STEELVILLE – This wasn’t your average Baptist pot luck dinner: Instead of green bean casseroles, salads and pecan pies, it was venison steaks, rabbit chili and hard-boiled turtle eggs, More than 250 men and boys of all ages – and two women who slipped in – attended the third annual Wild Game Dinner at Meramec Baptist Association’s Retreat Center outside Steelville Jan. 27. Men from 11 local churches and others unaffiliated with any church brought in enough local game to feed the crowd including catfish, suckers, crappie, deer, boar, rabbit, quail, wild turkey, frog and turtle.
“It was terrific,” said Pat Panepinto, director of missions for the Meramec Baptist Association. “This was the best attendance we’ve had. When I got through the line it’d been picked over pretty well.”
While 250 registered, there were still other men who attended but for some reason didn’t register. Those that registered got a free camouflaged hat and were entered to win a side-by-side .20-gauge shot gun.
“We had people from Rolla, St. Louis and all around come in,” Panepinto said. “Many of them were there simply because they like wild game and enjoy sharing with other people. They just heard about it and showed up.”
One of the strengths of an outreach such as a wild game supper is that it appeals to many men who might not normally attend a more traditional event inside a church facility.
“Statistics tell us that if we reach the man of a family, there’s a better than 90 percent chance we can reach the entire family,” Panepinto said. “Getting the father or the husband coming to Christ and coming to church is key. A lot of these men get really excited about the idea of a wild game supper and like to show off their hunting and culinary skills. While we have these men there, why not present the gospel in a straightforward way and let them know there are Christian men who are just like them?”
After they all wound through the tent provided by the Missouri Baptist Convention with the food and were done eating, the men gathered upstairs for some worship led by the local bluegrass band, the Yadkin Creek Boys, and a gospel message from popular Bolivar outdoor writer Larry Dablemont.
Panepinto said Meramec Association is already planning on expanding next year’s dinner.
After telling the story of his life and his journey toward accepting Christ as his Savior and Lord, Dablemont summed up his message to the crowd of men:
“If you get confused or don’t know where to start with all this God stuff, just find the red words in the Bible and start reading,” he said.