EATONTON, Ga. (BP)–Since the end of turkey season, 12-year-old Brittini Doster has been counting down the days until deer season, filling the time in between fishing.
All the while, she’s gained a new perspective: “It’s helped me get closer to God,” Brittini said. “Being outdoors helps you be more focused on listening. It’s been really cool.”
Brittini’s new interests have been sparked by God’s Great Outdoors Ministry. Founder Brad Gill, a member of Crossroads Baptist Church in Eatonton, Ga., where Brittini’s father, Scott, is associate pastor, sees the outdoors as something sorely missing in the lives of today’s youth.
Not to mention a path to a deeper relationship with Christ.
“This is an outreach to kids who need Jesus Christ in their hearts,” Gill said. “It’s also for those who are Christians, but need to a solid foundation on which … to make sure they mature into Christian adults and share the message of Christ.”
Gill’s passion for the outdoors began at age 3 when his dad handed him a rod and reel for his first taste of fishing. Squirrel hunting came at 14, soon followed by treks for deer and rabbit.
At no other time, however, have children and teens had such a wealth of options to keep them from the outdoors. A national survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service every five years showed a decline among 6- to-15-year-olds hunting and fishing to 33 percent in 2000 and 30 percent in 2005, after a steady climb during the 1980s, starting at 34 percent and ending the decade at 39 percent and continuing to 1995 — around the time the Internet came about. But it turned out what Pac-Man and Mario Bros. couldn’t accomplish, e-mail and MySpace could.
A much-ballyhooed article among outdoors enthusiasts by Sports Illustrated last Thanksgiving (“How the decline of hunting is changing the natural order,” Nov. 24) pointed out states’ recent efforts to reintroduce hunting among youth. In Alabama, deer season opens two days early for children under the age of 16 accompanied by an adult. In Maine, the same push is called Youth Deer Day. In Illinois and California, wildlife managers have begun reaching out to the fatherless by offering single moms hunting lessons.
Gill launched God’s Great Outdoors Ministry with a turkey hunt in March. Next came a catfishing trip in April in which 30 youth caught 600 pounds of fish, half of which was then used to feed more than 200 appreciative people at a church fish fry. A trout fishing trip followed.
A deer hunt — called “Sights Set on Jesus” — is coming up Oct. 31.
“There will be a campout at the church Oct. 30. We’ll have plenty of food and an opportunity to minister to them Friday evening,” Gill said. “We’ll hunt Saturday and on Sunday have church followed by a big lunch and prize giveaways. Crossroads’ homecoming is that weekend, so we’re going to have a great time.”
God’s Great Outdoors Ministry already has seen an impact beyond youth, when one participant’s father became intrigued with what his son was learning through the outreach. Having self-admittedly “run from the Lord” for 30 years, he eventually prayed for salvation and was baptized to a standing ovation this spring.
Gill regards the time outside as important for youth as actually catching fish or bagging a turkey, if not more so.
“There’s just something about hunting and fishing that brings me closer to God,” he said. “It’s life’s downtime — a chance to reflect on what He’s done in my life.
“If I’m going through a rough spell, a long sit in the deer stand or stroll through the briar patch with my rabbit hounds is just what I need. Those trips result in a lot of prayer and are just the medicine to get me back on God’s path.”
Scott Barkley is production editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. For more information on God’s Great Outdoors Ministries, contact Brad Gill at [email protected] or 706-485-0059.