At first glance, the high deserts of New Mexico seem like an uninhabitable wilderness. Yet, a closer look reveals that what appears a wasteland is actually teeming with life. The variety of plants and animals that have made their home here—from wild cacti to chaparral birds—are reminders that appearances can be deceiving. Life emerges in unexpected places.
Rob and Gloria Miller exemplify this truth. Their story is one of spiritual life emerging in unexpected places, a vivid reminder that God breathes life into the dry and desolate places of our hearts.
Rob’s denim biker jacket and tattooed arms might tempt you to dismiss him. A closer look at his patches, however, reveal a far more interesting story. The most striking is the one emblazoned across his back: Unqualified Christian Riders. It reminds Rob of the past he left behind and the ministry God has called him to.
Rob and Gloria met more than 30 years ago on an Army base in Germany. Both had joined the military to escape broken and abusive homes. Gloria’s faith had essentially gotten her kicked out of her parents’ house after she had accepted Christ as a teenager, while Rob’s upbringing in Iowa had left him disinterested in the very idea of faith. But all that changed when he met Gloria.
“It was between her walk (with Christ) and cooking homecooked meals…that showed me and introduced me to the love of Christ,” Rob said.
Rob and Gloria’s friendship soon developed into something more and the two married. When their time in the Army came to an end, they returned to the United States to begin a life together.
Along with their son, Robby, they eventually settled in Belen, New Mexico. A little town of just over 7,000 people, it fittingly takes its name from the Spanish word for “Bethlehem.” It was there that Rob discovered a unique ministry opportunity. Members of the local biker community would often stop along the side of the road to swap stories about their bikes and patches. Rob would use those occasions as openings to share his faith and pray for his fellow bikers.
Rob’s Unqualified Christian Riders patch generates its fair share of conversation. On one of his rides through a high crime area of Albuquerque referred to by locals as the “war zone,” a homeless man approached Rob to ask about his jacket. Rob seized the opportunity to ask the man about his own story. It turns out that the man’s story was similar to Rob’s, with parents whose abuse had pushed him away from God.
After buying the man a candy bar and a bottle of water, Rob shared the good news of a Savior who calls the unqualified and who wants people to come to Him just as they are. He shared hope with someone others might see as hopeless.
“My Christian faith has helped me realize that someone is walking through the fire with me,” Rob said. “Like Jesus has done for me, I want to do for others.”
Feeling like they didn’t really fit in with their local congregation, Rob and Gloria formed WIP (Works in Progress), a group for “outcasts” in their community. They settled on Southeast Senior Pastor Kyle Idleman’s book, not a fan, as their first study. That eventually led them to the Southeast website and an online weekend service. By the Summer of 2021, Rob and Gloria had joined an SE Online group.
The Millers got connected to a group led by Steve and Kelly Aldridge, Southeast members who live near the Blankenbaker Campus. Though it might be difficult to imagine real connection across such a long distance, their group bonded almost immediately. To hear Rob say it, their Zoom room quickly turned into a family room.
“That’s what the church family is about—getting connected with everybody,” he said. “It’s awesome our church family is from Boston, Louisville, Washington.”
In their group, Rob and Gloria found the sense of community and belonging they had been looking for. So, when SE Online announced its first Homecoming Weekend in Louisville last October, they knew they had to be there. After all, they had to come and see their family.
Rob and Gloria flew across the country and had the chance to meet the Aldridges face-to-face. They got to physically attend a worship service with their Southeast family. Their visit served as confirmation that the community and connection they had felt from a distance was just as genuine in person.
God not only brings life to unexpected places, but He often does it in unexpected ways: A couple in New Mexico connecting with group leaders in Louisville. An online group becoming a digital family.
Community can thrive anywhere, just like flowers that grow in the desert.
Learn how you can find community through a group by clicking here.