Rodeo provides bronco bustin' setting for evangelistic witness in Phoenix

CAVE CREEK, Ariz. (BP)--Men and women donned cowboy hats and boots to rope cattle, ride bucking broncos, wrestle steers and hear God's Word in a dusty rodeo arena the weekend of Nov. 10-12.

Billed as the "Champion of Champions" Rodeo, the evangelistic event drew more than 300 participants and about as many spectators to Cave Creek, Ariz., a rural community northeast of Phoenix. It was a part of the Strategic Focus Cities evangelism and church planting emphasis in Phoenix sponsored by the North American Mission Board in cooperation with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, local associations and churches.

The unusual gathering resulted in 11 professions of faith in Christ, including several rodeo participants who accepted Christ during a Sunday morning worship service.

"It touched a crowd probably that we wouldn't touch in any other way," said Bill Agee, city coordinator for the Celebrate Jesus 2000/Strategic Focus Cities emphasis in Phoenix.

"It's the first time I've been able to share my testimony at a rodeo," John Kissel, a cowboy and retired schoolteacher from Penrose, Colo., said. "It's been really special, and a lot of seeds have been sown."

Janet Honeycutt, whose family supplied livestock for the rodeo, said, "It's been the most awesome rodeo ever, because I know the Lord is here."

The Christian rodeo was the brainchild of Michael Infanzon, pastor of Spur Cross Cowboy Church in Cave Creek and former rodeo cowboy.

Infanzon said the idea began when Agee asked a group of local pastors to think about what kind of ministry they would like to do during the year.

"I told him I'd put on a rodeo," Infanzon said. With years of rodeos under his belt, it was a natural for the cowboy preacher.

After his idea was approved, Infanzon began to plan the event, which was sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Once word of a new rodeo got out, regular rodeo advertisers like Coors Beer, Copenhagen Tobacco and Jack Daniels liquor approached Infanzon to become sponsors, but he turned them all down, knowing the Lord would provide.

And provide he did: The Strategic Focus Cities funding offset revenue that would have come from the unwelcome sponsors.

Infanzon has a fierce love for cowboys on the rodeo circuit brought about by years of competing side by side with them.

"These are professional rodeo cowboys," Infanzon said. "These are the ones who make their living every week rodeoing to put food on the table, just [as] if they were a plumber or a carpenter or an accountant. This is what they do for a living, except they do their work on the weekend.

"Jesus told us we need to minister to people where we're at, and where they're at, and that's the thing," Infanzon said. "That's what we're trying to do, through the rodeo, through Bible study. The cowboys that are passing through need to be fed.

"We gathered together ... this morning, all the contestants that were here, and we all prayed together," Infanzon said the first day of the event. "We stood in the middle of the arena and prayed for this rodeo, and prayed for all the cowboys that were traveling. You can't do that in major league baseball, but you can do it at a rodeo."

In addition to local volunteers, Infanzon brought in a few old friends to help out.

Announcer Coy Huffman, founder of Cowboy Church International, is a preacher who earns his living by working at rodeos. Huffman mixed event announcements with statements like, "We don't believe in luck, luck is for losers," and told the crowd about salvation in Jesus Christ.

"[Huffman] holds church services at every rodeo he goes to," Infanzon said. "He's our evangelist. He preaches the gospel to these cowboys, ministers to them while they're on the road and encourages them to plug in to their local churches."

Ted and Linda Wiese brought their unusual ministry called the "Cowboy Bistro" to the rodeo. Led by the Lord to a ministry of hospitality, the Wieses have traveled to 13 rodeos this year, preparing food to make sure cowboys eat nutritiously, for free. They hope to minister at 20 rodeos next year.

The Wieses make their home in Likely, Calif., and travel with a converted horse trailer containing a professional kitchen and the couple's living quarters. Next to the couple's trailer, banners proclaiming God's love and salvation in Jesus hang from the canopies that shade tables from the bright sun.

A former rice farmer, Ted said, "We're still planting seed, just different seeds."

Infanzon began his career in rodeo at the age of 6. He continued in the sport through high school and college and competed professionally until retiring three years ago. A certified journeyman farrier, or horseshoer, by trade, Infanzon was called into the ministry shortly after he retired from rodeo.


(BP) photos posted in the BP photo library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BULL RIDER, EVANGELISTIC MATERIALS, and MICHAEL INFANZON.

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