By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
I was talking with a young bull rider about a second walkout at his school over gun control at a bulls, broncs and barrel race in Tennessee in April.
As a supporter of carrying firearms, the graduating student was frustrated by the walkout and went outside to ask his classmates why they were out there and what they thought it would accomplish. He said no one had an answer. For that reason alone, their cause lost any ability to have influence over someone they were needing to reach if their reason for being out there was really to bring about change. It only pushed the bronc rider further away from their cause.
Many barrel racers go down the road alone and we know some of them are armed, if not of their own choosing, often by husbands and boyfriends concerned about what happens when they stop at 2 a.m. for gas in the middle of nowhere. Some of us think reforms are necessary. Many rodeo cowboys and bull riders carry.
But this isn’t about gun control and what side of the issue we’re on. It’s about needing to know what we stand for and how to defend it as Christians.
The message gun control advocates had for this young bronc rider was completely lost when all they could say was they were ‘for it’, not knowing what ‘it’ was.
Many of us will tell people we’re a Christian, but when we’re asked about what we actually believe, we don’t have an answer. We’re ‘for Jesus’ but we don’t necessarily know what we mean by that.
If we don’t have an answer, we’ve lost credibility in a culture that is more and more skeptical or even aggressive against what we believe. If we don’t have an answer, we can’t share what, according to our beliefs, is the most important
It’s like telling a dying person that you have the cure for cancer, you just don’t know how to tell him what it is. Think about that for a moment, please, because it really is that serious. Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and that we know the only way to be sure of going to Heaven is a saving faith in Jesus Christ. We have to be able to tell others about it because it’s the difference between someone gaining eternal life or eternal suffering.
1 Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Jesus is the hope that is in us and Peter is telling us we need to be ready to tell someone about him at any time, especially when the faith comes under attack. In this section of scripture, he acknowledges we may suffer for our beliefs but that we need to be prepared to defend them.
The second part of this verse speaks to another side of how we’re to communicate our beliefs: with gentleness and respect. Whether it’s gun control, police brutality or the fight for a living wage, the message is often lost in shouting, riots or any kind of manipulation or force. As Christians saved be grace through faith in Jesus Christ, nothing matters more than getting our message of hope out there in a way that people will be willing to listen.
I grew up in a deep rooted Roman Catholic family. We attended church once or twice a week, I went to a catholic school and faith was a large part of my upbringing. I had always believed in God, but looking back, that wasn’t where my real relationship with Jesus started.
The small farming town I grew up in was a Christian community with seven churches and a population of about 1,000 people at the time. As I grew into my teenage years, I began to venture further away from home and church became more of a formality on holidays with my family.
The band I was playing in at the time started gaining local popularity and along with the girls and partying, it became the forefront of my focus. I’d pray every night just as I always had, but that too became simply a routine motion. Nighttime prayer also faded out as the years progressed. If anyone asked, I’d say, “yeah, yeah I’m a Christian.” But truthfully by that point it was just something I was in the habit of saying.
It was in my later teenage years that I first met my wife, Julie, with whom I eventually began the long journey of seeking out a relationship with Christ. We both wanted that real relationship with Jesus, but where did we start? How much were we willing to sacrifice and persist? The road back to Christ was a bumpy one for us both and I’ll admit that my wheels fell off more than once. Each life stage that we transitioned into brought about its own challenges and temptations.
It wasn’t until after college that the road began to smooth out and we could finally start to see a clearer picture. Julie is a barrel racer and her love for horses brought us to a horse ranch where we started spending our time and working. Here is where I met a very good friend of mine who is a deep rooted Christian Cowboy from California. Aside from being a top notch ranch hand and performance horse trainer, he is also a Bronc rider, and thus sparked my interest and love for rodeo. We’d spent some long work days talking scripture and faith and rodeo.
My attention was drawn to bull riding and he convinced me to go to the states and attend Sankeys rodeo school, and am I ever glad I did. Mr. Lyle Sankey is a devout Christian and he bases his life and business with Christ at the very centrer of it all. We spent a lot of time in prayer… before meals, behind the chutes before rides, after rides and we closed each school day with a cowboy church service led by him and the Bronc coach who was also a minister. I believe it was by grace that I ended up there because this is where everything FINALLY started to click for me.
I was given a copy of “The Way for Cowboys” pocket sized Bible there which I immediately dove into with devotion. Reading and re-reading every passage. Sticky notes and highlighter marks now litter the pages of that Bible which I still carry in my rodeo gear bag. I remember calling home from the school, excitedly proclaiming my epiphany to Julie.
Unaware, at the time, of Cowboys of the Cross, I told her that we needed to find a way to bring God and rodeo together back home in Ontario. A few short weeks after my return home to Ontario is when I became connected with James Douma. I had seen through mutual friends on Facebook that James, along with his wife, Jen, were taking on the responsibility of leading cowboy church at the Rawhide rodeos and my wife and I were so excited to see this and to become a part of the Cowboys of the Cross family.
Being surrounded by people who challenge you as a Christian is a wonderful thing. Constantly challenging yourself as a follower of Christ is necessary. Now instead of temptations and darkness lurking around each bend in the road, Jesus is there instead, holding out his hand and guiding me through the unknown of the future.
Prayer transformed from a meaningless habit into a meaningful conversation with my best friend, My Lord. In may of 2017 Julie and I were Blessed with the birth of our daughter which brought our marriage and personal lives closer to God. To raise our daughter (and God willing – future children) with a Christ centered upbringing is now our motivation for furthering our lives and relationships as Christians.
Jesus is alive and present, and it is my hope that anyone reading this challenges themselves, their friends and family to further their relationship with Jesus, because indeed, through Christ all things are possible.
God’s Best, Dean LeBlanc
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” 1 Peter 3:15-16
I grew up in a rural Christian home in Pennsylvania. My parents raised myself and my siblings to know Christ as our savior. I accepted Christ as my personal savior at the ripe old age of nine. Boy was it easy to be a Christian as a little boy. As I grew up I did not grow in my faith with Christ as I should have.
When I entered High School and became “independent” when I received my driver’s license, wrestling and football quickly became more important than going to church and having a relationship with Christ. I was more worried about my relationships here on earth. That is when I became dormant in my faith. Even though I had accepted Christ years prior, you would have never known it then. After High School I entered into the rodeo scene. I had always wanted to ride bulls and now that I was 18 no one could stop me. So I went to the local practice pen and got on one and I was hooked.
The next few years to follow were a spiritual rollercoaster for me. I continued to ride bulls and improve my bull riding skills but I also found myself praying for Gods protection and blessing when I was about to get on a bull. After the ride I’d curse if I fell off or if I covered I gave myself the glory. Bull riding led me to a practice pen at River Valley Ranch which is a Christian summer camp. Quite frankly at first I was just there to get on free bulls. But riding there that spring I began to realize that there was such a thing as a Christian cowboy. You didn’t have to have that rough tough cursing image that I fell into. These Christian cowboys were the real deal and when they prayed before a ride they meant it. And if they fell off or rode, you never heard them curse and they gave God the glory no matter the out come. I started to see that they had something that I didn’t. I began talking about Christ again with them and renewed my faith. That summer I worked for River Valley Ranch as a wrangler for their junior horsemanship camp. I rode bulls and colts all summer long and really attempted to grow in my relationship with Christ.
After River Valley Ranch I heard about this Disciple Training School (DTS) that catered to cowboys. It was a branch of Youth with a Mission which I had heard about in church. This branch was called Cowboys with a Mission (CWAM) and it was located in a little town called Meeteetse in Wyoming. A chance to go west and satisfy this hunger that was lit in me learning more about God, I was definitely in.
That September I was loaded up and heading to Wyoming. Little did I know what God had in store for me in Wyoming. At the CWAM base I spent eight weeks learning of God. All His aspects, who He is and what He expects of me. All in the meantime I got to ride bulls, train colts, go to rodeos and put on Cowboy Churches. Boy was I on fire for Christ. I could be the Christian man God wanted me to be and be the cowboy as well. After the eight weeks in DTS, my team and I traveled to Tanzania Africa for an eight week outreach.
In Tanzania is where I experienced God in a way I never thought possible. There I was thousands of miles from home in the middle of the African bush. My restroom was a hole in the ground with mud walls around it and my shower was a five gallon bucket. I really had to rely on God to provide. I thought that we were just going to Africa to help them learn about better ways to farm and raise cattle and speak to them about my Savior. What I thought and what God had planned were two totally different things. To make a long story short, God revealed himself and used our team for the glory of his kingdom. There were people set free, instant healings, and over 50 people were saved and received Christ as their Savior. I could write forever on how God worked in my life in those short ,eight weeks. But I can tell you that I was on fire for Christ. When I returned to the states I went around speaking at youth groups, churches, banquets and to anyone who would listen. I thought I was finally right with Christ and no one could take me away from Him.
Well, I got back to the norm of life but eventually I let that hunger be depleted from me. I had a job now, a house, and bills ect. Normal life right. I started to blame God for things that were happening in my life. I was no longer riding bulls, riding colts or cowboying. I chose to let it all fade away again. Even knowing what I had experienced in Africa and Wyoming. Again I became dormant. If I wanted something, I did it myself. I didn’t need God to help me with anything. I began making bad choices thinking they were best for me. Eventually I decided to move from Pennsylvania back to Wyoming to where I was the happiest. I thought the move would fix everything. I’d be happy with me again.
Things started out great in Wyoming. I got a job in law enforcement, bought some land and built a house. I started going to church with my friends from CWAM. I started raising bucking bulls with my neighbor who was a PBR stock contractor. I had the best bloodlines I could buy. Playboy, Skat Kat, Cowtown to name a few. I was traveling to PBRs with my neighbor learning the industry and making contacts. Man, life was good for a time. Everything I was doing was working out. I was moving up in my career in law enforcement, raising bucking stock; I thought I had it all. I made all this happen. Yea, I went to church on Sundays, praised God for what I had but the rest of the week I was all about me. But the funny thing was, the whole time I felt God nudging me to come back to him. The cowboy pride would then kick in
and I’d push God further away. I didn’t need him; I built my life and worked hard for what I had. Well, eventually God started breaking me down. The loss of the second income in my household started it all. First thing to go was my bucking stock that I worked so hard to get and was so proud of. Second was my career in law enforcement and then came my house that I built from the ground up. All gone. Everything I worked for and took pride in was gone. I was broken, ashamed, humiliated, you name it I probably felt it. This once prideful cowboy was reduced to what he thought was nothing. Hummmm, that’s where God wanted me to be. An empty shell that he could mold into what he intended me to be in the first place. My life verse has always been Jeremiah 29:11. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future. Yea, do you think I could see that while I was in the situation? Nope, not at all, but I did know that I had a choice to make. I could keep running from the little nudges from God or I could fully submit to him. I chose the latter. It didn’t take long for God to start working once I swallowed my pride and gave him all the anger, bitterness, fear and every other emotion.
Doors started to open up, things started to come together and make sense. The love and grace I felt from my Savior was overwhelming. It all started when a friend of mine asked me to go to the arena where they kept their horses. I got to meet the owner of the ranch and started hanging around the arena. This whole time mind you, I was just feeling God telling me he’s got me. I immersed myself in scripture again and started to hang around my friends from CWAM.
God finally led me to the job that he had for me. Turns out my boss is a true cowboy who loves the Lord and is a pastor. Everyday work was like going to church. God was really speaking to my heart and guiding me. I wasn’t making my own decisions but allowing God to guide me in them.
Eventually I asked the lady who owns the arena if I could hold worship services there. She obliged. I couldn’t believe it. I had tried to this in years past on my own and failed. We now have services there every month. I am blessed with the opportunity to train colts there and share my faith and how God rescued me and transformed me to anyone there. We are holding clinics and soon to come, reining; cutting, roping, barrel races and horsemanship clinics there all to glorify our savior. The doors are still opening up. Now I can finally see the true meaning of my life verse. Gods plans, not my own. He has blessed me with a ministry that is called Krossed K Ministries. The people that God has placed in front of me are simply amazing. If God can use me and my past for his glory, he will and can use anyone. I was ashamed of my past decisions but God has used them to make me into the man I am today. I will make more mistakes in my life that I know, but I also know that I have made the decision to seek Gods heart and do his will.
There will be many trials ahead; many valleys to walk through, but God will eventually get us up to the mountain top. If you have made it this far reading my testimony, I thank you for allowing me to share it with you. It is hard for me to describe in words how God has changed me and my rollercoaster spiritual life. Words are escaping me writing this. But this is my testimony in a nut shell. May God speak to you and bless you as he has blessed me. There is no better place than in
I guess I had always been a Christian, at least since I was three or four. There were times I wondered and thought maybe I wasn’t but it all came back to that time I had on our living room couch asking Jesus to be the Lord of my life.
As far as really living and knowing what that meant or even trying to have a close relationship with God went I guess I just didn’t and didn’t care to until a bit later on in life. I was about 15 when the hard times started coming in and I had nowhere to turn except God. He seemed like an easy way out anyway….I would get into trouble, run to God, give it all to Him, He would pull me out and I would go back to trouble again.
It seemed to stay that way until I couldn’t take stabbing Him in the back one more time and I gave up and told God that it didn’t matter what He wanted me to do I was His and I was willing to do anything to make sure I stayed where He wanted me to.
That was the day I heard about the Bible school that was going on in my home town, and it changed me forever! I found God to be more than the one I ran to in trouble and more than the one scolding me for the stupid stuff I had done. He was my best friend and the one I ran to for love when I couldn’t find it anywhere else, the one I ran to when I was in trouble because He loves me and wants the best for me and I want to please Him more than anything in the world. The one I go to for forgiveness because it doesn’t matter how bad I mess up or how bad my life may seem or how stupid I am at times or what bull-headed ignorant trash I give out He is always wanting to pour out His blessing on me and say that I am highly favored by Him! I found my best friend and I tell you what, through thick and thin, whatever may come I am His because you just can’t get anybody better!
I was raised in a Christian home and I invited Jesus to be Lord of my life at an early age. It’s been the best foundation for living life to the fullest potential of what God has purposed.
I guess I was around 17 when I had a revelation of how I could be “good” and still not know God like He wanted and provided the way for. It was a pivotal time in my life as I made a complete commitment to seek after God with all I was.
I wish I could say it was all roses after that and I never swerved from that focus. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I found out my own strength is not enough.
There were times it was easier to coast along than dig in and work at my relationship with God. But one doesn’t stay in the same place during such times; you are either moving ahead or falling back.
One of the scriptures that has always meant a lot to me is Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” I began to experience firsthand how amazing that promise is. As I delighted myself in the
Lord, I found some desires changing and others shifting focus. God has been so faithful; He has fulfilled so many of my dreams as I’ve chased after Him because He’s the one who gave them to me in the first place.
Consistently, God has pushed back the boundaries of my comfort zones in every area of life. I can accomplish so much more when His strength is working through me – and then He gets the credit!
I continue to learn how much God wants relationship with me and the amazing things He can do through me when I let Him. He continues to pour out more blessing than there is room to receive.