A single 500-watt lightbulb connected to a generator lit the night over a creek as a crowd of motocross and off-road riders watched dozens of baptisms.
Mark Nichols, executive director of Fuel Ministry, said those nights make everything worthwhile. They are the reason the 30-year veteran pastor and missionary, along with his wife, Leslie, serve 30 weeks a year at motocross tracks and camps across the country.
It’s a world he knows.
Mark, having begun racing at 9 years old, is familiar with bikes and quads, courses that twist and turn, berms and jumps that throw riders high into the air. He understands the fast-paced world of speed and racing savvy, a world that does not easily connect with church.
Growing up, Mark raced weekends at tracks throughout the United States. In the off-season, he went to church with his mom, straddling both worlds until he turned 17 and tried to figure out where faith would rank in his life. Not willing to give up primetime racing and chasing a state championship, he decided to go to church on Wednesday nights (not the most entertaining service of the week) and read a chapter of the Bible every day.
“My mom is a prayer overachiever,” Mark said. “I ended up all-in with Jesus and put racing aside to go to Bible college, become a pastor, and later a missionary.”
But his love for the sport never disappeared. Mark was back on a bike weeks after returning from the mission field, volunteering at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes motocross camp that included instruction, racing, Bible studies, and chapel. He saw more baptisms at the end of the week than during years of mission work.
And he saw ministry in a culture that does not fit with weekend church.
In 2015, Mark and Leslie began leading Fuel Ministry, which was founded by their friend, Mitch Barnes. Camps were filling up months in advance with requests for camps in more states. They needed a full-time leader to organize schedules and volunteers as well as lead Bible studies and chapels.
All Mark learned in 30 years of ministry seemed to come together.
“We often say, ‘You can’t change the world from your living room,’” he said. “We love what we do. These camps combine my love for racing with my love for Jesus. These are life-changing. In 2021, 177 campers made decisions to follow Jesus.”
Camps include boys and girls, age 6 to adult. Girls often race alongside boys, at other times against each other.
Camp days start with devotions, followed by world-class instruction and small group Bible studies, and end with nightly chapels.
One night after chapel, Mark overheard a camper ask his dad, “What’s a Bible?” The father answered, “Some kind of church book.” By the end of the week, they knew more.
Leaders see visible changes in campers during the week—from those who sit through Bible study with their eyes shifted toward the ground at the beginning to 40 or more asking to be baptized at the end.
Kenton attended Fuel Ministry camps for years before his life changed at chapel.
“One night, the pastor asked us to raise our hand if the Holy Spirit was speaking to us,” he said. “I raised my hand. At that moment, I broke apart in tears knowing God was working in my life. It would no longer be just racing. It would be racing and Jesus.”
Campers are encouraged to connect with a local church. Mark stays in touch with leaders and volunteers through Zoom Bible studies.
“This is my sweet spot,” Mark said. “Leslie and I get to spend at least 30 weekends a year at tracks across the U.S. God is working in the racing community. We’re along for the ride, reaching kids and their families who might never enter the doors of a church.”
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