September 1, 2014
Cowboy church the setting for western-themed VBS
Ranch hand Justin Rightmer helps Jo-Jo Bledsoe create a picture frame during VBS craft time at Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney, Texas.  Photo by Kent Harville.
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A young cowboy named Layton creates a paper horse during VBS at Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney, Texas.  Photo by Kent Harville.
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Children wore a variety of cowboy-themed T-shirts during VBS at Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney, Texas.  Photo by Kent Harville.
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Ronna Rightmer, children's team director at Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney, Texas, speaks with children as they come forward during a VBS invitation time. By week's end, 35 children had received Jesus as Savior.  Photo by Kent Harville.
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You can't have cowboys without cows. Ranch hands demonstrated the art of calf roping in the church's arena during the week of Vacation Bible School at Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney, Texas.  Photo by Kent Harville.
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Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney, Texas, was the scene of "Saddle Ridge Ranch" Vacation Bible School July 5-9.  Photo by Kent Harville.
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Posted on Jul 23, 2010 | by Polly House

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WHITNEY, Texas (BP)--Kids in everyday cowboy boots didn't ride their horses to "Saddle Ridge Ranch" in Whitney, Texas. Most came in pickup trucks or SUVs.

But, regardless of their transportation, could there be a more appropriate setting than Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney for a western-themed Vacation Bible School curriculum?

The church's rural setting, barn-shaped sanctuary and rodeo arena (its version of a family life center) made it hard to tell where the decorations for Saddle Ridge Ranch VBS left off and the church's regular decor began.

Cowboy Church hosted VBS July 5-9 for about 120 children from pre-K through sixth grade. While the church didn't have VBS for the youth, the teenagers served as "ranch hands" for the children.

Cowboy Church children's team director Ronna Rightmer, who served as VBS director, gave last-minute instructions to the teens: "Make sure you interact with the kids at all times. Help with snack, with crafts, and help the kids that may have trouble paying attention. Be sweet to them!"

She even added some specific advice before the first night's snack time: "Don't let them go crazy with the squirt cheese."

The trademark friendliness of Cowboy Church was evident as women's ministry team leader Joan Davis made it a point to help a mother feel comfortable leaving her two children at VBS.

"Hello. Welcome to Cowboy Church," Davis said in extending a warm greeting. "Is this your first time here?"

When the young mom said it was and confirmed they didn't attend church anywhere, Davis let her know when services are held, when a women's group meets and that she could wear whatever she wanted. "After all," Davis said, "this is Cowboy Church!"

Davis then escorted the mother to meet some other women who continued to make her feel welcome and comfortable about her children attending VBS. At Cowboy Church, VBS is far more than a children's activity -- it's a way of connecting the whole family with the church.

Lonny Davis, Joan's husband, taught the lessons for the fifth- and sixth-graders. A retired football and volleyball coach, he had a great rapport with the kids. Even with a roomful, he kept their attention.

"I really like the questions that we talk about each night," Davis said of the curriculum developed by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. "The first night it was 'Who am I?' The second was 'Does God care about me?' Then, 'What is God's plan for me?' 'How can I be like Jesus?' and 'What do I do now?' Those are all questions that kids think about and need to figure out."

Cowboy Church pastor Gerald Dudley said about half the kids at VBS don't ordinarily attend here. "This [VBS] brings them in."

Rightmer added that VBS by far is the church's largest evangelistic outreach.

In the three years she has been involved with VBS at the church, Rightmer said the kids have responded well to the invitation to receive Christ.

"There are a lot that come forward," she said. "I always talk with the parents of the children who have come forward to make a profession of faith, explaining everything about it."

If Rightmer isn't certain that the child making a profession of faith understands, her conversation with the parents might involve asking them to encourage the child as the understanding grows. "Whatever the decision is, we take it seriously," she said.

If she senses the parents are open to it, Rightmer talks with them about baptism. "We want the kids to be baptized, of course, but nothing happens without the parents' approval and support."

The opportunity to talk with the parents can lead to sharing the Gospel with them as well, Rightmer said. "I always get aggravated if someone else talks to the parents first," she said with a laugh. "I want to be the one to get to share Jesus with them."

Best friends Emma and Seaira, both 9, were excited about each evening's VBS session. Emma, who brought first-timer Seaira with her, said on the first night, "I just know this is going to be so great!"

By Thursday night, both girls had received Christ as their Savior. By week's end, 35 children had made professions of faith. As much fun as the kids -- and the adults -- have at VBS, Rightmer said, "It's all about Jesus," her eyes brimming with tears.

"It's all about these kids getting saved and knowing Him. That's the reason we do this. It's Jesus."
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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