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He didn’t clown around in his search for faith

BLOOMFIELD, N.M. (BP)–When Jess Franks was named as a clown for the National Finals Rodeo, he thought he had reached the apex of rodeo success. Thousands of fans had watched him perform across the nation, and one of his acts became so popular that it was recognized in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame.

But he discovered that professional achievements did not translate into lasting contentment. After more than four decades of rodeo success, Franks found true contentment for the first time by committing his life to Jesus Christ.

Today Franks is a member of First Baptist Church in Bloomfield, N.M. But at the beginning of his professional rodeo career, church was the last place Franks expected to end up.

“I was raised on a ranch and I rodeoed for a living all my life,” he said. “So my lifestyle was drinking, dancing, fighting, carousing, just whatever I wanted to do. I had a conscience and it bothered me, but not to the extent that it slowed me down. … There were no holds barred for me, nothing. I tried to be nice to people and I tried to get along with people and everything. But I was just kind of my own man.”

Franks began participating in rodeos at age 11. By his 15th birthday he had learned how to work with bulls as a rodeo clown, and he set a goal for himself of someday participating in the National Finals Rodeo.

“I rodeoed for a living for about 30 years, and I achieved all the goals that I could achieve,” he said. “At the age of 39, I got to represent the state of New Mexico at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as a clown. And that was one of the goals I’d set when I was just a kid.”

Franks found, however, that participating in the national finals did not bring him the satisfaction he had anticipated.

“I worked hard, worked harder than anything I’d ever done to get there,” Franks said. “A lot of miles, a lot of rodeos, a lot of tears and blood and sweat. And I finally made it. And when I got done, there were no goals left. I was there and it didn’t mean as much as I thought it would mean. I got presented the gold buckle and felt very empty.”

The emptiness increased when Franks experienced a divorce and was left without a place to live. Prompted to begin a search for contentment in life, he started visiting churches in 2001.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I started going to church,” Franks said. “I went to a bunch of churches. And I had heard really good things about the First Baptist Church in Bloomfield … and at the time I was friends with an 80-year-old lady … and we had gone to several churches together so we just went to First Baptist Church Bloomfield.”

Initially, First Baptist was a confusing experience for Franks because he had not attended church regularly for a number of years.

“I didn’t know what to call the bulletin when I first came to church,” he remembered. “I was calling it a day sheet. … When you go to a rodeo they give you a day sheet so you know what’s going on. … I’m still a cowboy at heart. But then somebody called it to my attention that it’s a program, not a day sheet. But it’s a new experience for a guy, a ranch-raised man.”

Franks continued to attend First Baptist because he enjoyed pastor Joe Bunce’s preaching and thought that church might help him to find contentment. After attending the church for nearly a year, Franks became convicted of his sin and his need for Jesus. On Sept. 14, 2003, he committed his life to Christ.

“One Sunday I was sitting there and felt a tremendous amount of emotion and somebody was talking to me. And I knew who it was, and I thought, ‘Now is the time….’ So I went up there and professed my faith in Christ and was born again and got baptized,” Franks said. “… The feeling I had when I was saved was like a million pounds was taken off me.”

Within two weeks, word spread on the professional rodeo circuit of Franks’ salvation. Friends began to inquire about his relationship with Jesus and Franks learned that being a Christian witness can sometimes be a challenge.

“It takes a different kind of man to sit and admit [his faith] to all his peers who like to drink and carouse,” Franks said. “It’s tough being raised like we were and being a Christian man and professing your faith in Christ. They don’t laugh at you, but they do treat you like you’re a different man. … You’ve got to remind yourself, ‘Hey, these people are watching you, and if you are going to talk the talk, you’ve got to act like … a Christian man.'”

Franks said the self-centered pattern of life began to change once he allowed God to help control his actions.

“Turning things over to God is probably the hardest thing for me to do because I’ve done it all by myself for all these years. It had always been on my back. … That’s probably one of the hardest things in the world to do, to turn it all over to Christ,” he said.

Despite the difficulties of being a new Christian, Franks said the Lord has transformed his life and the life of his wife Geri, who had become a Christian in 2002.

“It’s starting to change our home life,” he said. “My stepdaughters are starting to pay attention to the way we are. People are starting not to cuss in front of me as much as they used to. … I keep a Bible on my desk, and it really changes a lot of people’s attitudes when they come in there. … I’ve had a lot of people call me and ask me, ‘What do you think about this?’ And they’re starting to ask me my advice as a Christian man.”

Reflecting on his life amid rodeo’s rough-and-tumble competitors, Franks said, “The real men are the men who profess faith in Christ and can walk the walk and talk the talk and bring other people to Christ.

“And they have that serenity about them. They have the calmness. They have the coolness. We have something the rest of the world doesn’t.”