Rodeo Week- Monday

Since arriving I have had the a chance to run a Bobcat (small frontend loader), weed wack corrals, help put up a “circus” tent, and rip out walls. Ministry is a hoot.  I am getting up early so I can put several hours in on my Liberty classes (the two summer seasons overlap two weeks so I have five classes right now.) Since it is Monday Paul and Cody had to go to work. If there is one principle of church planting that Cody and Paul demonstrate it is the willingness to work. Their two year Nehemiah funding is finishing up this month. So, it is either call it quits or “cowboy up.” They were asked to join the Rodeo Association because of their work ethic. If there is one thing that westerners value it is a person who is a hard worker. So these two guys have gotten jobs because they were called by God to Livingston and that has not changed just because funding issues.

Paul and Cody are examples of a bi-vocational strategy. Paul had a successful banking career before entering seminary and moving to Montana. He now works at the hot dog and burger shack. Since it is not a heated building it closes in the fall. But during the summer it is the place to see people. Paul could probably make more money working as a night watchman somewhere. But, he would not see all the people.

The one place everybody visits in Livingston.

The one place everybody visits in Livingston.

Cody started his new job last week and today was his third day at work. He is a case manager at a counseling service which deal with juveniles from dysfunctional families. Almost all the cases are families from Park County. Cody’s undergraduate degree was in sociology so it is a good fit. Again, the strategy was to find employment that promoted networking in the community. Cody’s job is more long term than Paul’s, but both men see their work as another opportunity to become known by their neighbors. After work both men were back to ministry. It makes for long days but God will bless their commitment.

The main question someone considering church planting has to answer is what are you willing to do to obey God’s calling. If you only obey because some organization or institution will pay your way, then save yourself some grief and don’t go.

Cody's new job.

Cody's new job,Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.

The other day a church planter arrived in Montana. He came from a Southern Baptist Church, but was affiliated with an independent church planting organization. He stopped in Livingston and spoke with Cody. He was from Florida and had never been west of the Mississippi.  He had never been to Montana and was headed to a small town near Livingston. I am afraid he is in for quite a culture shock. Just to show the how Montana is a different culture, look at the pictures below. Notice the bottom sign. The other picture is a church announcement from Sunday’s service. Paul and Cody benefited from the pre-deployment preparations that Dave Howeth, ADOM, developed for the association’s church planting strategy. That preparation is essential.

Hotel sign in Livingston.

Hotel sign in Livingston.

Upcoming event at Cornerstone.

Upcoming event at Cornerstone.


Rodeo Week-Sunday

It seems every church planter has the same experience, to one extent or the other, Sunday morning set up. Being away from North Star I was looking forward to a Sunday without “set up”. But, alas, Cornerstone has “set up.” The service started at 9:00 a.m. at one of the local hotels. Cody preached from Mark 11. Paul led the singing and handled the announcements.

After the service Cody, Paul, Keith, and Aaron went over the the new building to talk about needed renovations. Keith and Aaron are the other half of the four man pig wrestling team. Aaron is 39 and never married. He is a contractor and works from the end of elk season until the beginning of elk season. During the season he hunts almost everyday walking back six or seven miles into the mountains looking for trophy elk. You could say he is married to hunting. Aaron was also the first person baptized by Cornerstone.

The new location is in the business area of town. It was a doctor’s office with 2500 square feet. The bank parking lot is across the street and provides free parking on Sundays. As we stood around looking at the drop ceiling and interior walls Aaron and Keith were upbeat and involved. However, things changed when we went downstairs into the basement. It runs the length of the building and has a 7 1/2 foot ceiling. It would take a fair amount of work and money to use it for “church” space. But, a comment was made about the area being a great spot for an indoor archery range. The closest one is in Bozeman and charges $30 an hour. Aaron got excited. By the end of our time downstairs he had figured out that he could make a forty yard lane and several twenty yard lanes with an afternoon of work and no construction costs.The back alley would also be a suitable place for a grill providing the means of having gatherings.

This fall expect Cornerstone to be the location of a community archery league. (I can discuss renovations and tearing out walls, my specialty, but this is where I actually made a contribution.) The advantage of a league format is that it forces guys to spend more time at the range. Instead of coming in and shooting several rounds of arrows and then leaving a team has to rotate through. While several guys are shooting the others have to wait. Like a bowling league the social aspects become a large part of the evening. Since archery shooting outside is not practical during the winter a league night would be one of the few activities available in Livingston.If you make a league rule that your members have to find nonchurch members to fill out their team roster you have a great outreach tool. (Never sign up for a church softball league. Play with the lost guys. Besides, there will probably be less arguing that the church league.)

Aaron was pumped, as was Paul and Cody. Aaron got excited because he knows how many men who would never step into a church building would come to shoot. Paul and Cody got excited because they saw one of their men develop a vision of ministry that fits him like a glove.

There is a principle in all of this: The freedom to minister “outside the box” is in geometric proportions to the number and influence of core group people who come from a church background. Even  if they want to try new ministries their nature is to resist. After Aaron and Keith left, Paul and Cody immediately commented that one family would be upset that archery would take place in “the church.” This family’s standard is “doing like back home.” I use to encounter people in Alaska who would visit church and then tell me that they could not find a church like “back home.” My response was, “Then go back home. We are a church that is trying to reach Alaskans, not transplanted Southerners.” Throughout the West, Northwest, Alaska, and north of the Mason-Dixon line you will find aging Southern Baptist Churches that were founded after WWII by transplanted Southerners. These churches grew by attracting transplants and did church like back home. They were cultural enclaves. Sadly they never became indigenous and now do not reach their own children and grandchildren who are not Southerners.

The rest of the day was filled with erecting the hospitality tent and going over to Bozeman. I dropped Cody off for his EMT class ( fireman  training) and then visited William and Teresa Johnson in Manhattan. William has done a great job reaching his community through outdoor ministries. He will cover all of that in his contribution to the coming book on church planting.

Rodeo Week-Livingston Montana Church Planting

Saturday –

I flew into Bozeman yesterday. Cody Wood and Paul Seddon picked me up at the airport. This is their third summer in Montana. Their families moved to Livingston in 2007. They were two of my North American Church Planting students during my time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I don’t want to steal their thunder, because they are contributing a chapter to a book I am editing on church planting in North America. But, they are doing some great things and I want to pass on some of their activities/strategies through this site.

The Context: Livingston is a small town, approximately 7,500 on the Yellowstone River about 40 miles east of Bozeman. Trout fishing, tourism, and traffic on the way to Yellowstone National Park drive the economy in the summer. Ranching is the major industry. There are several subcultures in Livingston. There are the born and bred Montanans, some of the ranches have been in the family since the original settlers. There is also a newer group who I refer to as Biocentrists.  They are here to enjoy nature.  You could subgroup the people by two other terms: bunny huggers and bunny blasters. Reaching the whole community is a challenge. That is where the Holy Spirit is essential. Ninety plus percent of the population in Montana are unchurched and there are over 200 identified people groups in the state. Livingston’s largest church is C.U.T., The Church Universal Triumphant, a cult.

The biggest event in Livingston is Rodeo Week. The Livingston Rodeo is one of the top ten rodeos in the U.S. All the top bull riders, barrel racers, and ropers will be here. The group that organize the rodeo is the Rodeo Association. It is the most prestigious organization in the valley. You are invited to join by the commission. When Cody and Paul arrived in town they immediately looked for ways to connect with the culture. Since that time they have managed to become involved in all the activities, including the Pig Wrestling fund raiser. For those of you who have never been to the more colorful locations in North America pig wrestling is when a team of four people (there are male, female, and coed categories) attempt to place a 250 pound pig in a barrel within 30 seconds. For some reason the pig usually doesn’t wnat to get into the barrel so it is not as easy as it sounds, and the odds of four to one are not fair. The pig has the advantage. They are the only pastors in the valley who have entered the pig fund raiser.

Keith, Cody, Aaron, and Paul after their defeat at the hands (feet) of the pig.

Keith, Cody, Aaron, and Paul after their defeat at the hands (feet) of the pig.

Cody and Paul had lined up several mission teams to come out the first summer, which was part of their pre-deployment strategy. So, they volunteered to pick up the trash around the rodeo grounds. At the end of the rodeo the association gave them a “donation” of $500 for the work. They turned around and donated it to the rodeo. The association was surprised when Cornerstone volunteered to do the trash clean up a second year. They commented that no one had ever done the clean up a second year.  Cornerstone also volunteered to host the hospitality tent. The tent is for the cowboys. C &P used the state block party equipment for the tent and provided snow cones and cotton candy. Yes, bull riders like snow cones and cotton candy. At the end of the rodeo the association members asked C&P to join. There are people who have lived their whole lives in the valley and never have been asked ot join the Rodeo Association. It is a God thing that two newcomers from Virginia and Florida would be association members. So if you come to Livingston during rodeo you will see Cody and Paul in their Justin boots, Wrangler jeans, western shirts, and white straw cowboy hats (the required rodeo uniform) working the stock, stripping the gear off the bulls after the ride, opening the bull chute, or whatever else needs to be done during rodeo.

Aaron's baptism the day after the pig wrestling.

Aaron's baptism the day after the pig wrestling.

This week I will be working at the grounds preparing for Wednesday’s opening events and tearing out walls in their new building. (More on what God is doing on the building needs later.)

P.S. Last night we had elk and antelope steaks, Tiffany is a great cook. You have to love Montana! I got my boots and Wranglers out of the closet before I came. I’m ready for Rodeo Week. And, I am wearing my big “Montana Centennial” buckle that was given to me by Dave Howeth, the former Director of Missions and CP Strategist for the Treasure State Baptist Association. He told me that if I found him five church planters he would give me a buckle. God found the planters and I got the buckle. Belt buckles are the trophies in cowboy culture. You wear them instead of putting them on the mantle. It has a bronze rainbow trout on it and is a limited edition. It is good to be visiting the west again.

“The Journey”

(This is the introductory chapter to my manuscript for outdoorsmen, Real Men Don’t Get Lost.)

My earliest memories of the outdoors occurred at my Grandmom Brown’s in Chesterfield, South Carolina. Grandmom scratched a living out of the ground. She used mules instead of a tractor. Grandmom and Dad had hand sawed all the planks for the barn from lumber Dad had dragged out of the swamp by oxen. Dad had grown up dirt poor with a breakdown single shot shotgun. He believed that if you shot more than once you were wasting money. One day Dad decided to take us, my three brothers and me, rabbit hunting. As we walked through the woods Dad would occasionally tell us to stop. He would then point out the cottontail before it would flush. I must admit we had trouble seeing the rabbit even with Dad’s directions. Another time we were in the woods when Dad told us all to freeze because of a large rattler. He eased off a few yards and cut a stick and killed the snake. We asked Dad how he could have seen the snake in the thick brush. He said he did not see it, he had smelled it. We were skeptical but he explained the odor rattlers had on the farm. I did not smell a thing.

A career army officer Dad, and Mom, moved every couple of years. He had a trophy red stag he had shot in Germany while serving in Criminal Investigation during the occupation following WWII. His unit investigated the black market and was assigned the task of searching for Hitler’s gold. Hunting and fishing was their recreation in Europe. I was born while he was the post game warden for Ft. Stewart, Georgia. I remember him coming home from his last turkey hunt in Maryland. Dad could not stand careless hunters with poor etiquette and refused to share the woods with them.

Raised by Christian parents I came to realize that I had a sin problem. Obviously, as a nine year old I didn’t have a life of crime and debauchery behind me, but I knew I did not measure up to a holy God. I trusted that Christ had done everything for my salvation in a church start outside Ft. Meade, Maryland. When my dad retired all us boys voted to move to Alaska. We ended up in South Carolina, where I spent my time squirrel and rabbit hunting, fishing, reading Field & Stream, and day dreaming of Labrador retrievers and the West. As an army family we watched the evening news and kept an eye on Viet Nam. I had no interest in going straight to college after high school and my brother, Mike, had already dropped out of college to fly in the army. Flying sounded more exciting than attending college, so I celebrated my eighteenth birthday by entering the Army’s Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Aviation Course.

At eighteen I knew more about being a “real helicopter pilot” than I did being a growing Christian. I did not know the importance of daily Bible study and prayer. Mike had extended his tour in Viet Nam and was in-country when I arrived. Don, a signal officer, arrived the following month.

Early in 1971 the Pentagon determined the ARVNs (South Vietnamese Army) capable of severing the Ho Chi Minh trail which supplied the communists in the south. Air assault companies were sent to I Corps in support of LAM SON 719, the ARVN invasion of Laos. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) allowed the ARVNs to become extended over a number of landing zones (LZ) before they counter attacked with tanks, heavy artillery, and 25,000 troops. LAM SON 719 quickly became a shooting gallery with the ARVN troops serving as the bait and army helicopters becoming the sitting ducks. The NVA shot down or grounded from battle damage 444 of the 600 helicopters involved in the operation and 10,000 ARVN soldiers were wounded, killed, or missing. One of the aviation companies from III Corps lost their complete gun platoon on one LZ. The Charlie model gunships could not handle the mountainous terrain and the heavy machine gun and light antiaircraft weapon fire.

Photo of my helicopter in the newspaper for the U.S. troops in Viet Nam.

Photo of my helicopter in the newspaper for the U.S. troops in Viet Nam.

The units flying LAM SON 719 needed replacement aircraft and pilots. I volunteered and arrived at A Company, 158th Aviation Battalion, the “Ghost Riders,” in early March. On March 19th we were assigned to the extraction of ARVN troops from several of the LZs along Highway 9 toward Tchepone. It was a typical day for the operation. We started with eleven aircraft and by afternoon had two or three still flyable. On the first mission of the morning point blank fire riddled six of the aircraft. A .51 caliber round hit “Itty Bitty” while in the LZ. Blowing through the armor seat the round paralyzed him. The next attempt resulted in “Wop” taking an antiaircraft round through the bottom of his seat. By late afternoon I was in one of three flyable aircraft. The ARVN unit needed ammo and water so headquarters decided that one aircraft would resupply them. We were selected to fly over at 6,000 feet and throw out the supplies. (I always wondered how it would feel to have an ammo crate land on your head from 6,000 feet.) Headquarters hoped the altitude would minimize our risk. We would also be escorted by several Cobra gun teams.

Over the LZ at 6,000 feet it looked like the Fourth of July as tracer rounds the size of basketballs flashed through our blades. For every tracer round there were three or four regular rounds. Though out of small arms range, the .51 calibers and antiaircraft weapons had no trouble reaching us. A classmate had recently been vaporized at 6,000 feet with a first round hit by a radar controlled antiaircraft gun. With absolute certainty I knew I was going to die. You can not bargain with God, but I believe He puts you in situations to bring you around to His viewpoint. I remember praying, “God, I know I am yours, that I am going to heaven, but if you choose to let me live I  will do whatever you want.” His answer wasn’t audible but I had such a sense of His presence it was if I had heard Him say, “Nothing is going to happen to you.” I finished the rest of my tour as the only Ghost Rider aircraft commander (that I know of) that never took at hit to his aircraft. I had men killed immediately after getting off the aircraft, but I never took a hit. Almost one third of my flight school class died in Viet Nam. I should be among them, but God had other plans. I came home before my twentieth birthday and met a friend from high school who had been the class drunk. His life was radically changed. Through him I discovered you get out of Christianity in geometric proportions to what you put into the relationship.

I wish I could say that I consistently lived for Christ from March 1971, on, but I can’t. I can say that God has always been faithful. He has given me a wonderful family. Kathy and I moved to Alaska in 1974 where our boys were born and reared. Everyday in Alaska God’s creation declares His reality. Its spectacular mountains and endless vistas remind me how great He is and insignificant I am. As a public school teacher, minister, bush pilot, National Guard pilot, commercial fisherman, fishing guide, outfitter, charter operator, ski patrolman, and tourism business owner I was blessed by years of outdoor experiences. Many times God used an experience to teach me a spiritual truth. When I read of the disciples in the storm I visualize Clarence Strait with whitecapping seas higher than the boat’s cabin breaking on the bow and know the peace of being in the Creator’s care. After seminary we returned to Alaska and had the joy of spending two years hunting, fishing, shrimping, and woodworking with my dad in Ketchikan. Six months after our moving to Soldotna he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mother lived her faith. Rearing four boys, having three of them serve in combat for over two years straight, and losing her partner of fifty years my mom always had had a quiet peace about her. She loved fishing with Dad and would often laugh about their hunting adventures in Europe.

Most of the names in these stories have been changed to protect my friends from further embarrassment. I wrote with the standard that I changed the name if you laugh at anyone other than me. I especially want to acknowledge my friend Howard White. He lived and died for Christ and he is worthy of honor. I do want to thank my hunting partners, Dave Sterley, Dean Nichols, and my three sons, Ashley, Adam, and Andrew. Others have seen first hand my amazing woodsmanship, but these did not give up on me, which I deeply appreciate. I have tried to be as accurate as possible, but the exact locations and details might be wrong. Of course, that’s what make these hunting stories.

Several of the chapters involve, or are written by my oldest son, Ashley. Serving in a parachute infantry regiment on 9-11 he represents many young men and women who are seeing the power of God in a different outdoor setting. It is our desire that God will use this book to help men come to know Him and decide to begin the greatest adventure of their lives, being a follower of Christ. I can promise it will never be boring.

“Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.” Luke 5:3-11 (NKJV)

“Is There a Bear In Your House?”

(As in most of these accounts the names have been changed to protect all parties.)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Gal 6:7-9 (NKJV)

The sow charged from the brush without warning and with her speed would be on top of Scott in seconds. Scott lived to hunt and fish. He had an attractive wife and three beautiful girls, a great job, a good boat, and plenty of time to pursue his passion, hunting and fishing. Scott’s family were members of my church, but Scott’s worship usually occurred somewhere between Juneau and Admiralty Island.

On this particular day Scott had decided to take his skiff to Young’s Bay on Admiralty Island and hunt for Sitka Blacktails. Most guys hunted with at least one other person if for no other reason than being able to drag the skiff down to the water in case you misjudged the tidal change and came back to a high and dry boat. With tidal ranges over 22 feet it was more common than not. A hunting partner also gave you a better chance of keeping all your major body parts if you ever ran into an unhappy brown bear.

Unless you have a partner like George. His hunting partner did not do him any good when he was killed by a brownie on the south end of Admiralty. The pink salmon run never showed up in 1988. By October the brown bears were facing a long winter without the fat they needed. So when the brownie heard the bleat call of a blacktail he reacted like mom had just rung the dinner bell. He was probably surprised as he leaped off the ledge onto George and discovered he was not a deer. By that time George’s rifle was jammed into the ground up to the trigger guard and the meal was there for the taking. George’s hunting partner heard the screams but was unable (or chose not to) to come to George’s aid. The seven man search team followed the bear’s trail up the mountain side 1500 feet and along the ridge line a quarter mile. They stopped the brown bear’s charge by emptying their rifles into him. Considering all the men were packing .375 H&H Magnums, .458 Magnums, and a couple of .338s, it is remarkable how much distance the bear covered while technically dead. A bear’s heart beat so slow that he can run a hundred yards and treat you like a Mr. Potato Head after you have blown his heart out. The boar was in perfect health, in his prime, but lacking his winter fat. The searchers found George stuffed under a blowdown serving as a pantry. I have never had to kill a brownie, but friends of mine with first hand experience say you have to break them down by shattering their shoulders. You stop them and then kill them. Alaska Department of Fish and Game test revealed that even the largest magnums had little effect with a head shot on a brownie. Sloped like the front end of a Panzer tank the thick skull bone protects the brain from everything but the perfect shot.

It is a fearsome thing to have eight hundred pounds of fur coming at you faster than a quarter horse. Brown bears possess a phenomenal sense of smell and equally bad eye sight so they often run toward something until they identify it. I have had them come within twenty or thirty yards before they turn and run. So, you can’t start blasting away at one hundred yards. You have to wait. Of course from twenty yards you only have one good shot. There is a major clue to an approaching bear’s intent. If the brownie’s teeth are clacking and slobber is flying then you had better be a good shot, ready to volunteer for one of those extreme plastic surgery shows on TV, or stand before God.

Scott’s bear was clacking and slobbering and broke out of the brush at less than twenty yards! Scott should have been a statistic. Each year some hunter gets chewed up or killed by a bear in Alaska. Several years ago one Southern Baptist pastor from North Pole made the Outdoor Life Network channel for his mauling on a moose hunt. For some inexplicable reason (also known as divine intervention) the sow spun with the impact of each of Scott’s shots. Reloading as quickly as he could work the bolt Scott emptied his rifle. With an empty magazine the bear could finish him off, but instead ran back into the brush. After Scott had reloaded the bear again charged and again spun with each impact. The bear dropped after the seventh shot.

Scott now faced a dilemma. He had to recover the bear hide or be cited for wanton waste and up to a $10,000 fine. The green hide and skull weighted over a hundred pounds. And if he reported the kill as self defense he would be subject to an investigation to substantiate his claim. If proven to be a valid case of self defense the state would then confiscate the hide and it would end up in the office of some bureaucrat in Juneau. If they ruled against self defense Scott faced major penalties. At that time Alaskan residents could shoot one brown bear every four years. Scott had never shot one, but he did not have the $25 tag. So, Scott skinned out the bear, packed the hide, the skull, and a ten pound tracking collar the bear was wearing down the ridge two miles to his skiff, returned to town, and bought a tag. According to state regulations he had a period of time before he had to submit the hide and skull to Fish and Game for sealing.

The story should end there except that same afternoon two fish and game researchers flew their weekly tracking flight over Admiralty. They located all their subject bears except “Sally.” She was their longest running subject. They looked everywhere for her but she had disappeared. Even if she had been killed by a boar or a landside the collar would still be transmitting. The bear researchers could not figure it out. The collars are just about indestructible.  Finally resigned to the loss of a major research animal the men flew back to Juneau. Imagine their surprise when the tracking system registered Sally’s signal as they flew the down wind leg of the airport traffic pattern.

Imagine Scott’s wife’s surprise when she answered the door to find two men standing on the front steps with their tracking antenna and gear. When she opened the door one man asked her, “Do you have a brown bear in your house?” Sally told them her husband had been hunting and had placed a hide in the chest freezer. Scott had left town for a few days and would finish the required paperwork when he returned.  She gave the men permission to enter the garage and retrieve the tracking collar.

The Fish and Game guys were unhappy. Positive that Scott had purchased the tag after the shooting they wanted to bring every charge possible against him. However, knowing and proving are two different things. After a few weeks they finally gave up trying to make Scott a resident of Lemon Creek Jail. Several months later my wife and I had a number of friends over for a Christmas party. Things were going well until I introduced Scott to another friend. Ralph worked for Fish and Game, Sport Fish Division, and a close friend of the bear researchers. Needless to say things became awkward when Ralph said, “So you are the guy who shot Sally!”

The Genesis account reveals a key element of human nature; man thinks he can hide his sins. Adam and Eve scrambled into the bushes when they heard God approaching; Cain tried to act like he knew nothing of Abel’s death; Ananias and Sapphira counted on fooling the church about the amount of money they were holding back from their land sale while pretending they had given all of the proceeds to the church. Church people become experts at cover ups. If I cheat another businessman I am “shrewd.” If I loose my temper it is “righteous indignation.” If I act familiar with a person of the other sex who is not my spouse I am just being friendly. Self-centeredness becomes “self-esteem.” We rationalize our sins and think we fool others as well as we have fooled ourselves. Internet pornography is at epidemic proportions in the church today. One reason is its accessibility. It is easier to surf a porn site than going down to a strip club. It is also easier to hide. Someone may drive by and see you coming out of the “Adult Bookstore” or club. No one is looking over your shoulder while you work on your computer.

One of Satan’s most effective lies is, “No one will ever know.” You may fool everyone. However, two people will always know; you and God. And God promises that we will reap a harvest of whatever we have sown. Galatians six’s law of sowing and reaping contains either a wonderful promise of blessing or fearful warning of judgment. Another of Satan’s lies is, “You aren’t hurting anyone.” I am sure that Eve would have never disobeyed God if she had known that it would lead to one son murdering the other.

When we are tempted to sin we need to remember Scott and his bear in the freezer. We think we can hide our sins but they will come out at the worst possible moment with the greatest effect on our loved ones. Facing a couple of Fish and Game researchers can’t compare to standing before a Holy God.

Called to be an Outfitter

A few years ago I realized two formative truths: The Army did a better job of teaching me what it meant to be a “real helicopter pilot” than the church did teaching me what it means to be a Christian; and, The Great Commission is about making disciples, not “praying a prayer.” An outfitter supplies the needed equipment and experience to help the outdoorsman complete his hunt. He knows the terrain and the challenges. A good outfitter is in the business because he loves the outdoors. He enjoys sharing the journey with clients new to the region. Having been an outfitter in Alaska and a pastor, it is only natural to focus on OutfittingDisciples.

Mick and Mentoring

Another chapter from my ill fated book for outdoorsmen.

My troller, "Debit," near Haktaheen, Cross Sound, Alaska

My troller, "Debit," near Haktaheen, Cross Sound, Alaska

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.  And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” 1 Thess 1:5-9 (NKJV)

Among handtrollers Mick was a highliner. I fished the same drags for a season and knew about him before I met him. Southeastern Alaska commercial salmon fishing had several major categories: gill netters, purse seiners, and trollers. Gill netters typically used a thirty foot bow picker. Working the inside canals and fjords they would drop their nets in the path of migrating fish and then pull the loaded net over the bow of the boat onto a huge reel. The fisherman would stand in the bow and pick out the salmon as they came aboard with their heads stuck in the gill net. The nets had depth and length restrictions designed to allow spawning escapement. Purse seiners were fifty plus foot vessels. When the skipper located a school of fish he would have the skiff pull out the net into a large circle around the school. Both ends of the net would be run through a hydraulic puller on the top of a boom while the bottom of the net was drawn tight forming a large pouch, or purse. As the purse was pulled alongside the seiner the crew would often have to hand dip enough fish out before the net could be lifted aboard. I have seen seiners covered with fish until they were spilling over the gunwales. There are stories about greedy skippers trying to make it to the processor with their decks awash and finally sinking. Net fisherman had certain days of the week and areas of the region they could fish. It was all designed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to ensure a certain number of spawners returning to the streams. Net fishermen targeted silver, sockeye, and pink salmon and were paid for fish in the round, or uncleaned. Their catch ended up in the can.

Trollers targeted silver and king salmon and sold gutted and gilled fish to be sold whole in the fish markets. Originally anyone could commercial fish. As the state grew and more fishermen joined the industry the state enacted the Limited Entry system for power trollers, and for a few years anyone could still enter the handtroll fleet. Power trollers use hydraulics to run four “gurdies,” or reels, mounted on each gunwale. Each gurdy held several hundred feet of stainless steel cable attached to a forty to sixty pound lead ball. As the “cannon” ball lowered the fisherman would clip on “spreads,” 120 pound leaders of varying length, with an assortment of terminal tackle and baits. Traditionally trollers would run twenty fathom spreads. Fishing the 120 feet depth contour line along prominent migratory points a troller would be running six spreads per down line using trolling poles to spread the gear. Trollers used plugs, spoons, herring, and hoochies (rubber skirt squids). Hand trollers used the same gear as the power trollers except we were limited to four lines total and since we used muscle instead of hydraulics our cannon balls weighted no more than forty pounds. Hand cranking a thirty pounder all day long developed the arms.

Over the years traditions developed among trollers. To the casual eye the shoreline on the back side of Admiralty Island all looked the same. Yet, trollers would fish False Point Retreat and south of Funter’s Bay bypassing miles of other shoreline. The traditional drag was fished starboard to the shore and entered on the outside of the daisy chain of boats if there were several boats in the drag. If the number of boats required you would troll the outside of the circuit catching nothing instead of doing a tight circle staying on the fish. The old timers had a way of enforcing troller etiquette; they would shot a few rounds into the violator’s hull!

Mick should have qualified for a power troll permit when the state passed limited entry. Technicalities, as often happen with bureaucracies and regulations, placed him in the handtroll group. Mick knew how to fish. A top money maker each year many trollers would watch him with binoculars or follow him from drag to drag. I knew little about trolling. I had a 23 foot Oregon dory with a small cabin, no heater, no head, and no comfort. The openings were usually a week long and I would fish for three or four days at a time. I tried to make up for my lack of skill by putting in more time than the other fishermen. Funter’s Bay had a floating dock where handtrollers often would tie up at night and socialize. Most mornings around 4:00 I would untie and troll out the bay and fish south. Summer time darkness came around 11:00 at night and I would get back to the dock shortly after. Each morning Mick was pulling out at the same time and we returned within minutes of each other. I think that is why on one cool night Mick invited me to “mug up.” After a day of working alone, or with just a crewmember, fishermen enjoyed getting together. You would see several boats rafting up in a cove for the night and everyone would be on one of the boats drinking coffee or hot chocolate while listening to the marine operator channel or playing cards.

Over the next few years we became friends. Mick taught me how to fish and what it means to be Alaskan. Mick had a 42 footer with a twelve foot beam. We would sit in his galley as he showed me the correct way to rig the different baits, talked about the timeline and locations for intercepting the salmon, and anything else related to commercial fishing.

Alaskans are special people and Mick is an Alaskan. Mick taught me what it means to be Alaskan. My sons are Alaskan by birth; I am by the grace of God and the teaching of Mick. He and his brother, Swede, used airboats to prospect and hunt the Berners Bay area and were the first people I contacted after sinking my airboat. Swede walked with a funny gait. He had played Goldilocks with three brown bears and won. He and Mick with two friends had killed two moose about a hundred yards apart up the Lace River. The day of the kills they had packed out all the meat while leaving the racks and gut piles. Alaska has strict game laws concerning wanton waste so meat must be salvage before trophies. Neither moose had very large racks but the next day the friends insisted on recovering the antlers. Against their better judgment Mick and Swede agreed. They reached the first kill site without any problems. However, while walking the narrow trial through the alder thicket to the second kill a large sow ambushed Swede. Mick rushed to the yells and growls to find Swede on his back trying to keep the sow from ripping open his abdomen. She managed to chew Swedes knees and thighs so he looked like chopped liver before Mick was able to kill her. As the sow fell off of Swede he was able to grab his rifle and stop the two charging 300 pound cubs. Mick carried Swede down river to the bay but had to evacuate him by plane due to the rough seas. Swede rode in the back of a pickup to the hospital and refused to sit in a wheel chair while being admitted. The next day Mick arrived at Swede’s hospital room in time to see a Fish and Wildlife Protection Officer scurrying out. Mick entered to find Swede out of the bed trying to rip out the IVs so he could attack the “Fish Cop.” When a hunter claims self defense for killing a bear, especially a sow with cubs, the Fish Cops complete the equivalent of a murder investigation. It seems that Swede did not appreciate the officer’s contention that he unnecessarily killed the cubs.

My last experience with Mick came during the fall brown bear season. I agreed to take a visiting speaker on a hunt in late October. I had a licensed hunting guide in the church so we were all set. The services had been a real blessing and after a busy season I was looking forward to four or five days out of town. The first night we set up camp in a prime area up the Berners. Huge tracks covered the sandbars due to the large late silver salmon run as the bears packed on the last fat before winter. The next day a winter front moved in with plummeting temperatures. The river began to ice while the snow fell. Going home was not an option until the gale force winds abated. To make matters worse it appeared the brownies had headed to the dens with the arrival of the weather. When it seemed that things were going sour rather quickly Mick showed up and invited us to his cabin. We followed him down river sliding over the ice into clear water. For the next three days we sat in Mick’s cabin enjoying the warmth of his oil stove and his endless accounts of Alaskan life.

At that point of my life I was not aware of the term “mentoring.” I just knew that Mick took a life time of outdoor skills and experiences and shared them with me. His wisdom and practical skills saved me from serious harm in a country that is as deadly as it is beautiful. Mick not only told me what to do, he showed me. Jesus told the disciples that he would make them fishers of men. He then spent the next three years showing them how to do it. He discipled them. Christianity is a life changing faith and that change comes through not only the acquisition of knowledge but the impartation of skills. It is caught more than taught. Remember the Great Commission tells us to make disciples.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians not only of his teaching, but how he had lived with them. Paul did not tell them to “do what I say, not what I do.” Paul poured his life into them and every other Christian God allowed him to meet. Paul knew the power of example. It will make a difference in someone’s life and your own.