A Powerful Ministry Tool

Foreword from John Hall, Executive Director of Mission Central:
On a flight home in March, I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Baize. Elizabeth works with Hope Mission in Edmonton. Hope Mission is a not-for-profit Christian social care agency founded in 1929. They run a variety of programs at several locations and in several cities around the province of Alberta. Elizabeth is the horse program coordinator at Bethany Homes, a property near Wetaskiwin. As I talked with Elizabeth, I realized that I was speaking to someone with a passion for discipleship through a non-traditional platform. It seemed Elizabeth’s experience could be informative for us all.


Two intense blue eyes stared up at me. “So, when I was leaving yesterday on the bus, I saw Billy running in the pasture. He was kind of sparkling. He was so beautiful!” I couldn’t help smiling as I listened to the fourth-grade boy raving about the beauty of his favorite horse. Trying to interpret my expression only made my young friend more intense. “No,” he insisted, “it really was beautiful.”

Anyone smiling along with me at this student’s comment must still admit that horses possess an incredible ability to capture attention. Considering that Billy was loping across the pasture just multiplied the attention-grabbing factor by ten. If seeing a moving horse through a bus window can impress a fourth grader’s heart so deeply that he shares his experience the next day, what will happen when he not only touches but also rides that animal? Horses have a unique capacity to help the rider draw focus away from himself, enhance his relationships with other people, and ultimately create an avenue that allows for a greater awareness of God as Creator and Savior.

A couple of years ago an especially hyperactive student showed up for our spring horsemanship program. As long as his feet were touching the ground, this small wiry boy with a short attention span kept everyone else on their toes. Mounted on a horse he became a different child. Instead of instigating conflict he took up the challenge of initiating communication with a 1,500-pound animal. Every particle of his being zoned into riding Spider. To succeed he had to think about his movements and how they impacted the animal beneath him. Sitting in a saddle also gave this student opportunity for positive attention from instructors as he concentrated his efforts toward developing a skill. Although this student’s interaction with a horse proved dramatic, it was not the exception to the rule. The physical and mental aspects of riding a horse inherently encourage even distracted individuals to project their attention beyond themselves.

Not only do horses tend to engage the rider’s full attention, but they also promote communication. I recall my own experience as a teenager attempting to teach my young horse to side pass. Blocking his forward motion with my reins, I used my leg to encourage him to move sideways over a log. In that moment of frustration when my horse did not understand my cues, I considered the convenience of just being able to tell him in words what I wanted. (Later I realized if my horse and I could carry on a verbal conversation, he would probably back talk.) Granted, establishing lines of communication with a horse may absorb a student’s time and patience, but when a young person finds himself controlling an animal ten times his size, his confidence rises. His success motivates him to keep those communication lines open .

Communication and confidence go hand-in-hand. This confidence gained through communicating with horses often translates to human relationships. Parents report that reserved students come home bursting with enthusiasm relaying animated reports of their horseback riding experience. These students have increased confidence to share their experiences with others, not to mention that they now have something interesting to relate. One parent even told me that her child had increased confidence in talking to people she had just met.

Ultimately the horse facilitates relationships that can allow a student a greater awareness of the Lord. Sitting on a horse proves to be much different from sitting at a desk. As a teacher, I relish this fact. Because it is not inanimate, the horse provides a living breathing avenue that fast-tracks my opportunity to build a relationship with the student on its back. On the last day of our spring program, a girl asked me a theologically involved question. In my answer I emphasized we should rely on what God’s Word says. As the day ended, the girl walked up to me and asked, “Can I have a Bible?”

The relationship that the other staff members and I developed with this girl through a horse program not only encouraged her to ask her spiritually-related question but also made her comfortable enough to ask for a copy of God’s Word.

Utilizing an aspect of God’s creation like the horse to capture attention and enhance communication leads into natural discussions about the Lord as Creator and Savior. Sir Winston Churchill stated well what individuals throughout the centuries have recognized when he said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” That “something” about the horse creates a powerful tool for Christian ministry.

Overheard at the Arena

Bits and Pieces

The little things, like an iceberg, sometimes are the tip of something huge. During my conversations with students in the arena, God occasionally gifts me with the opportunity to see a child engaging. Sometimes a student drops a comment. Sometimes a student asks a question. How significant are these moments? Only the Lord knows. I do know they have warmed my heart, given me fresh perspective, and, yes, made me smile. Perhaps they will also encourage you.

Trusting God

On the last day of the program, I asked the students if anyone would share something learned during our time together. Even though she could have easily shared something related to horses, one girl responded, “I learned to trust God with all my heart.” After the students had departed and the day had ended, an aspect of the moment returned to me in full force—the confidence in her voice against the backdrop of her peers. I pray she never loses that boldness.

Stewardship

Sharing the Genesis account of how God created the world naturally leads into a discussion of stewardship. I had impressed upon the students that God has given us responsibility to care for what He made. One student not only grasped the concept, but also verbalized his own analogy: “So, it’s like we are babysitters for God’s house.”

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