘Outlaw Biker’ scene. For the last couple of years I have journeyed with the club, befriending people in the scene and acting in a kind of chaplaincy role to their clubs. The ethos of Squad is all about relationships, usually long-term. People in the scene are tough, and their respect and trust is hard won over many years. Remarkably though there are many in the scene who are very open to dialogue about themes like faith, forgiveness and spirituality.
In real terms ministering with the club involves a lot of long rides, dangerous places and sleepless nights. But God is so good in those places, and we are often aware of how he is already at work among our friends in the scene.
I understand you and your wife, Jeni, are involved in Azalea, supporting women who are trapped in sexual exploitation and helping them to exit, through God’s love. Please can you say some more about this work and especially how it is working with your wife in a joint ministry?
My wife is a support worker at Azalea, which mainly involves supporting the women through befriending and practical help. One of the most powerful things I can do to help is offering practical support to the women, typically securing the places they live after break-ins and helping them move when they are offered accommodation. As a man (and a slightly rough-round the edges dude!) this can send a powerful message to them that they are valuable, that we want them to be safe, and that positive relationships and recovery are possible with God’s help. The first and most important obstacle is trying to convince the ladies that God loves them, and that as his creations they are valuable in his eyes. This is the first hill to climb (and is a lifelong pursuit for us all) in order to approach recovery and life-change. We believe that it is only through the healing and loving touch of Jesus that broken people can walk towards wholeness.
For Jeni and I to do this work together can be challenging, but to see a husband and wife working together and loving each other is really important for the ladies. They are often confused because we don’t fit in to the conventional mould of a Christian married couple – we are both tattooed, pierced and dress funny! But we have found our openness and honesty about our own brokenness has removed barriers for the women, because they feel like they can relate to us. For me the gospel is not “God loves me because I’m perfect” but “Come and meet the God who is rescuing me from my own mistakes.”
That’s beautiful, Luke, you have brought tears to my eyes, it is indeed so important for the women trapped in these kinds of situations to know that their safety is important, that they are important. Can you please tell me about your plans and inspiration for your forthcoming project, A Rest-Stop For Ragamuffins?
One thing which we have become aware of through journeying with poor, lost and marginalised people is that there is often a real disconnect with the Church. There are many reasons for this which I won’t go into now. My heart’s desire is to provide a ‘sacred space’ where anybody can come to meet Jesus, and to journey in discipleship. A place where people’s economic status, foul language, bad odour and short attention spans don’t matter, and a place where they feel safe. My dream is to provide a ‘neutral ground’ for the Church to meet the poor and marginalised where they are at, not where we want them to be. These means a lot of love and humility from both parties, but it can work! A big inspiration behind this idea is Zac’s Place in Swansea, a fresh expression of ‘Church for Ragamuffins’! I once heard Sean, the founder of Zac’s, talk about stripping what we call ‘Church’ back to the bare essentials, pulling the barriers down and welcoming people. This often means going outside the Church doors and meeting people where they are. It also means junking the Christian-jargon and ritualistic pomp, and grappling with faith and life in a raw and beautiful way. Sean also importantly says that the one thing we never throw out is ‘The Old Book’. God’s truth is as relevant today for a young girl working the streets in south-east England as it was to the Samarian woman at Jacob’s Well.
I know you are looking for a house in Luton. Can you say a bit more about your journey that brought you to this point in Luton and the plans you have to partner with local churches and initiatives seeking what God is doing among the poor?
It’s important to us to be near the action! There is a sense in which stepping out of what is comfortable into the unknown is where we meet Jesus. To be honest, part of that for me has been extending the hand of friendship to local churches, and especially asking for help. This is a vulnerable place to be but is so important. Ministry should never be about lone-ranger Christians trying to build their own little empires, it should be the body of Christ unified in a Great-Commission mission! As Christian workers we can also be very arrogant thinking we can do other people’s jobs better than they can, but it is much better for us to work in friendship with other agencies and charities, to be mutually supportive where possible. This not only results in better care for people but also can be a witness to other workers in statutory bodies and secular charities.
Thinking about the course again, and having met you at the Spirituality: Research and Reflections day, can I ask about the day, how you found it and what you might take away from it into your work?
I found the talk by Steve Bevans in the morning really helpful. Looking at practising a healthy spirituality in mission, and what the foundations are for doing so, was really helpful. It is a very real issue for me; being surrounded by so much pain, misery and violence can take a heavy toll. It has since helped me recover some structure and self-discipline in my walk.
Finally, Luke, how can we pray for you?
Usual stuff really: main priorities are safety, healthy marriage, healthy spirituality and the dreaded ‘f’ word – finances! I’m still working part-time as a builder to help cover our expenses so we are praying for the finances to let me reduce this some more.
Please check out Luke’s blog The Roadside Musings.