Springdale grad bicycles 2,200 miles to spread good word
Kenneth Raymond “K.R.” Mele decided to go on a bike ride.
But this wasn't just a leisurely exercise.
It was an inspiring journey.
Mele, a 1984 Springdale High School graduate and a 1988 Penn State alum, is pastor at Family Life of Penns Valley, an Assembly of God church. Mele lives in Centre Hall, just outside of State College.
He took to the road Sept. 6 to Oct. 8 to bring the message of God to those in his path. He calls it Mission 66. He and others road bicycles 2,200 miles along Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif.
He refers to some of the people they encountered along the way as “divine appointments.”
“I believe those are the people the Lord placed in our path, for us to meet them for a reason — to share Christ with them and his salvation,” Mele says. “We offered to pray with people. Most were receptive. We didn't force our beliefs on anyone, because that doesn't work. Even if one conversation helps someone change their life it would make it all worthwhile. We just shared some words, gave some Bibles and talked to the people we met.”
Mele, who turned 51 on Nov. 13, says as a young person he never thought he would be in ministry. After a few jobs out of college, he says he realized his passion for living a life for God and the church and studied via correspondence courses at Berean School of the Bible of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Mo.
“You don't just get on a bike and do this,” says Mele, who has written a book about his travels. “It's a calling. The reason was to take the gospel across the country, and see people, and talk to them about the lord.”
This is also not a venture you do alone, Mele says. His wife of 29 years, Gina, and their son, Luke, who is married to Nikki, and a daughter Olivia, who is married to T.J. Kraft, were behind him every mile of the way. Mele's mother Pat and minister father Harold, of Lower Burrell, followed their son's progress via Facebook posts and videos and Twitter as well as emails and many cell phone calls. Pat Mele says her son is the kind of man who when he decides to do something he does it.
“This was his calling,” his mother says. “He is very likeable. There is a sweet spirit about him. His sister Carlye tells people ‘I wish you could meet my brother. He is so full of God and life.' ”
“He has a gift,” his dad says. “We are so proud of him.”
K.R. Mele says he needed support from everyone for a trip like this.
“At first, some people didn't understand the whole meaning, and some people wondered why I would want to do this,” K.R. Mele says. “When you know the Lord wants you to do something you do it. It was a great experience.”
Mele weathered rain, heat, wind and even a few flat tires along the way to greeting folks on the street, in churches, parks, gas stations. He climbed mountains and rode in the valleys.
Traveling with him were a team of acquaintances, neighbors, fellow parishioners and long-time friends, including Todd Pugh, of New Kensington, who is pastor of Kiski Valley Community Church in Leechburg. Pugh flew to Flagstaff, Ariz., and accompanied Mele on the final leg of the trip.
“The focus of the mission was to call the country back to prayer,” says Pugh, who has known Mele for decades. “That is what we wanted to communicate along the way. ... I really didn't know what to expect, and geographically it was really interesting. We had good weather, which was wonderful. I had never been to the desert. The landscape was beautiful.
“We were able to talk with so many people who were from all over the world and got to learn the history of Route 66. It was a pretty cool experience.”
This isn't the first time K.R. Mele has done this.
In 2014, he and friend Harold Morgan from Port Matilda rode from Santa Monica, Calif., to St. Augustine, Fla. on the Southern Tier Bicycle Route, which was a 40-day journey over a distance of 3,200 miles.
On that trip, they raised money to help dig a well for a school for orphans in Africa.
“If one person is changed and came to know the Lord then it was worth it,” Mele says. “The main reason for both trips was to take the message of the salvation of Christ across the nation. The Lord placed this vision on my heart. I hadn't owned a bike. I have never ridden more than 26 miles on a bicycle.
“It was challenging and exhausting at times, but the Lord gave us strength. We were called to do it. There are some mental and physical obstacles, but you somehow find the strength to keep going.”