CARTHAGE – Little hands stretched high in the air and uninhibited voices sang out like a heavenly choir. Steve Stafford, senior pastor at Risen Ranch Cowboy Church here, couldn’t stop the flow of tears if he tried.
“I am so glad we had camp and we experienced the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit so thick around us,” he said. “There were about 80 kids and 30 or 40 adults praising God together with their whole hearts. If being part of something like that doesn’t move you or change your life, I don’t know what will.”
While much of Missouri is still limiting gatherings due to COVID-19, last week Risen Ranch hosted its 13th annual Rodeo Bible Camp, which is its version of Vacation Bible School. This year’s response was so great that they had to turn 17 kids away because they ran out of stall space for the horses. Stafford said next year they would plan for 120 kids so they won’t have to turn away campers again.
“Our first year we started with 17 so I am humbled and grateful that in spite of us, our humanness and inadequacy, God has just been amazing to bless this ministry,” he said.
Rodeo Bible Camp is an overnight camp that welcomes children ages 7-18. However, they have many 19, 20 and 21 year olds who come back as intern teachers, allowing Risen Ranch to continue to produce the next generation of leaders.
“We ride horses, teach rodeo skills, and of course we share the gospel,” Stafford said. “We don’t make a secret about that. This year we had five kids give their heart to Jesus, and we baptized them Saturday night in a horse tank right there in the arena.”
Stafford sees the fingerprints of God all over this year’s camp, which is encouraging because their church leadership still didn’t know if going ahead with it was the right or wrong decision up until the day it started.
“The weight of the decision was heavy on our leadership and once we unanimously decided to go ahead and do it, it was absolutely bathed in prayer,” Stafford said. “I’m talking hours and hours and hours of designated prayer time just for camp and the safety and well-being of our kids.”
Along with that prayer, Risen Ranch also took several health and safety precautions to stay within the COVID-19 guidelines for group gatherings. Not only did they take the temperatures of each person and document them every day, they also designated volunteers to sanitize chairs, showers, and classrooms as much as possible.
“We took it seriously and tried to be proactive and even encouraged the children to be responsible in staying sanitized,” Stafford said. “I’ll be honest, social distancing was a challenge because they don’t really get the concept, but we did the best we could during a very trying time.”
But what Stafford said was even harder was having church in their parking lot the last couple of months while everything was shut down.
“We were looking into windshields instead of people’s eyes, and that didn’t work for me,” he said.
He said compared to most churches, Risen Ranch Cowboy Church – which was planted in 2006 with support from First Baptist Church, Diamond, and the Cooperative Program – is still in it’s baby church stage and needs constant contact and interaction to be nurtured and to grow.
“I am 69 years old, and I’ve been in church all my life – 36 years in the ministry, and I’ve never seen church the way I am honored to witness it at Risen Ranch,” Stafford said. “I always say in spite of me because it’s amazing what God is doing in this church and through these people and I simply fall to my knees in complete awe. I am grateful that God saw fit to call my wife and I to become church planters and allow us the privilege of planting Risen Ranch Cowboy Church.”
He said the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), through its support, encouragement and ongoing prayer, has been key to their spiritual and sustaining growth, especially in the early years of their ministry.
“The MBC has been a gift to us and every month when we send out our Cooperative Program check, it makes me smile because I don’t know the names of who it might help and I don’t need to know,” Stafford said. “I just know that we were the recipients in our early days, and God will use it to do great things. In fact, that’s exactly the cooperative spirit that we taught in our camp all week. As followers of Christ we should be coming together, growing together and encouraging each other every step of the way.”