A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Libby Hopkins
What does it mean to be “Jesus with skin on?” To Terry Wallace, the phrase defines his very way of life.
“To me it means, doing what Jesus would do if he were here among us,” he said. “Loving people, caring about the things that matter to them as an individual.”
Terry, or “Gator” as his friends call him, is a unique man. He is the pastor of Quest at Kingsway Church in Seffner, Fla. His friends are bikers and so is he. “Gator” is his biker handle. Terry has been a pastor for 40 years, and 20 of those years have been spent in Seffner. According to Terry, he was born to be a pastor because he wasn’t happy doing anything else.
“It’s one of the most rewarding and fulfilling lives,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult, but most of the time it’s wonderful.” Terry was introduced into the biker community at a difficult time. They had just lost a close friend in a motorcycle accident, and one of the bikers, who used to attend Quest, approached Terry about saying a few words at a memorial ceremony they were having for their friend. To him it was touching that they wanted him to speak at the ceremony; but he was also thrilled at the chance to reach out to the biker community. Terry felt that they had been looked upon as outcasts and second-hand citizens by society. He wanted to let them know that Jesus loves them for who they are and not what society thinks of them. Terry and his wife, Nadine, went to the memorial ceremony with nervous excitement. Terry told Nadine that he never felt more alive than he was that day with the bikers.
The bikers accepted Terry and Nadine but not without testing them first to see it they were real. They wanted to make sure they weren’t just another religious couple trying to save them from a life of hell and damnation. The bikers, at times were a little raw with the couple by testing their tolerance of profanity.
“This has been the most exciting and the scariest time of our ministry,” Nadine said of the time she and Terry have spent with the biker community. “We have stepped outside of the walls of the church and began to see where people really live,” she said. Once the bikers knew that Terry and Nadine weren’t trying to save them, they fell in love with them. They helped Terry find a Harley-Davidson motorcycle so that he and Nadine would have a “proper” bike to ride. Now, the couple dress in their best biker gear instead of their best church clothes to go and hang out with the bikers on Friday night at Billy Bob’s Tiki Bar. Nadine is comfortable with their biker gear.
“I think you dress according to what you are doing, and this is just part of the calling to reach out to the bikers,” she said. “I think my man is good looking in whatever he wears.”
Terry’s congregation at Quest has even started hanging out at Billy Bob’s on Friday night. The bikers come to church on Sundays. The parking lot at the church looks like a Harley-Davidson dealership on some Sunday mornings. If you ask Terry what he gets out of being a part of the biker community, he’ll tell you that he is not lonely anymore.
“They say pastoring is one of the loneliest jobs in the whole world, but these people in the biker community love me, respect me, and they watch out for me,” he said.
Terry will tell you, without question, he is not a traditional pastor, and Quest is not your grandmother’s church. He doesn’t hang out with the bikers so he can preach to them. That’s not his purpose.
“I just love them and want to build relationships with them and to let them see Jesus with skin on.”