They’re known as Griz and Freon.
Both have quite a past, and each would just as soon forget about it.
But after spending a good chunk of their adult lives in prison, these two grizzled bikers have gone further than simply finding the Lord in their darkest hour. Both have dedicated their lives to reaching other inmates with the Gospel.
Griz and Freon were just two stories among hundreds on Saturday at the Fourth Annual Bikers with Boxes event at the Billy Graham Library.
And while the testimonies were not all as dramatic, a total of 855 bikers came out on a crisp, yet sunny blue-skied North Carolina day, bringing 1,031 shoe boxes full of gifts for Operation Christmas Child.
“We’ve just really been thrilled that this has been an annual event and that the bikers have embraced it,” said Diane Wise, promotions manager for The Billy Graham Library. “The best part is bringing a group of people to the library like this. Bikers are the most generous group of people.”
Applause welcomed each group of bikers to the Library parking lot. Some rode with a handful of friends, others rolled in by the dozens with their church body. But they all came with one goal: to bring the love of Christ to children, one shoe box at a time, safely strapped to their Harleys and Kawasakis.
“It’s a really great cause,” said Bert Lilly, who came from Rock Hill with other bikers from Eastview Baptist Church. “You want to put so much into it. Toothpaste, toothbrush, balls, crayons, flashlights, batteries, soap … But you realize you only have so much space. You’ve gotta cram it all in there.”
The snow was falling outside his window and the prison radio tuned into 106.9 the Light, a Christian radio station out of Black Mountain, N.C., with a reach of seven states.
Griz was serving time at the Mountain View Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, N.C., less than an hour away, and as he stared out the window, the snow pouring down, he listened to song after song, story after story, and began to weep.
“I heard the story of a woman who gave a bunch of shoe boxes to kids, and I would cry like a baby. Like a school kid,” Griz said. “God can take a heart of stone and give you a tender heart.
“I told myself when I get out, that’s going to be me. I’m going to be a part of (Operation Christmas Child).”
Griz, who spent 11 years, one month and 22 days in jail and prison, came to Christ just a couple of weeks after being locked up in March of 1997.
“God spoke to me in jail. He said, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his own soul?’ ” said Griz, of Shelby, who is part of the Traveling Light Motorcycle Ministry at Catawba Heights Baptist Church in Belmont. “I said, ‘God, there’s no way You can love me.’
“We talked a long time and finally I said, ‘God, I’m not going to make any promises I can’t keep. But if You give me the power, I’ll live for You.’ “
Almost three and a half years after being out of jail, Griz continues to give back, through a jail ministry in both North and South Carolina.
“He’s got a real heart to get into prisons and win hearts for Christ,” said Catawba Heights pastor Raymond Johns.
Officially, his name is Foran Lang, but to anyone who knows his trademark long, white beard, he’s just known as Freon.
“I want to be a cool dude, living for Jesus,” Freon said.
Also part of the Traveling Light Motorcycle Ministry, Freon finally senses he’s right where God wants him.
After a challenging upbringing that included 17 foster homes, three orphanages, reformed school and the military, Freon’s lowest moments came during two prison terms lasting a combined 17 years and five months.
But since getting out in 2007, Freon — who pastor Johns calls “The real deal,” — has graduated from Bible college, is an ordained minister and preaches in prisons all over the Carolinas.
“God didn’t ordain me to sit on a pew,” said Freon, who was himself saved in jail. “I’ve gotta minister.”
Freon’s ministry is not just preaching in prisons. He plays guitar and is the lead singer of a gospel band and has a prison recovery ministry called “Leg Up,” which stands for Living Eagerly 4 God Upon Parole.
But on this Saturday, his heart was at the Billy Graham Library, and he was nearly overwhelmed with the response at this year’s Bikers with Boxes event.
“There’s a camaraderie amongst bikers,” Freon said, “the fact that we’re helping kids, the next generation.”
For Freon, it’s all about spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
“The best thing (about Operation Christmas Child) is they lift the name of Jesus,” Freon said. “They pray over these boxes, that they would be delivered to the right person. Man, I think it’s wonderful.”
Thinking Outside the Boxes
Pastor Johns has a real passion for Bikers with Boxes.
“I like to see a lot of different men and women come together and bring boxes in,” said Johns, who loves the fact that bikers “pray over these boxes,” before turning them in.
But even with such a strong turnout Saturday, Johns has a vision for something bigger.
You could say, he’s thinking outside the boxes.
“I’ve prayed for years that there wouldn’t be a parking lot big enough to hold all of us,” said Johns, whose church group of 30 bikers brought in 65 shoe boxes. “Wouldn’t it be great to see miles and miles of bikers bringing in boxes for the Lord?”