There’s a lot of things about my history with Hand in Hand on the www.BernieRolfe.com website that you might find interesting. Check it out when you get a chance. There’s history, as well as some tunes. There’s also some visitors to the website who signed in that you might know or remember.
But what I thought might be interesting is one of the early stories of God’s Hands reaching out to the community to unusual folks through Hand in Hand.
It was a Saturday afternoon – Spring of 1975 if I remember correctly. I’d just finished showering up at home and was heading down to “the building” to get ready to play at the evening concert.
When we were first getting things started at HIH, the crowds weren’t huge, so we felt it would be a good idea to get the word out about free concerts with some flyers. And when I say flyers, I’m talking about a half-step better quality than mimeograph (look that up in your technology dictionary). A freshly printed stack of mimeographed flyers could get you wasted if you weren’t careful.
Free Hand in Hand Concert!
2616 East Fairmount in Phoenix
8 PM Saturday nights!
Well, there was a Circle K close to the building, so I stopped in to get a drink and happened to carry some flyers in with me to see if the store would let me post one and perhaps leave a few in a stack. I couldn’t tell if the proprietor couldn’t understand English by the way he looked at me when I asked him (after I paid for my drink) if I could post one of the flyers. But he eventually agreed and pointed to the glass storefront by the front entry door. The afternoon sun was pouring in from the southern exposure, so I couldn’t see outside very well.
I used some masking tape to pin down the edges and was posting it and enjoying the aroma of mimeograph when a kind of rumbling outside got my attention. Four loud-piped Harley choppers rolled up, two of them with a guy and a girl on them. They unsaddled and the whole unsavory looking gang of them, maybe early 30’s or so sauntered towards the entry staring at me (I gulped) as I was finishing up. There were tattoos with skulls with knives piercing them through the eye sockets, dew rags, sleeveless and tattered tank tops with perhaps unsavory and certainly unpublishable comments on them, and a generally intimidating sense of mayhem they carried with them.
To my chagrin, they all stopped at the entry and looked at me and what I was just posting on the window. Of course, I couldn’t be sure that they weren’t just seeking out the source of the acrid aroma, but the “leader”, the one with the most malicious looking tattoos, along with his girl, looked at me with what could have seemed an unfriendly glare, and then back at the flyer and asked, “What’s that?”
Playing it straight up, I swallowed hard and said, “I’m putting up a flyer for some free concerts we put on” smiling the best I could and trying to appear friendly and such, searching for reserves of moisture in my mouth that had unfortunately and immediately dried up, and gulping as indiscriminately as I thought possible.
“Is that for tonight?”
“Yeah – yes it is” – I paused a bit, then to my own surprise I asked – “Would you like to come?”
“What kind of music?”
“It’s different – probably like something you’ve never heard before (of which I was reasonably sure) – I think you’d like it, though” I said “Why don’t you all come?” I asked again for reasons absolutely unknown to me.
A couple of the biker guys looked at one another and eyed me and then rolled by into the store to pick up whatever it was they’d originally come for – (sigh of relief – it may have been me or it may have been the store proprietor – I’m not sure). I handed a free flyer to the guy who’d been talking to me – “I gotta go – See you there?” – a kind of questioning statement.
He didn’t say anything, so I just smiled and hopped into BoLuxie, my beige Dodge van and as I was tooling on over to the building I remember saying to myself, “What have you done?!! – What if they do come? – if the Hand in Hand attendee’s parents heard about Thugs at Hand in Hand they probably wouldn’t let their kids come ever again – Oh Lord!”
When I got to the building, most of the New Beginning band was there and we got ready the same way we did for every concert – with fear and trembling – hoping we’d remember the music and stuff, but pleading with God to reach the people He’d bring to the concert that evening.
I was half wondering if any of the bikers would show up. Part of me was terrified that they would and part of me was wondering why the encounter had happened at all, but when 8 o’clock rolled around we started the concert, our pretty much regular crowd was there, along with a few new faces – no Thugs.
The lights were down during the concert, and of course, everyone in the audience was sitting on the floor. We did the first half, then took our standard 15 minute break and then started up the second set. I think it was about the third song, I could hear some rustling and movement in the audience and I could see through the darkness some shadows, about six of them moving from the back towards the front with the “red sea” of kids on the floor parting before them.
Lo and behold, coming to the front and sitting down with their dew rags and tattoos and very skimpy female outfits (coolly comfortable they must have been from the looks of them!) they came and sat down right in front looking up at us on the stage.
At first I wondered if there was anything different we would need to do in our program, but the quiet assurance of the Lord encouraged me to do what we’d practiced and He’d do the rest. Part of me wished we’d really practiced “Long Train Running” by the Doobie Brothers but all we had was our stuff, and that was it.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it was, knowing that my “band” was full of the love of Jesus and their words about Him were awesome. Even when they talked about themselves, it seemed more about Jesus.
I remember sharing the message and sensing how harsh the phrase “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” seemed for some reason, and happened to glance down – all their eyes were on me – “but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus” – their eyes didn’t move – after a minute I surveyed the rest of the audience and offered the remainder of the invitation.
I remember wondering when I closed my eyes to offer the prayer if our “guests” would get up and leave. Imagine my surprise when I offered the words of a prayer for those who wanted to receive Jesus and I heard a few male and female voices from the front rows repeating the words out loud enough for me to hear. Part of me then thought the audience was helping me – oh well.
We sang our last song and bid everyone good night –“See you here, there, or in the air”, but offered to chat with anyone who’d received Jesus to welcome them into the family of God.
Three bikers with dew rags, tattoos and at least one with a skimpy girls outfit came up to the stage and were standing before me with tears in their eyes, apparently speechless.
I smiled (almost incredulously I must add) and asked “Did you receive Jesus tonight?” Heads slightly bobbing up and down and a childlike “yes” chorus - and hands wiping away tears, it was clear to me that God had answered our prayer.
“You’ve passed from death to life - Welcome to the Family of God” – hugs and tears on all sides from the dew rags and the band.
The leader of the “gang” was called “Foot”. His main squeeze was the girl in the skimpy outfit. There was another guy, but I can’t, regrettably, remember his name (I’m glad God does – I’m terrible at names!)
A few weeks later, Bill Thrall married Foot and his Bride, who both wanted to honor God by getting married instead of just shacking up. The other guy came to Tuesday night follow-up meetings and always requested we sing the song, “What a Friend We have in Jesus”.
Yes – We do.
Love to you my Co-laborers in the fields white with harvest, and Samaritans of Good Will.