This story originally appeared on the front page of the Ashland Times Gazette 9/16/11.
Youth pastor’s bike trip aids tornado victims:Journey begins next week in Joplin, Mo.
Tom Roepke, Ashland resident and, for the past five years, youth pastor at New Hope Community Church in Loudonville, is taking an 800-mile bicycle journey with fellow pastors across the tornado-ravaged southeast areas of the nation.
Roepke’s trip will begin Thursday, Sept. 22, in Joplin, Mo., which was virtually leveled by a tornado on May 22, and arrive in Tuscaloosa, Ala. a week later on Oct 1. similarly hit by a tornado six weeks earlier. The trip is an effort to bring attention and raise funds for victims of the storms.
Leaving Tuscaloosa, Roepke and the team of pastors will complete the 766 mile bike ride in Atlanta as they participate in a ministerial conference, Catalyst, a national summit with about 12,000 other pastors. The Present:Hope Tour team hopes to engage churches across America to help with rebuilding these affected regions. The team hopes to rise $100,000.
“Encountering devastation like this first-hand alters your world,” Roepke said while speaking at a recent Loudonville Rotary Club meeting. “I saw a church in Pleasant Grove, Ala., on June 11, six weeks after the tornado. Plans were made to move the church, using insurance settlement money, from its edge-of- town location to a vacated strip mall near the downtown. (It) resolved the issue of quickly replacing the church, but also of upgrading a part of the community that was suffering from economic deterioration.”
Portions of northeastern Alabama, including Tuscaloosa and Pleasant Grove, were ravaged by 469 tornados in three days across a 250-square-mile area, Roepke said.
His decision to get involved in a tornado victim mission, he said, is an offshoot of success he had in a mission for earthquake victims in Haiti.
“Just two weeks after the earthquake,we mobilized our youth group, (evo student ministry) to work on an appeal to help earthquake victims, and we generated $2,100 in donations from the youth involved in just a few days,” Roepke said.
He has had similar success with this effort. After speaking to both the Ashland and Loudonville Rotary clubs, he generated a $1,000 donation from the Ashland club and $500 from Loudonville. In addition, he has garnered $4,200 in donations from individuals for his effort.
Donations toward Roepke’s latest disaster relief venture can be made through his website/blog, www.samgangee.org, or mailed to Venture Expeditions, Memo: Convoy of Hope, 107 E. Walnut St., Ashland, Ohio 44805. More information about his trip and on the tornado devastation can be found at his web address.
Roepke attended Ashland University and worked for the family business, Roepke and Sons, a fuel distributor, until the 1990s. He worked for several years at the Ashbrook Center at AU, and later, after earning a master’s degree in ministry, worked for a while as a consultant to Christian schools before accepting his position as youth minister at New Hope five years ago. He said he had volunteered in various youth ministry positions for a number of years before accepting the full-time position at New Hope.
The day he leaves on the tornado also is the 32nd wedding anniversary for he and wife, Melinda. She is a health lab instructor at the Career Center. (together they have 3 amazing children: Sarah, Jedidiah and Emmah).