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Chaplain Answers the Far-Flung Call

Rick Rigenhagen unexpectedly heard the Lord’s prompting to ministry. More than 40 years later he’s still responding.

On the surface, Richard D. Rigenhagen doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who inspires jaded criminals. At 5 feet, 6 inches tall, the mild-mannered, soft-spoken, bald, 70-year-old Chaplain Rick is dwarfed by many of the muscle-bound inmates he visits.

Yet many hardened prisoners seem to recognize that Rigenhagen has a special call from God on his life. As a U.S. Missions nationally appointed motorcycle chaplain since 1998, Rigenhagen regularly spends time with some of the roughest convicts in Idaho’s maximum-security correctional facilities.

Although plenty remain resistant, Rigenhagen has seen outlaw gang bosses, serial killers, and murderers come to tearful salvations after the wiry chaplain prays and explains that the power and love of Jesus can break a cycle of hatred, unforgiveness, and bitterness. 

“I have no problem walking up to a killer, putting my arms around his neck, and telling him about Jesus’ love,” Rigenhagen says. “I have no fear of these fellas, and they know it.”

It helps not only to have God’s calling, but His anointing as well. Every week, Rigenhagen teaches “Man in the Mirror” and “12 Steps to Wholeness” classes to former drug dealers and gunrunners at the State Correctional Center in Kuna, the largest prison in the state. In the past three years, Rigenhagen has participated in 92 inmate baptisms.

Rigenhagen visits correctional facilities alone, but for the past 50 years he has been in ministry partnership with his wife, Carol. In 1994, the Rigenhagens bought a motorcycle and began ministering to the biker world around the Pocatello, Idaho, area while he pastored the Assemblies of God church on Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Rigenhagen pioneered the “Damascus Road Riders” Christian motorcycle group there.

“I realized no one was ministering to them,” Rigenhagen says.

In 2003, Rick and Carol moved to Nampa, Idaho, and started Soul Zone Motorcycle Riders of Idaho. The group, based out of Nampa First Assembly of God, has about 30 members and is supportive of AG National Honorbound Motorcycle Ministries.

“Biker chaplains really fit the prison systems around the nation,” Rigenhagen says. “The black leather and patches culture really draws the gang members and hardcore people.”

Rigenhagen interacts with hardcore bikers who typically don’t associate with Christians. After building relationships with them, Rigenhagen has seen the Lord set many bikers free from alcohol and drug dependency, and they typically then evangelize other bikers.

Members of Soul Zone regularly minister in prisons, nursing homes, retirement centers, and youth correctional homes. Rigenhagen also attends major biker rallies across the country, giving away Bibles specifically designed for bikers.

Since 2000, Rigenhagen has ridden a 900-pound purple Harley Davidson Road Glide – a gift from Ken Gainesforth, a member of Sebewaing (Michigan) Assembly of God. Only days earlier, Rigenhagen asked the Lord to provide a Harley that would enable him to mingle better with hardcore bikers, and Gainesforth presented him with the mint-condition Harley.

Throughout his ministry, Rigenhagen has learned that God will provide. That has been clear since Rigenhagen sensed a calling in 1972, when he worked for a family-owned logging and sawmill operation in McCall, Idaho.

On a cold December night while sorting logs on a lake, Rigenhagen says the Holy Spirit clearly spoke to him, telling him to sell all he had because the Lord needed him for ministry as a bush pilot in Alaska.

Although he had been a pilot for seven years, Rigenhagen felt ill equipped to enter full-time ministry to Eskimo and Native Indian tribes flying a bush airplane to some of the most remote and dangerous places on earth. He also hesitated telling his wife, because she had always told him she didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife and she never would leave Idaho. For two weeks he said nothing, until he says the Holy Spirit told him Carol had been prepared. With the news, Carol expressed relief, saying she realized Rick had been called into ministry. Although she feared the spiders and snakes of African jungles, the wolves and polar bears of America’s Last Frontier didn’t bother her. In coming weeks, Rigenhagen’s pastor Lewis Green and three others in the church independently told him the Lord had confirmed that he and his wife would move to Alaska.

The Rigenhagens spent two decades in Alaska. Rick flew pastors, missionaries, food, and supplies to locations accessible only by air. He preached among Eskimo and Native Indians who had no gospel witness, participated in search-and-rescue missions, and conducted medical evacuations.

Rigenhagen flew all over Alaska, including a period during which he was stationed 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Over two decades, Rigenhagen says God provided five airplanes for the ministry.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.