Hepler Rodeo Bible Camp: There’s a First Time for Everything

Scott Brooks and Cody Norris handling the Pick-up duties
Scott Brooks and Cody Norris handling the Pick-up duties

Sometimes you wake up Monday morning and can plan your entire week…this was not one of those weeks.

Back in March, I received a phone call from a good friend of mine named Dave. He told me that they wanted to do a Rodeo Bible Camp in Hepler, Ks. (I will give you a second to google it…because I had too). He had given my name to a guy named Chuck who I had met a few years back at the Fort Scott College Rodeo. Chuck and his wife Darlinda had started a Cowboy Church and Ministry in Hepler, Kansas called Cross Trials Cowboy Ministry and were haulin’ kids to rodeos and reaching out in the community. They thought the next step was to do a Rodeo Bible Camp.

Chuck called me one day at the school at the end of March during 7th grade lunch and asked me to come down to help out. He needed a bullfighter and a speaker. It was lunch time and loud so I didn’t get much of the conversation, but the week was booked. Through the hustle and bustle of summer, the week arrived quicker than I had expected. With the task of preaching on my mind, I knew I needed some help in the arena so I asked a friend of mine, fellow youth pastor and bullfighter, Brent Noe to accompany my wife and I to the two-way-stop-metropolis of Hepler. On the way down, Tricia asked questions about camp and Brent and I had no answers….she knew as much as we did. That is the thing about camps and their first year: you never really know what to expect.

We were blown away. By now, if you had been keeping up with our travels, you know that each camp has a different feel and atmosphere. Gardner has been doing camp for years and Ed, Scott, and the crew just make it happen with their consistency and details. It has always been fun to go and be part of the crew, talk with people who struggle the same as I do, and be just one of guys. Nevada has always been family, with people who are in your life constantly, ready to encourage and build up, to serve and support. Unionville has always been a place where I can go and get away from all the things that have been weighing me down. They knew I was a youth pastor, but I didn’t have to be when I was there. I had little responsibility and I loved being able to be the fun guy without thinking about the insurance. So what was Hepler?

First off, it was a Rodeo Bible Camp tied to a Church (which I loved). My role in life has always been stated clearly in Ephesians 4.12: “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” When Church’s do camps, the connection, ownership, and follow up occure more naturally than when an organization does it. I’m not saying its better or worse, just simpler. With some camps the natural inclination is to say “see you next year” but with a camp that is tied directly to a Church, the simple phrase “see you next week” can be said. On top of that, the ministry conversations that I had with Chuck, Darlinda, Jeff, and Scott forever changed the way I will view ministry and brought real world application to the stories of Acts 7. Chuck is one of the most gifted men behind the chutes with students that I have ever seen. This man is hauling 6 kids to rodeos all over SE Kansas and doing life in the chutes, hanging flanks, and pulling bull ropes. The kids saw it, responded to it, and respected it. That is a pastor who’s covered in the same dirt they are, just like Paul would have been if he was a rodeo man (1 Cor. 9.22).

Secondly, they were a group wanting to do things right. Gardner has been around 22 or so years; Unionville, 10; and Nevada, 9. They took their lumps and learned from them. They put on awesome camps now because they have seen the fruits of their dilegence, God’s provision and blessing, and experience. Hepler will get there some day. There wasn’t a single thing that went on that the people didn’t ask Scott, or Brent, or I about afterwards. They wanted to learn, wanted opinions, and wanted to think things through. I forget about people sometimes. I forget that others have wisdom to impart. There wasn’t an opportunity wasted to talk about the future and to dream.

As I look back on the week of camp that we were blessed to be apart of, only one thing bothers me: Did I present the Gospel clear enough?

For many of the other camps, many campers had been regulars. I looked out the first night of preaching and saw students who had forged a relationship with Chuck and Darlinda and were on the first steps of a journey with Jesus. Did I do my part faithfully to what God had called me too? Was Jesus made clear and everything else fuzzy? Was my path to the cross short enough in the message?

Meeting of the Minds
Meeting of the Minds

I looked out that first night and saw students struggling to find verses in their Bibles. Kids without a foundation in the word were trying to keep up. The role of the teacher in that moment is to make it as clear as possible how much God loves these students and what He did to save them. The question haunts in the back of my mind: was it clear? I pray that journey’s were started that week and that the message, despite my weakness and unclarity, was deposited firmly in their hearts.

It was truly a blessing to get to say that I was part of that camp and Chuck, Darlinda, Dave, Dusty, Cody, Jeff, Brent and the rest of the Cross Trails Cowboy Ministry immensely blessed us that week.

Chariton Hills Rodeo Bible Camp

Jake and Chase talking to the Bullriders
Jake and Chase talking to the Bullriders

I realized during the week of Chariton Hills Rodeo Bible Camp that I am not as young as I used to be and not nearly as wise as I hope to be.

Chariton Hills Camp has always held a special place in my heart. When I first was asked to help out 5 years ago, I knew absolutely no one at the camp and had no idea Unionville, Mo even existed. Every year I get to return to the Putnam Co. Fairgrounds, it gets harder and harder to say goodbye to some of the best people I know. With men like Kevin and Steve, Jason and Jeremy, Ben, Tom, and Rich; running around camp, I cant think of a better place to spend a week of summer.

This year was especially fun because somewhere over the last year I grew up (check that); grew older somehow. It all started with a phone call back in May when one of our bull riding instructors had fallen through and we had to find a new one ASAP. I made a call to a young man who I had seen ride bulls for the last few years named Jake Drews. Between him and Chase Hamlin, we had the bull riding covered but something else happened as well, they jumped into the camp mindset. They played football every minute of free time, sat with the guys and talked, and ate a ton of ice cream. These young men that I had watched grow up, now were the ones others were watching.

Tricia and I sat and watches as Jake and Chase occupied the attention of the campers. We realized we had gotten older when Jake, Chase, Brittney, and Ashley wanted to challenge us to a game of basketball. Thinking it would be around dinner or during free time, we agreed. When they arrived to take us on at 11:00 pm, it wasn’t going to happen. That is bed time now!

Camp keeps me young…but I hope it makes me wise too.

Some of my favorite moments of camp came between the bull rides or between barrel runs. Talks with Chase and Jake about riding bulls and life; talks with Steve about roping, ranching, and serving the church and the community; talks with Tom about ministry and Rich about feeding the sheep. Time for those talks are rare.

Camps are hard on marriages sometimes. Rodeo has a way of spreading people thin, so when you get to sit and talk with people for a while, you want to take advantage of that. Between the ever-willing-to-listen and timely advice of Pastor/Funeral Home Director Kevin, President Jason, and Worship Leader Ben, it was a week of learning all the things I wished I had learned in my first couple years of marriage.

Spending the week stuck somewhere between energetic youth and wise sage, trying to learn from both, was what made this camp great. I spoke, but felt like I learned more than anything. Every year we pull out of Unionville, I feel more like a camper than I did staff or bullfighter. God had been hammering on me about the things I thought I had figured out. A man is self-reliant. A man is always sure of his abilities. Leadership can only be done from above.

Tricia in the Home of the Putnam County Midgets
Tricia in the Home of the Putnam County Midgets

Learning to be a part of a community that takes care of one another and learning to be taken care of is a process that everyone needs to go through. Even the greatest of men still question themselves sometimes and its often the guy who’s taking out the trash, pushing out steers, serving the cheesy-taters, or haulin’ panels who’s leading…you just might not recognize it.

Riverside Rodeo Bible Camp: Blessing

DSCN3856Disclaimer: Because of a concussion, I am not a hundred percent clear on all the details of these events and the order in which they occurred. Much of the weekend is still a little hazy. “Blessing” is the only word I have at this point to explain the week. Wednesday began with my red Dodge Dakota blowing up. I had spent the morning trying to fix it without success. I needed to be down at Riverside Rodeo Bible Camp in Nevada, Missouri by noon. I had my truck towed to the mechanic, came home and rested my head in my hands. After the last few months of busyness and worry, I came to the point of breaking. I threw my phone down and took off on my bike to the north, without a word to my wife. I put word of it on Facebook and within minutes had texts from so many friends aound the area with words of encouragement and offers of help. People who had After disappearing for a few hours, she became worried about me. It was a bad decision on my part; a selfish and cowardly decision. But I have people who care deeply about me. Men like Danny Schnelle, Tim and Ethan Schultz, and my Dad who scoured the county for me. Despite my stupid decision to run away from my problems, I am blessed to have men in my life who deeply care about me. Thursday morning, I got the damage on the Dakota…$1500 for a truck worth $600. Begrudingly, we headed down to Nevada. I was worried about transportation, the rest of summer, and about 100 other things, not one of which was Rodeo Bible Camp. I was mad at God, mad at life, and mad at the situation. When you are mad at God, the last place you want to be is Rodeo Bible Camp. We headed there anyway in 2 hours of silence. The moment we showed up, our extended family welcomed us, with open arms, despite our 24-hour-tardiness. I was reluctant to go, but it was amazing how my Spirit was immediately lifted by the likes of Pastor Roger, Josh, Lucas, Tyler, Seth, Nate, Kip, Jud, Brian, and Ben. For a week, I was given the opportunity to talk with them about life and the struggles that I have had recently. We talked about God and His work in our lives. They took the time to ask about me, my marriage, and ministry. They loved me despite my ugliness and my struggles. I am blessed to have people in my life to lead me, to disciple me, to pour into me, and to disciple me. photo 3When Riverside Cowboy Church heard about the problems I had with my truck, they immediately hit their knees in prayer. They lifted up Tricia and I, our situation, and the ministry of the word. They felt called to provide for our need. On Friday afternoon, they gave me keys to a 98 Dodge Ram pickup…a nicer vehicle than we could ever afford; an example of the Church being more gracious, generous, and caring than it ever needed to be. And just like this Church has always done, no one seems to know who is really responsible for purchasing the truck. Everyone seems to be in the dark as to how it appeared at the camp ground’s Friday. A bull had just knocked me so I am a little fuzzy on that part too. But I do know that I am blessed to have people care about the work that Tricia and I do on the road and blessed with a better group of people than I deserve. Ethan and I in the new ride made it back to Topeka. We pulled in with the bulls loaded. In 6 inchs of mud, a pair of jeans, and a soaked vest, I got to fight a few bulls with Tyler Dees and Daniel Unruh. Both are men that I have been extremely blessed to talk with and learn from. After the Rodeo, the rodeo small group, Brylen, Brandon, Brody, Blain, and Ethan, headed up to Buzzards pizza where Brad McCarter joined us, another man greatly appreciated in my life. We talked about life, being men, and rodeo…three of my favorite topics. As we were leaving the pizza joint, Brad and Daniel, informed me that they were going to change my wifes’ brakes after the rodeo Sunday. I am blessed to have men who are handier than I am as part of my life. Chad Chambers had asked me to preach at Cowboy Church on Sunday morning.  I was able to talk about God’s love for us and how He showed it on the Cross.  Shanie and Kassie spoke about their dad and how to rodeo family had supported them over the last year.  Brian is another man who has greatly blessed me in the past.  Then I shot baskets with Brandt McGee after Church, another man who’s on the list.  As I thought back to Church service, I am blessed by men who lead their families in the arena and out. So after a 5-hour perf on Sunday, Brad cooked us some hotdogs as Daniel and Him changed the brakes on my wifes car. I sat in silence, partly because I was out of my element, and partly because I learned the same lesson that I had been learning the last week or so: I am blessed beyond what I deserve.

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can Render an honest and a perfect man, Commands all light, all influence, all fate; Nothing to him falls early or too late. Our acts our angels are, or good or ill, Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.” — Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune

The 17th century play dictates that man should be his own star. Really? His own guide post? Commanding his own fate? The Gospel is pretty clear that man cannot command his own fate:

“For it is by grace you have been save, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2.8-9)

And it dictates clearly that man being his own star and guide isn’t working out:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…” (Rom 1.21, 25)

I know these things. But when things come down to it, I rely on myself. I do things my way. Isolated. Alone. I didn’t want anyone’s help and didn’t need it. But I did. I forgot that God has given a community to be His hands and feet. I had forgotten that Christ not only died for me individually, but his people collectively. These men and women take care of us at our darkest moments. It’s the Bride of Christ acting and loving like its Husband. And for that I am forever thankful.

Spoon Creek Rodeo Bible Camp and the Power of Conversations

DSCN3815Conversations are the fun part of the job and Spoon Creek Rodeo Bible Camp was a lot of fun.

Eleven years ago, I was a freshmen on the third floor of Williamson Hall. The first Thursday night of the semester, Mike Ackerman, the RA, gave an interesting floor devo. I don’t remember most of it, but the thing that has stuck with me was the statement he made halfway through his talk:

“If you want to know how selfish you are, think about how many statements you start with “I”!…always ask more questions than you make statements.”

I remember taking his advice and trying it out on the girl behind me in Acts class. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember a glare from Mark Moore.

Spoon Creek Rodeo Bible camp was a chance for me to again practice asking questions.   It’s easier to do when the people around you are interesting. Every Rodeo Bible Camp that I am a part of has a different feeling to it. Gardener is full of people that are just like me: same stage of life, same struggles, same experiences. We sat around at night and talked ministry: how to find your “sweet spot in ministry”, when ministries need to change direction, how much should ministry use culture?. We talked about how to better serve our wives, to honor them more, and how to avoid sin. We discussed the future and dreams. We ate cake….alot of cake.

I got to know a junior in high school and his awesome family. He sprained his wrist in the bull riding and I took him to the hospital. We talked school, trucks, and girls… not in that order.

I got to talk horse-shoin, bull riding, and how sometimes kids get overlooked because of their circumstances. I got to see the hearts of the leaders as the talked with their students. I got to see the passions of the leaders when rodeo and scripture collided. When Scott Brooks talked about a great save made by our bullfighting student, it was hard to tell wheter he was crying because of joy or laughing so hard the tears had to go somewhere…but he ended it with scripture. Pages of the Bible were worn out as we discussed Scripture.

Looking at the ministry of Jesus, particularly in the book of John, conversations were a central part of his ministry.  Lives were changed because of words exchanged.  I know this: my life was changed and I met Jesus, during conversations that were had during that week.

Great conversations were had in the horse barn, the passenger seats of gators, at lunch, at Sonic, in the back pens, and during instruction. I talked with some of the most passionate men I know (Scott Brooks), some of the most talented (Caleb and Thomas), some of the most gifted Rodeo hands (Daniel Unruh, Tyler Forell, Little “D”, Vincent Oulette, and James) and some of the most consistent and revered (Ed Oulette, Terry Newell, Dave Head, Scott Petish, Bob Hennessy, and Brian Barrett), and do ministry with people who think like I do (Brent Noe, Thomas Benton, Bandy Brooks and Chad Chambers)…when it comes down to you couldn’t have asked for a better week.