WILLISTON, Fla. (BP) — When it comes to summer camp experiences, the teens and tweens who attended Cowboy Camp at Rafter Cross Cowboy Church may have a leg up on their peers.
Instead of the more traditional canoeing, archery and lake swimming, cowboy campers were roping and tying steer, catching greased pigs with their bare hands and jousting on donkeys (with pool noodles).
“This is probably the first one that has ever been done like this in Florida,” said Pastor Billy Keith, who organized the camp with a crew of volunteers. About 90 students ages 8 to 18 attended. The church, founded by Keith and others in 2006, is affiliated with the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches.
Similar to Vacation Bible School, the camp began each morning with music and a short challenge from the pastor. Then campers, separated into “herds” according to their ages, were led to various activities throughout the day. Lunch was followed by more activities, then dinner and an evening worship experience. A final hour of fun and games ended each day.
Campers tried their hands at roping, tying and even paint branding steer. Crafts included leatherworking, wood burning and tie-dying.
Throughout the day, campers were also taught about the love of Christ. Each activity opened and closed with prayer and included a short devotion from the activity leader.
“All day long they were hearing about Jesus,” Keith said. “Our whole purpose is for kids to find Jesus.”
This year’s theme was Camp Freedom as students learned about finding freedom through Jesus, like freedom from fear, for example.
“Freedom from fear took on a whole new meaning for a lot of them because on the first day they were scared to death,” Keith said of students interacting with the animals, many for the first time. “But by the second day it was amazing to see how that fear had dissolved.”
Before camp was over, 15 students had made professions of faith and were baptized the cowboy way in a horse trough. Several campers and their families have even started attending the church.
The church had planned to take its youth to a cowboy camp in Alabama as it had done in previous years. When that camp was cancelled due to COVID-19, the church decided to do its own camp.
“These kids have been stuck at home, away from their friends, out of school. Their lives have been turned upside down,” Keith said. “We wanted to give them something before summer was up. It didn’t seem like anyone else was doing anything, so we decided we’d let God lead this thing and we’d try it.”
The camp was so successful that organizers have decided to do it again next year. With rave reviews from campers, plus changes and improvements already planned for next year, organizers are expecting an even bigger crowd. And they like the idea of reaching the locals.
“Instead of sending our kids off somewhere, we feel that it’s important that we focus on our own backyard and reach out to our community and the surrounding places,” Keith said.