To hear John Grice tell it, the thought of becoming a Christian was the farthest thing from his mind as he was growing up near downtown Topeka.
“No,” he said, “didn’t think it was going to happen.”
The Topeka native, who grew up attending Monroe Elementary School and Crane Junior High School, said he lasted three days at Topeka High School in the early 1970s.
From there, it was off to pursue his chosen profession: a life of crime that ultimately led him to prison, where he did time on drug and firearms convictions.
Then, 17 years ago, Grice said, things took a dramatic turn in his life.
“In 2000, the Lord reached down and told me I needed to give my life to him,” said the 58-year-old Grice. “I said ‘yes,’ and when I did, everything changed.”
Grice, who is quick to laugh and flash a grin, said he began ministering to the people he knew best — his biker buddies.
“I found them very receptive,” he said. “These were the people I knew.”
Soon, he was starting a biker ministry from his home base in South Carolina.
From that ministry has come an annual event called the Gathering of the Tribes. It has been held three times in Spartanburg, S.C. — once a year in 2015, 2016 and 2017 — and has drawn more than a thousand bikers each time.
Grice, who said he was busted in the ’70s as a young person by well-known Topeka police partners Ed White and K.C. Blodgett, wasn’t content to keep the rally in South Carolina. He said he wanted to bring it back to his hometown.
Thus, the first Midwest Gathering of the Tribes is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, outside the Kansas National Guard Museum, 125 S.E. Airport Drive at Forbes Field.
“It’s free and it’s open to everyone,” Grice said of the event. “You don’t have to be a biker or know a biker to come.”
The event will include an array of speakers, live music, a motorcycle and car show, free food and prizes. Additionally, food trucks and vendors will be on hand to serve attendees.
Speakers will include Garland Thomas, of Tahlequah, Okla., founder and president of Priesthood Motorcycle Ministries; Mike Grubb, of Laurel, Miss., president of Hellfighters Motorcycle Ministries; and Billy Rivers, of New Orleans, representing Hardened Biker Switches Gears Ministry.
Music will be provided by singer-songwriter Ann Wolf, of Knoxville, Tenn., who rides with the Patriot Guards and American Legion Riders; the Bearing Armor Band, of Shawnee, Kan.; and Big Mac Combo Band, of Wichita.
Immediately after the event, a special ceremony honoring military veterans will take place at the Combat Air Museum, 7016 S.E. Forbes Ave., also at Forbes Field.
Grice said he wasn’t sure how many people to expect for the first Gathering of the Tribes event in Topeka, but thought at least several hundred people should show up — and maybe much more than that.
“It’s not about the numbers,” he said. “But I know at the very least there’s going to be 300 people. If only one person’s life is changed for eternity, the whole thing is a success.”
Grice said word about the rally has spread largely through word of mouth. He said in the biker community, word spreads quickly once it is out.
In Topeka, the rally received a boost from Marshall Madill, an avid Harley-Davidson rider who operates Integrity Insurance, 2047 S.W. Topeka Blvd.
Madill said he heard about the event through Bill Krasny, who runs Krasny’s Motorcycle Shop, 5910 S.W. Topeka Blvd. in Pauline.
After hearing about the event, Madill said he got busy “trying to track down” the leader, who turned out to be Grice.
From there, Madill has been actively promoting the event and trying to spread the word.
“We want to reach out to all the motorcycle people,” Madill said. “But we’re also hoping that people who don’t have anything to do with motorcycles will be drawn to this and hear the word of Jesus.”
For more information, call Madill at (785) 248-6509.
Contact Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/