SBC Life Articles

The Gospel by Horseback

Right there at table number 3 in Burger King, he accepted the Lord as his Savior."

That's Jim Bunch, 50, talking about a stepdad he met as a result of a ministry Bunch started this spring at Trinity Baptist Church in Clarkston, Wash. That stepdad has since been baptized and is an active member at the small downtown church.

"We reaped the harvest that somebody else sowed, but the Lord couldn't have led him to us without the horseback riding ministry," Bunch said. "Without it, it would have been a missed opportunity."

The idea of providing horseback rides for city kids took root in his mind in God's timing, Bunch said – during the years he and his wife and family did not attend church.

"We never quit being Christian; we just quit being faithful," Bunch admitted. As he tells the story, they were on a vacation trip when a friend invited them to attend a midweek prayer meeting.

"God just beat me around the head and ears and let me know there was something special I was missing out on," Bunch said. "I got down on my knees right then in repentance. I was supposed to have raised my family in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and my youngest was a senior in high school."

Back home in Clarkston, the Bunch family checked out several churches. That was four years ago.

"I fell in love with this guy," Bunch said, referring to Trinity pastor Doran Williams. "I love his demeanor in the pulpit."

Bunch found himself more and more involved in the life of the church. He got to thinking about the demographics for the neighborhood around the church: lower-income, rentals, single-parent families. He found himself noticing more and more teenagers with tattoos and pants slung too low for comfort.

"I hate that with a passion," Bunch said. "It makes the anger rise up in me to see lives wasted."

His mind turned toward kids too young to choose tattoos. His mind was never far from the horses he loves. He put the two thoughts together.

"These are kids who don't have much of a chance to see horses, much less ride them," Bunch said. "This is a great vehicle for getting their attention long enough to tell them about this Jesus who will bring hope into their lives."

Bunch and Williams worked out a twice-monthly plan for youngsters between the ages of 4 and 12. Bunch would bring up to five horses from his small acreage to the church's 7,500-square-foot, gravel parking lot on a Saturday morning. Teens and other volunteers from the church would lead each horse in an oval loop.

The plan was one child for each horse, but some children wanted to ride with a friend; others were too scared to ride alone. The horses range from fourteen to seventeen hands high. A "hand" is about five inches.

After an hour of riding and of sitting on bales of hay, waiting for a turn riding the oval, everyone trooped into the church's basement for refreshments and a Bible story.

There'd be a little music, with a volunteer on the guitar, some one-on-one conversations with kids hungry for some solid male attention, and a Bible story led by the pastor. "We offered the plan of salvation every time," Bunch said. "Every time."

A total of seventy-three different youngsters (plus teenage helpers) participated in the horseback riding ministry before school let out; none left before the Bible story was told; none objected to hearing a story chosen for its kid-friendliness.

"One of the girls, 4-year-old Hillary, she was nutso about horses," Bunch recounted. "She came every time." Bunch and Williams met her mother and stepdad as part of their visitation strategy, which was to meet the family members of every child who participated in the ministry.

"Later, he called us to come visit," Bunch said. "He had a new wife, new family, new job, and was realizing a few things.

"The Lord has done a work on him," Bunch continued. "He's one of those guys who's not touchy-feely, but since his conversion he gives hugs and tells you he loves you."

Words of wisdom?

"All we've done here is to take what's at hand, and put it to God's use," Bunch said. "The rest is up to Him."