Crispin Gentry – Palmer, Alaska: From angry teen to Marine then bull rider to husband and man of God

Crispin Gentry – Palmer, Alaska: From angry teen to Marine then bull rider to husband and man of God

My testimony isn’t one of radical conversion and transformation as far as I was never addicted to drugs or alcohol, was never a fugitive or felon, wasn’t a brawler or bully and I didn’t have a “come to Jesus moment” on the jailhouse floor or drawing my last ragged breaths on a deserted back road.  I did, however, have to make some pretty radical changes within myself to truly accept Christ and let Him work in my life as He wants to.

As a child, I grew up in the Mormon Church and after my parents split when I was 5 years old, I continued to attend the same with my dad on the weeks he had me.  He wanted to me to get baptized when I turned 8 as most Mormons believe, but my mom was adamantly against it.  It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want me baptized into a church or even the Mormon church, she just wanted to me to be older to have a better understanding and to be able to see things a little better.  Being eight and looking up at my dad the way most little boys do, I didn’t see things that way and that became probably the first in a large pile of stuff that stacked up between my mom and me.

Over the next few years into high school, my mom and I grew farther and farther apart until I fairly openly admitted to most anyone that I hated her.  Somewhere in that time I had started letting my mouth run off and was cussing left and right.  I had no regard for anything she said or tried to tell me.  Almost daily was a knock down drag out cussing match between us and with each passing day it was getting worse.  At one point she tried corporal punishment and slapped me in the face and without a care I returned with a hard, closed fist.  Until now, only a couple people within our family knew of that incident, and of course the officers that took me in to juvy that night.  I had no remorse, I didn’t care and in fact, I almost let loose again after she woke up and started yelling again.  I always had an uncommon amount of self-restraint, though, and instead turned my back and walked away.

Now if I was at anyone else’s home, I was very polite, never had a cross word come out of my mouth and was the model of what parents would like their teenagers to be.  Most of my girlfriends’ parents thought so much of me, that even if their daughter was grounded for something, they would still let her go out with me as long as I was the one who asked.  Many of my other friends’ parents would ask their own children why they weren’t acting more like me or would tell my mom what a wonderful kid I was if they bumped into each other in town.  It wasn’t that I was that cold to everyone or all the time, it was only my mom.  Counseling was tried a couple times to no avail.  It just made me resent her more for making me go.

Things didn’t start to turn around until the summer after my junior year of high school.  I was 16 years old and had a summer job commercial fishing on a small boat in Halibut Cove, Alaska, several hours south of my hometown of Palmer.  We were back at the house most every night and towards the end of that summer, the skipper’s wife hosted a book club meeting.  In attendance were a couple teenaged girls who had come down with their parents to go sightseeing and both of them were on fire for God.  It was toward the end of fishing season and I stayed in touch with one of them until I got back home and Andrea and I started dating.  Every free minute I had I spent with her, including church.  I would drive the hour from my house to hers every Sunday, Wednesday and any other time I could slip away.  

The very first week I went, Pastor Jerry Prevo had a guest speaker named Freddy Gage in town.  Andrea had been working on me from the minute we met to get saved, but I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about.  Freddy laid it all out for me.   I realized that I had known about God for most of my life, but I had never actually known him.  It’s like the difference between being able to spout off every fact and stat on your favorite pro athlete, and being able to call him up and go out for a burger.  My soul lit up on fire and I started walking the walk and talking the talk, but I still had that stronghold at home to break.

I was already going to church all the time, but I was still a baby Christian.  Andrea and I split up but remained friends.  After I graduated in 2001, I worked that summer in Halibut Cove again, and also in the small town of Ninilchik doing odd jobs from cannery work to pouring concrete.  Skipper’s wife even mentioned while I was fishing that she had noticed a remarkable change in me.  I still wasn’t cussing, I was trying to walk the straight and narrow, but I hadn’t fed myself spiritual food to mature from a baby Christian.  I still had that stronghold at home.

After that summer I went to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, California.  After basic and combat training, I was off to North Carolina for the rest of my time in the Marine Corps.  I learned my trade, I started riding bulls, I deployed to Iraq, I made new friends and I still didn’t try to continue growing past spiritual infancy.  I knew God and I knew that accepting Christ meant that I was saved and I was going to heaven, but that was about it.  Sure, I was in and out of church for a while, but it was more an act of going through the motions than really seeking who and what I should have been.  

Eventually, my lack of zeal and the existence of that stronghold began to open up huge hanger doors for the devil to let himself back in.  I won’t say I was ever backslidden, because I believe that once you are saved, you are God’s and that’s it.  I pretty well stopped for a while, though.  I didn’t stop believing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some doubts.  I stopped doing what I knew I was supposed to.  I stopped trying to seek Him anywhere.  Heck, I even stopped going through the motions for the most part.  I started cussing again.  I got married and part way through my second deployment, I got divorced.  We both believed in God, but we had never put Him at the center of our marriage.  

When I came back from deployment, it was even worse.  I sought to satisfy the pleasures of the flesh as much as I could.  I lusted after women.  I became addicted to pornography.  I justified it with the world’s thought of “she hurt me and I don’t care anymore.”  Even through all of that, I could still hear the Holy Spirit telling me what to do from time to time.  He never left me.  His voice was incredibly faint and I usually ignored it, but it was ALWAYS there.

Through this time I had been trying to take my bull riding to higher level while I was still on active duty.  I began riding in SEBRA  (Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association) shows and getting on the best bulls I could find and reasonably get to.  It was through bull riding that I met a few men that I always admired and looked up to.  Men like Travis Finley and Devon Long.  Men that you probably haven’t heard of, but were excellent examples of men living for Christ.  Deep down, there had always been something in me that was pushing me to be more like them.

Finally about a year after that, into 2006 now, I met a woman who was the first to challenge me.  She laid it flat out for me and told me I wasn’t “getting in her pants” unless there was a ring on the ring finger of her left hand.  The first time we talked on the phone she asked me if I was a Christian.  Even since I was saved, through everything I had done, I always professed to be a Christian and that was as far as it ever went.  Except that time.  She asked me who Christ was to me.  Well that caught me off guard because I was expecting the conversation to go somewhere else.  I’d never talked to anyone so blunt.  I kind of stammered out that He was my personal Lord and savior.  Well, it was the right answer and we dated a few months, got engaged, dated a few more months and got married in the summer of 2007.  My wife’s zeal for God was similar to that of Andrea, my high school girlfriend who led me to Christ in the first place.  She was the kick in the seat that started leading me back towards what being a Christian really meant.  

With Mary Ruth’s encouragement we started doing Bible studies and praying together daily.  We always kept God at the very center of not only our marriage, but everything and anything we did.  We found a church that taught all of the Bible and not just parts of it.  Slowly, strongholds in my life started being broken down.  Not all of them were easy and some took considerable time for my flesh man to let go of, but praise God that His grace was so much more than enough for any and all of it.  I learned the importance of renewing your mind DAILY, not just once in a while.  I learned that God didn’t want groveling servants, he wants loving children who just want to enjoy His presence and provision.  I learned that being a Christian wasn’t going to church and reading the Bible; it is truly a complete life changing experience that encompasses all aspects on every day.  I also learned the very real power of the words I had used in the past and the different ones I had stated using.  Mary Ruth was always careful to encourage me to fill the man’s role as the head of a household, once again challenging me.  I finally knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t ignore it.  I had a presence in my life that had changed so much in such a short time.

Since then, our marriage has had interstate smooth spots and mountain road rough spots, but with God always guiding and at the center we have come through 100% unscathed every time.  Every single stronghold that was in existence in my life has been completely decimated.  That one from way back when that kept popping up?  Gone.  My mom and I have a totally changed relationship.  Now, some might say that anyone can do that and it doesn’t take Christ, but I’m here to tell you that while there are plenty of marriages that seem to succeed without God in them, none are as fulfilling as that the ones that do.  And while there may be plenty of people who have made life changes and seem to be better people and have broken addictions, the ones who accept Christ are the only ones who are completely restored and whole from the inside out.  You’ll hear addicts say that they’ll struggle every day for the rest of their lives with their addictions.  God takes all of that away so you don’t have to struggle.  Kind of like handing off a baton, you give it to Him and it’s gone.  You don’t have any possession of it anymore and there’s just plain no contact.

Knowing and loving God has completely removed any fear and doubt I have had in my life.  I can honestly say I am completely fearless in absolutely any situation I’m confronted with.  That’s not to say I’m reckless, I just know that I’ve got someone so much bigger than any problem this world can possibly throw at me, and He’s in my corner and everything in this universe that is not from Him cowers and runs away as fast as it can.  World gives me problem, I give God problem, problem disappears.  

My faith isn’t where it would be if I had been doing what I was supposed to all along, but even still it is growing in very mighty way.  I love waking up each day and looking forward to finding the ways my God has blessed me.  Now, lastly, you know that really happy feeling that starts from the inside and comes all the way out and just fills your whole body and you say “there’s nothing that can ruin my day”?  And then those days where it seems like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and nothing goes right and you’re just having a bad day?  Do you have any idea what it’s like to have literally every single day for years be the really happy kind without a single bad day anywhere in the mix?  Praise God, I do!

Craig Johnson – Corinth, Mississippi: Former meth cook finds new life in Christ  ‘A marriage will not work if there’s drugs’

Craig Johnson – Corinth, Mississippi: Former meth cook finds new life in Christ ‘A marriage will not work if there’s drugs’

        My name is Craig Johnson. I was born and raised in Gray, TN and like many others, I was raised in a Christian home. My mother seen that we went to church on a regular basis but as I got older, I was finding myself just going every now and then.

         When I was around 15, I smoked pot for the first time. Everybody has always heard that smoking pot leads to other things. I said, “Naw, I’m not gonna let that happen.” Well guess what. I did!! I let it happen to me.

         Here I am 15, drinking and smoking pot, going to school and parties.  So I found myself selling to support my habit. Doing this means I was having to hide it from my parents, I thought.

       Then I started doing cocaine so I got me a job to help support my habit but the money from my job was allowing me to buy more so I was selling it now; friends coming over to my house that would cause my parents to ask questions. Still I’d just blow it off.

 So I got married thinking it would be easier. Guess what. It didn’t. I got a divorce. But that didn’t stop me. I just kept doing what I was doing.

          Then I started using meth, staying up for days at a time.

 In 1996, I lost my dad but the loss didn’t stop me. I kept using.

 I can remember going down a four-lane highway. I had been up for about five days. It was 6a.m. and I fell asleep, left the road and crossed the median before my eyes popped open. I was on the yellow line. I jerked the wheel, went back across the median fell right back in the traffic. The very next sign read, “Rest Area Ahead.” I pulled in and slept there, knowing now that God was trying to tell me something.

          But I just kept doing the drugs and things were getting worse. But in my eyes, things were great.

 I was using meth and all the other drugs too but never thought about anyone knowing what I was doing. There would be people at my house all hours of the night and day still not thinking anything about what people thought, like when I mowed the yard at 2a.m. with a push mower and a flash light.

       I started a bad thing as if all the others weren’t bad enough: cooking meth. It was another part of my life I regret for not just putting my life  and my family’s life on the line but I was putting others’ lives at risk also. I seen this drug ruin some really good people, people that you wouldn’t think about ever doing this and their families, including my own.

         A marriage will not work if there’s drugs involved, especially when the drugs are put before the husband, wife and especially the kids. I got so bad on meth I wanted to stay away from everybody. Well, it got to where I didn’t want to be around nobody, not even my family. So many times my mother, a great Christian woman, would tell me, “Craig, you need to leave them people alone.” And my response to her was, “Mother, leave me alone and stay out of my business. I know what I’m doing!”

         I don’t think I knew what I was doing because I got a divorce and lost everything I owned. And when I say everything, I mean everything: my wife and most of all the house that my mamma and daddy raised me in. I had three or four vehicles, motorcycles, you name it, I probably had it. Well after, after I lost my house I rented a couple places but they never worked out cause I was still using meth and just didn’t care.

          I had moved in with a friend of mine still using meth and cooking it on a daily basis. This was the only way I knew I could get by was to sell Meth.

         Sept.4, 2007, I was there at the trailer alone. I had just walked to his mail box and came back inside and got my pipe out of my little back pack. I hadn’t been back inside for  two minutes when I hear a knock at the door; an unusual knock, so I tiptoe to the window, look down the blinds and see two sets of combat boots. It was the cops; two on the porch and two in the yard. I just eased back to the couch and thought what am I gonna do ’cause we had just cooked some meth the night before and had a working moonshine still in the shed.  So I waited to see what they were gonna do. They all got back into the SUV, pulled to the end of the driveway and sat there, me thinking, “Is there anymore out there still? I’m going out the back when they leave.”

        They pulled out so I took off out the back door, through the woods, carrying my stuff. I hid it all and went back to the trailer where I left on a bicycle with nothing else, through the woods. I was thinking, “Alright God, you get me outta this and I will not be back. I had made it about five miles through the woods to some friends of mine that I grew up with. I stayed there one night and called a friend of mine to come get me. I didn’t know where I was going or where I was gonna stay. All I had was a tent my friend gave me.

        So I had them to carry me to a watermelon patch where I got 10 watermelons and then to some campsites under a dam. They told me they couldn’t come back for a couple of days so I stayed there for three days. All I had to eat was 10 watermelons ’cause I had no money, no phone, no clothes, nothing. I was at the bottom.

        They came back on a Wednesday and asked me to go back to Walnut, MS with them and that their mama and daddy said I could stay with them for a while. I said there wasn’t nothing in Walnut for me but guess what. That’s where I found God.

 When we got there, they fed me. Later, I asked  what time their  church started and said wanted to go. I got baptized and  am still in church today, living for God and wouldn’t have it any other way.

          After about three months, I met a guy at church that rode bulls. I told him I wanted to try. Me and about 20 people from church went to the rodeo to see me do this and I loved it.

         So here I was, been drug free and given my life to God. I was able to get a job and a place to live and going to church and putting God first was what I had to do. My brother told me I went to church more than they had pews but you know what? I needed it.

          The people I hung around with was great Christian people. No more running around with the wrong crowd. I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend because I needed to get myself in order before I brought someone else into my life. I knew that GOD would provide when He seen I was ready.

         Going to the rodeos and working around the younger guys, I was able to talk to them and let them know the only way to make it in life was with God. It wasn’t with no bottle or drug.

         Late in 2008, I was hit in the face, broke my nose, bones around my eye and lost sight out of my right eye. I was off work for about two months or more. But with this happening, it didn’t stop me from serving the lord. I looked at it like the devil was trying to get me down because he will do that; it’s his job. But never was I gonna let that happen.

          Still doing Christian rodeos, I was helping people and praying, “God, whatever your plans are, I’m prepared to receive whatever it is.”

           Later, we were having a rodeo in Savannah, TN on Labor Day. I had put on Facebook that we were in savannah doing a rodeo and a woman named Polly had ask where and what time.  I’ve known of her from when I lived in tennessee but never talked to her. So it was gettin’ close to the rodeo time and I seen her and went over and talk to her. There she was at a rodeo in her flip flops.

          I got her number and later on my way home from the rodeo, I thought, “I’m gonna ask her to go to a movie.” But I got rejected. A few days later, I ask her to go to with me to a bull ride. She didn’t go with me. She drove herself there. Then I thought, “She has really gotta like me to drive that far. Ain’t God good!”

          Now, we been married three years and have an amazing family with her.

          I  can stand here and tell so many ways GOD has blessed me with since I gave my life to Him and so many prayers that I seen answered.

         Guys: What makes me feel good about my life is the impact on my kids. Just seeing my girls listening to K-Love (a Christian radio station), I look over at both of them and they’re singing with both hands raised and their eyes closed. You talking about daddy crying, chill bumps all over me. Hearing Sarah quote scriptures from the Bible makes me love God and do more for Him because they are watching me and mama. And mamas and daddies? Yours are watching you. Teenagers, listen to your parents. It may not be what you wanna hear. Respect ’em, tell ’em you ’em. Do Godly things because one day, they will not be here.

         God will also test you too. In August, 2011 Polly and I decided for me to start a new job. I quit my job and started a new one. It was great. I did real good with this job. By that December. I had to quite because my temporary license had ran out. I couldn’t pass the test to keep working and it cost $100 ever time to take this test. Well, I took it 13 times and still failed it!  The time I was not working we lived on faith and believing God would pull us through. We look at it like God has a reason for me not passing this test. He knows that the job wasn’t for me and He was maybe trying both of us to see if we are gonna curse Him and go back to the way we were and forget Him. But God, we are with You no matter what happens to us, good or bad. We’re gonna stand and give You all the praise and glory because You took our lives and turned it around when we were at rock bottom. We owe our life to God because if it wasn’t for Him we wouldn’t be here today.

         About a month went by. I got a job at Caterpillar and am still there today. God had a better plan for us. We just had to believe and trust him.

          When we got married, I told Polly not to ever ask me to sell my horses cause that was not gonna happen. We decided to start looking for a house in Corinth so we could be closer to church, Living Free Ministries and work. We looked and looked but we was unable to find anything to where we could have our animals (one goat, one mini-donkey, one mini-horse, five horses, five chickens and a dog) so we stopped looking and decided we were going about it wrong. We needed to pray about it so we did. Then, one Sunday at church, pastor preached about selling your belongings and doing work for God. When got back in the car after church, I told Polly it was time; I was ready to sell all the animals so we could move to Corinth. So we did and God had a house ready for us. We now live in Corinth, MS and get this, it takes us two minutes to get to church, 34 seconds to get to Living Free , four minutes for my wife and six minutes for me to get to work and my lil’ girl is four minutes from school. You tell me God ain’t good. We are able to do more for the church and Living Free and help more in the community. We are part of an awesome Sunday school class. My wife teaches a women’s class on Monday nights at Living Free. I am truly blessed to be where I am today and to have an amazing Christian wife and two wonderful lil’ girls in this great walk with Jesus because without him, no telling where I’d be.

Gary Wilkins – Boyd, Texas: Gary listened to that small voice inside him and found a relationship with Jesus

Gary Wilkins – Boyd, Texas: Gary listened to that small voice inside him and found a relationship with Jesus

    My life began on June 4, 1949. I was born in Enterprise, Alabama. My mother, Grace Wilkins, was a God-fearing woman. She always told us to listen to that small voice inside of us and it would tell us right from wrong. That voice was Jesus Christ!

          Well, every time I was going to do something wrong, I heard that voice saying, “Don’t do that!”

        Mom used to get us dressed and take us to church every Sunday. Even if she didn’t have a clean dress to wear, she would take us and come pick us up. My dad had a bad habit of drinking alcohol and he would not go to church but he never stopped us from going. When I was 15 years old, my dad got sick. Me and my brother Glen helped daddy cut firewood and sell it to pay bills until he just couldn’t work anymore. He had drank so much his kidneys and liver were shutting down.

        He died that year and he was only 37 years old.

       On his death bed, a pastor friend of his lead him to the Lord and he got saved! After dad died, we went to live with my mom’s mother and father. They lived in New Brockton, Alabama. So me and my three brothers and my sister went to school there. I got saved that year. I knew I wanted to see my dad again in Heaven.

        Well, mom had never worked and she tried to find a job but it was hard. Me and my older brother worked and went to school. I had jobs like picking cotton, stacking peanuts, loading fertilizer our of a box car at the old depot in town, washing oysters at the oyster bar and delivering papers; anything we could do to make a dime. But during that time, I learned to buy and sell things like horses, saddles and tack.

        I looked at the successful people and I looked to the poor people. I noticed the people that were living for the Lord were blessed more that the people living for the devil. The people living for the devil were getting sick, paying fines and getting locked up, wrecking their cars and dieing young. I also noticed the boys that were disobeying their parents were always getting in trouble. The people that lived a God-fearing life were being blessed with health and riches, so I never drank alcohol, I never smoked cigarettes, never did drugs and always listened to my mom. I didn’t want to let her down.

         I am now 66 years old and I am in great health. God has blessed me with a great son and daughter and four grandchildren. I used to eat lunch on 20 cents a day when I was 15 and barely got by. Now I have six million dollars of property with houses and land in 12 states.

         But the most important thing I have is salvation in my Lord, Jesus Christ. For you see, we are only passing through this world, going home to be with our Savior, Jesus. I wish every young person would listen to that small voice inside them to do that which is right. For we are all on trial every day on this Earth to decide where we will spend eternity: Heaven or Hell. I pray that everyone will choose Heaven. For God gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins so all could have eternal life.

     Love Gary Wilkins

Gary has owned Horse World Saddles and Tack since 1979 and currently lives in Boyd, Texas. 

Written, summer, 2017

Scott Hilgendorff

Scott Hilgendorff

Scott heads up Cowboys of the Cross, a ministry dedicated to bringing cowboy church to rodeos and bull ridings across North America but with a focus on discipleship. The ministry evolved out of Riding for Christ Ministries, the name which Scott operated under for more than 12 years when the ministry was first started by a bull rider he met from Chattanooga, TN.

I’m afraid of horses, far from top physical condition and a nervous speaker in front of crowds. I made my living from my head, not with my hands and am not nearly as handy as I’d like to be.

Never had I imagined I’d be a lay pastor to hundreds of cowboys.

Working as a journalist in a small town in western Ontario, I was at least twice assigned stories about people in the community that were packing up their belongings and going into full time ministry in places like Africa.

I thought they were crazy. Whacko.

I wasn’t a Christian at the time. I had grown up with parents taking me to Sunday school and knew who Jesus was but by high school, after some encounters with some charismatic believers I didn’t understand, I thought evangelical Christians were more like cultists that didn’t think for themselves and were far far too happy to be real.

I had always believed in God, more deeply than I probably realized in high school and university, but I didn’t understand anything about salvation. I grew up in the kinds of churches that are common in Ontario that teach lots about the Bible and how to live your life, but that always leave you just hoping and trusting that you will be judged good enough to enter Heaven when you die.

I’d like to think I was a pretty good person but had no idea that meant nothing in terms of finding a place in Heaven.

Working as an entry-level reporter, almost 20 years ago, pay was terrible but I had the chance to take my first vacation and had saved just enough that I could get someone on about a day’s worth of gas as long as I camped. I chose the Smokies in Tennessee as my destination because I wanted to see some mountains after having had a chance to go to Aspen, Colorado as a kid where I first actually learned, fearlessly, to ride horses.

It was up in those mountains on a quiet road overlooking a single farm far below with a dog barking, a rooster crowing and nothing but mountains after mountains after mountains in the distance that I truly felt God. Clearly, there was something much bigger than me out there when I looked at those miles and miles of mountains that we hadn’t even touched with our box stores and developments.

With a growing interest in photography while working in a newspaper that still paid poorly, I found myself working part time as a rodeo photographer with the Ontario Rodeo Association while making Tennessee a regular vacation spot where just the year before, I had attended my first-ever rodeo.  With journalistic scrutiny and skepticism, I explored religions and the Bible and came to the realization that Jesus was the real deal  and the Bible was truth, committing my life to Christ.

As my faith grew and I continued to visit Tennessee, I connected with some bull riders who led cowboy church and began working with them in ministry while continuing to work in the rodeo industry, moving into marketing and building some great friendships among the cowboys and cowgirls. My role in ministry grew, especially when the other bull riders retired from the sport and left the ministry behind. I was stepping up my involvement in the sport of rodeo and had been to a school for saddle bronc riding in Georgia on vacation one winter. That’s where my fear of horses began. I had become an established rodeo photographer in Ontario and was assisting with the marketing for one of Ontario’s producers and finally. As I grew as a Christian, my role in ministry grew as well, as I started leading cowboy church while finding myself in numerous discipleship relationships. The work of ministry was becoming a full time job while I was continuing to be promoted at work, becoming both a sales manager and editor at one of  the company’s publications. Something had to give as I was doing sermon prep until 2 a.m., while spending hours on the phone and by email keeping up with the cowboy’s I was discipling.

A number of circumstances began to line up where I could see God at work. A network of people to support me had been forming in both countries. My church in Blyth, Ontario, the Blyth Community Church of God, had agreed to commission the ministry and take me on as their Pastor to Cowboys, administering the funding so any donations could be tax receipted and accounted for. God began to press me further through the voices of other people and circumstances that were unfolding. That include a random encounter with a woman in a Christian bookstore in London, ON who heard me telling someone I knew there that I was wrestling with leaving my career and life for ministry. She was overhearing the conversation, at 70 years old, was a retired barrel racer who laid hands on me and prayed in the middle of the store before telling me to leave my job. God pushed in a few other ways and I shocked everyone when I announced I was leaving my career for ministry.

But the biggest moment came within weeks of that when I heard from a young bull rider I had worked with years earlier who had since lost track of completely. The young man’s life was falling apart the day he had contacted me asking for help. I would spend time with him each time I was in Tennessee until finally he just disappeared. His story is very long and complicated but at a time when I was wondering what to do, word got back to me at home that he had resurfaced at a rodeo not to ride, but to lead cowboy church. Then, within a month of going into full time ministry, he tracked me down, again, having no idea I was on a week-long trip to Tennessee, to tell me he had become the associate pastor of a small Baptist church.

It was all the proof I shouldn’t have needed that God was in this ministry and an affirmation that I had made the right decision to quit my higher-paying job for a life in ministry.

The ministry itself now focuses on discipleship with more time than anything built into building and maintaining relationships with cowboys who, while I am so unlike them in background, have embraced my presence in the circuits and more and more, are reaching out with their questions and concerns about the Christian faith.

It’s not about leading hundreds to Christ. Most cowboys will tell you they are already Christians. One of the main focuses this ministry has been led toward is helping them to build authentic relationships with Christ. Many of these guys have never experienced the true freedom grace gives us and never experienced the lasting heart change that comes with a life in Christ.

Through short sermons at cowboy church at bull ridings and rodeos, the messages are often focused on topics of growth from how to pray to what the Bible teaches about patience. As often as possible, it includes illustrations they can connect with like a two-part message on tattoos since so many of them have them and that particular week, several went out and get them one afternoon between events because there was nothing else to do. The message talked about how, if tattoos aren’t inked deeper below the surface of the skin, they won’t last, like a life in Christ has to be rooted deep in the heart, not just in the head with a few simples words of prayer.

Cowboy church is the most visible part of the ministry, but it is merely what opens the door to meeting the riders and building those valuable relationships. Time is spent traveling with or staying with riders and hours are put into telephone and email conversations.

Social networking sites and a ministry web site are maintained as outreaches, distributing monthly messages and other devotionals to a network of more than 5,000 cowboys and rodeo fans now, generating online conversations and prayer requests from across North America and even Australia.

As unqualified as a person may sometimes feel, God can use any of us if we’re willing to follow him when he calls.

James and Jenn Douma

James and Jenn Douma

Hey everyone, my name is James Douma. I have been involved with the rodeo for the past several years. I am a full time firefighter in Ontario during the week and ride bucking horses on the weekend. I am married to an amazing woman named Jenn and together we have a little boy, Mason who help lead cowboy church in Ontario with the Rawhide Rodeo Company.

Growing up I figured I was your every day average Christian. I grew up in a Christian home,  read my Bible, prayed every day and attended church every week. Life was great. My family did all kinds of things together. We camped, went fishing, hiking, we built all kinds of forts and tree houses together. We even took care of the livestock and farm chores together.

When I was in my early teens my parents started experiencing difficulty in their marriage. We ended up selling the farm and moving to a small town in hopes that the lighter work load would help patch things up. That didn’t end up working and a year later they split up and my dad moved out. It was a major shock to me and my siblings. Things just started to fall apart from there.

At 17 I started going to school (we were homeschooled up until then). I started hanging out with fairly questionable peers mainly because I didn’t really have any Christian friends. Slowly my morals and values started to slip and I found myself saying and doing things I had always said I wouldn’t.

I felt my parents really didn’t care about us anymore, even though deep down I knew they did, so I stopped caring about everyone and everything else but myself. My relationship with God at this point was limited to a quick prayer before food and bed, if I even remembered, and attending church out of obligation.

 In the summer of 2009, my poor choices and actions finally caught up with me and ended up  nearly costing me the only thing that mattered to me, my relationship with my girlfriend, Jenn.

To my absolute disbelief she forgave me for my indiscretions and together we decided to try and make things work. The only problem was we had no idea where to start. It was at this point in our discussion that my brother, who I hadn’t talked to in weeks, called me up and invited us out to his church. Reluctantly we agreed to come out Sunday.

I found that the people in this church accepted me for who I was, even though many knew of my history and the way I had been treating others. Their support along with actually hearing and applying the sermons to my life helped me want to change. I started praying and reading my bible more regularly and started to make friends who would build me up instead of tearing me down.

It wasn’t long before Jenn and I became members of that church. For the first time in many years things started to look up.

 Since recommitting our lives to God and His plan for our lives we have had many ups and  downs, struggles, temptations and joys. Living for God and trusting in His promises has given me joy and peace like I have never experienced before. Even though I continually let God down, He forgives me and blesses me so richly. I have found committing my life to God is tough, but following my own will and trying to do things on my own is a whole lot harder.

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