'Boots and Jeans' ministry creates Bible-totin' cowboys
BEAVER, Okla. (BP)--"... and Lord, be with us during this haying time and cattle shipping season."
Maybe not a typical prayer to open a Sunday school class, but it's at the very heart of a Thursday night Bible study class in the wide-open spaces of the Oklahoma Panhandle.
There are no horses tied to hitching posts, but a myriad of pickup trucks and horse trailers in the parking lot of First Baptist Church, Beaver. Just inside the door are cowboy hats tossed askew around the coat rack.
It's the "Boots and Jeans" cowboy Bible class where 30-35 cowboys gather each week to study the Bible and share Christian experiences.
The class came about as a result of a burden on the heart of Beaver saddle shop owner Shawn Campbell, who witnessed to cowboys who came into his shop.
"I was talking to some guys one day and gave them cowboy Bibles (New Testaments with a bucking horse on front) and told them we were having a Bible study in the shop," said Campbell, who surprised himself by mentioning a Bible study.
At about the same time, unbeknownst to Campbell, Sunday school director Jim Hilton talked to a friend at a football game about a cowboy Bible study.
The first Bible study in the saddle shop was attended by "two or three people, and grew to about seven," Campbell said.
Because some children were coming and there was no clean place for them to play, Campbell started looking for another place to hold the Bible study.
"I was a little skeptical about moving it to the church building because I didn't know if these people would be comfortable in a church setting," said Campbell, a member of First Baptist in Beaver.
However, the first week in the church's fellowship hall, there were 10 cowboys. Attendance has grown to an average of 30-35 and that number has doubled "depending on the season." There also are a nursery and Sunday school classes for the children now.
"This is a ministry unlike any this church has been involved in," said pastor Bill Sherrill. "It has opened the church's eyes to see that you don't have to do things as they've always been done."
The church has a fully staffed Sunday school on Thursday nights, Sherrill said. The cowboys study the Life and Work Series produced by the Baptist Sunday School Board, and on Sunday mornings, the Family Bible Series is used.
The church's excitement over the Boots and Jeans class has spread to an increased attendance in Sunday school. "We had been averaging 110-120 in Sunday school, but in the last year our average has climbed to 155," Hilton said.
The cowboys come from all over Beaver County and as far away as Liberal, Kan., 40 miles to the north.
"On any given night, we will probably have at least five denominations represented," Sherrill reported. "What church they end up in is less significant than leading them to the Lord."
Sherrill, while supportive of the ministry, is not exactly the cowboy type. At a tent revival for the cowboys last summer, which averaged 165 nightly, he was given a pair of cowboy boots and a hat.
"One of the cowboys walked up during the announcements and said, 'We can't take it anymore.'
"They made me take off my red high-top tennis shoes and put on the boots and hat," Sherrill laughed.
The class is promoted mostly by word of mouth, but also by placing the cowboy Bibles, with cards about the Bible study inserted, in stores for people to take free of charge. Word of the class has spread throughout the area.
"I was having my car worked on at a muffler/alignment shop in Liberal a few weeks ago," Sherrill recounted. "When the attendant saw on my ticket that I was from Beaver, she said 'Boots and Jeans.'
"She continued to say that there was a group of men in the shop a few days before. They started talking about the Boots and Jeans Bible study, and she said it was like a revival," Sherrill said.
During a recent Bible study, one of the cowboys pointed out because there is a lot of profanity and coarse talking on the range, when cowboys don't talk like that, others want to know what is going on in their lives.
"Cowboys talk to cowboys," he said, "and there are always opportunities to witness just by living the Christian life."
Campbell, who has lived and worked on a ranch all his life, continues to be burdened for cowboys.
"There is no one evangelizing farmers and ranchers," he lamented. "They just kind of live out there and don't have anyone to share the gospel with them. It's a mission field."
The group purchases cowboy Bibles from the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, but this group ministers mostly to the rodeo cowboy, Campbell said.
"I suspect that at least 30 percent of the population of Oklahoma is connected in some way with cowboys," Hilton said. "And that would be higher in states such as Wyoming and Montana. It's a culture, and we have literature and programs for other cultures with less numbers than these.
"If Southern Baptists would develop literature for cowboys, they would be way ahead of other denominations in this area of ministry."