STOUTLAND – Ellen Replogle was sitting in church listening to missionaries tell stories of using their passions to share the gospel when it hit her: if they could use basketball, music or literacy training for Jesus, she could use her passion for the gospel too.
“I got up and said ‘I’m going to do this. I can’t go to Africa, but can use my love of horses to help kids see the relationship we should have with God.’”
That was five years ago. What Replogle initially thought might be just a four or five girls spending the night in her backyard and riding a few horses has morphed into a week-long camp for more than 100 boys and girls from across Missouri aged 9 to 14, not to mention 24 horses.
Replogle, who serves as director of Camp Whoa, only owns two horses, Tater and Kinetic. But friends heard about the idea of using horses and riding as a way to present kids with the gospel, and volunteered their animals and their coaching skills for the week.
Of all the weeks of camp that take place on Laclede Association’s property east of Lebanon, this is the week that has the highest number of unchurched students.
“They might not have any background in church, but their family knows they have a love for horses,” Replogle said. “Lessons are $35 an hour, so to get to come here and ride everyday is a great deal.”
The theme for this year’s camp was Branded, based on Ephesians 1:13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
“Horses are branded as a part of their identity,” Replogle said. “It shows others who that horse belongs to. So if God brands our hearts, what would that look like as we’re transformed into who he wants us to be?”
Kids at Camp Whoa learn more than just riding. They learn to take complete care of the horses, from feeding and grooming, to preparing the tack and saddles, and yes, even shoveling manure.
But most of all, they learn about the relationship that must develop between a horse and its master.
“A horse won’t necessarily want to be helpful at first,” Replogle said. “By nature, they’re afraid of us. And just like God has to do with us, you have to get his attention, move around a little bit, and convince him you know what’s best and that you have a better plan for him if he will just submit. The first time he gets saddled, things usually don’t go well, and it can be the same way with us if we’re stubborn.
“Our lives as Christians require training and patience just like the horses,” she said. “We need to let Him be the leader. Sometimes, my horse decides to run from me and it just breaks my heart!”
Replogle said she has watched God bless Camp Whoa far beyond what she envisioned as a weekend in her backyard.
“I’ve seen families changed because of horse,” she said. “I’ve seen daughters get saved, then mothers get saved, then fathers get saved.”