At 7 a.m. on Memorial Day, Pastor Neil Tomba of Northwest Bible Church will kick off a 3,000-mile bike riding journey across the country. In addition to completing the arduous trek along America’s historic Route 66, Tomba, a Lake Highlands resident and avid cyclist, plans to cultivate spiritual conversations with folks he meets along the way. When Tomba returns, he’ll write a book detailing his experiences, and the film crew that accompanies him will produce a Netflix-style documentary.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for 18 years,” said Tomba, who spends summers tackling tough courses in Colorado and cycles around White Rock Lake most mornings. “It’s what I do when I come out to White Rock all the time. I have amazing conversations just riding around the lake. One person said, ‘yeah, I don’t talk about politics and religion.’ Then we had a great talk about politics and religion.”
There’s something special, Tomba says, about the way people are willing, even aching, to share meaningful exchanges while cycling.
“Riding a bike, you’re side-by-side with people,” Tomba said. “Sometimes in our culture right now, people are afraid to talk about important things. Sometimes face-to-face is more threatening.”
Tomba knows he’ll reach people he might not have encountered at Northwest Bible – or any church at all.
“A lot of times the people I’m talking to aren’t coming to church,” he said. “They’re not interested in God or church, but they are open to talking to people who are willing to get curious and listen to their story. My mission is to open up conversations, and help people see there are places you can engage in conversation about things that really matter in your heart without it being a big fight, without being judged and with your story being valued.”
Over his 30 days on the road, Tomba wants to speak to people in all different stages and of all different ages, races and backgrounds. To do that, he’ll visit restaurants, hotels – even bars – during his time off the bike.
“Yeah, don’t tell anyone from our church I’ll be at the bar,” Tomba joked. Then he turned serious.
“Jesus went to some interesting places,” he said. “He went to Matthew’s house, he was a tax gatherer, and that was a place where folks in the day who were good people wouldn’t go. In that story, that would have been a bar thing or a party, and Jesus was glad to go.”
Tomba said reaching out to make a connection on the trail is sometimes easier without the trappings of his Sunday suit and tie.
“A lot of times I don’t introduce myself as a preacher, and I don’t walk around in my head thinking I’m a pastor,” he said. “I’m just out here, doing what I like to do. There’ve been times I’ve been on a ride with people who found out at the end I was a pastor, and they apologized. They didn’t need to.”
Tomba understands the limitations of short-term conversations held with folks who live hundreds of miles away, but he thinks they can be meaningful. He’s also social media savvy, and he plans to stay connected with folks he encounters through Facebook, Instagram and his website – NeilTomba.com.
Tomba will be supported by two fellow cyclists, Caroline Khameneh and Wes Currier, and by a team of folks who’ll help with meals, snacks and logistics. Judy and Glenn Stewart, missionaries in Guatemala, bought a van to drive coast-to-coast along the route, and Tomba’s wife, Vela, will be Chief Laundress for the team.
Tomba and crew will begin their journey May 27 at the famed Santa Monica pier and end in Annapolis, Maryland. You may follow their trek here, buy t-shirts here and donate here. Along the way, the crew could use your suggestions on where to stay, what to do and where to eat. You can find their route here.