Updated: Oct 28, 2022
by Mike Haynes | Published The Upbeat Reporter - Fall 2022
Gary Burd constantly looks in all directions. He’s been a pastor or ministry leader for close to half a century, but these days, the church isn’t where his gaze usually falls. Sometimes it’s Israel, sometimes a Navajo reservation, sometimes under a bridge in Amarillo. He takes to heart Jesus’ guidance in Matthew 25 when Christ explains why some people will be blessed by the Father: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Burd, his church and Mission M25, named for that Bible chapter, accomplish all those charitable activities and more on a regular basis – sometimes on motorcycles. And the 71-year-old’s founding of Mission M25 is a result of a dramatic change in how Burd viewed the church. “I live with my head on a swivel, asking God to show me what I need to do, if I’m broken,” Burd said. “The real key to me is that I don’t do anything because it’s tradition. I do it because I have a broken heart or because I’m being obedient to the Bible.” He said he believes helping people is the duty of every Christian, not just when they perceive a special calling. “The Bible clearly states that it’s all our job,” he said. The Amarillo native followed his father, Lloyd Burd, as pastor of Christian Heritage Church at 900 S. Nelson St. The son was a pastor there for 40 years, 29 of them as lead pastor. In 1999, he had “an earth-shaking experience that changed my direction.” One cold, snowy Sunday morning, instead of praying and studying his sermon notes in his office, Burd rode his motorcycle under a bridge where homeless people could be found. He encountered a man named Moses who was dirty from head to foot, including his long beard. He gave Moses a cup of coffee, then took off his gloves and offered them to him. “You can’t give me your gloves; it’s cold out here,” the man replied. Burn recalled, “Out of my mouth rolled these words: ‘You can have them, but it’s not for free. I want you to pray for me.’ In a reversal of roles, Moses put his hand on Burd’s shoulder and did pray for him. It led to Burd baptizing him and Burd and other church members getting him off the streets and eventually back to the family from which he had been estranged. “I started reading the Bible without my church lens on,” Burd said. “I read the four gospels and realized I called myself a Christian, but I was in no way like Christ; I was everything like a traditional church. And the Lord began to break me.” Since then, Burd’s focus has been on helping those who come into his path through Mission M25 and his church. Craig Lawlis is the senior pastor now, but the two ministries go hand in hand, and the sign outside the church now reads “Feed the Need: A City of Refuge.” Much of Burd’s outreach has been done on two wheels. A few years ago, he rode in the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, a trip based on Lakota Sioux principles of respect, honor, integrity and compassion. The trek covered 10,000 miles from Key West, Florida, to Homer, Alaska. Along the way, Burd visited the Wounded Knee memorial in South Dakota where 150 Native Americans were massacred in 1890.
"In that Journey, the Lord broke my heart for the Native Americans," Burn said.
Later, he connected with a Montana church that was serving Native Americans, eventually leading Burd and Mission M25 to start delivering food, water, firewood and other necessities to a Navajo reservation in western New Mexico. “There are a large number of Native Americans there who have no running water and no electricity,” he said. “That should not happen in America.” The ministry and the church also have built 25 chicken coops and given 800 egg-laying hens to the Navajo as well as houses to keep their dogs out of the weather. With the help of Affiliated Foods, three semi-truckloads of food have been hauled to the reservation. Mission M25 has done motorcycle rides to support military veterans, the nation of Israel and pro-life causes. Burd and others from Amarillo have ridden in Rolling Thunder and Run for the Wall, both of which honor military veterans, POWs and MIAs, and Mission M25 has provided support for riders. In 2017, Burd arranged for 30 motorcycles to be shipped to Israel, and he took 74 people to honor the Israeli Defense Forces. In 2018, a Jewish man in Canada asked Burd to ride with him in “Never Again” rallies to remember the Holocaust. “We stand with Israel,” Burd said.
For the movement against abortion, Christian Heritage Church in the 1980s ran a program called Breath of Life Defenders (BOLD) to support women who wanted to keep their babies. In 2015, Mission M25 started the 50CC Diaper Ride, a 50-hour motorcycle challenge to raise funds for diapers for Royal Home Ministries in North Carolina. Burd and others rode in a pro-life rally from California to Mexicali, Mexico. He said he asked a Mexican pastor this year if such a rally was necessary in his country. “He said, ‘It is now, because we followed the United States.” As the ministry reacts to faraway needs, it doesn’t overlook its back yard. Until the pandemic, “we fed homeless people seven days a week, two meals a day, for over 20 years,” Burd said. “And the church has given more than $44 million of food out of the parking lot since COVID hit,” supplied by Affiliated Foods. The church offers Free Camp each summer for local children. “We stand against racial, economical and social barriers,” Burd said. “It’s not a church camp for church kids. It’s a camp where we mix church kids with street kids. “I’ve slept on the floor of our gymnasium with a kid from an $870,000 house on one side of me and on the other side a kid that lived in a house with cardboard windows. When you cross those kind of barriers, that’s huge.” Burd’s wife of 52 years, Carolyn, also has taken Free Camp to Africa and the Philippines, and Mission M25 planned a similar camp for Navajo children in New Mexico this summer. “I’m deeply convinced that we’ll never solve problems from inside the church. We need to hang with those people on the outside,” he said. To that end, Christian Heritage Church and Mission M25 stay on the north side of Amarillo where the need is greatest. And they embrace Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”