WILLISTON–When it comes to summer camp experiences, the teens and tweens who attended Cowboy Camp at Rafter Cross Cowboy Church in Williston may have quite the leg up over their peers.
Instead of the more traditional canoeing, archery and lake swimming, cowboy campers were roping and tying steer, catching greased pigs with their bare hands, and doing a little donkey jousting, shovel surfing, steer skiing and more.
“This is probably the first one that has ever been done like this in Florida,” said Pastor Billy Keith, who organized the camp with a crew of volunteers. About 90 students, ages 8 to 18, from Williston and the surrounding area, attended.
Cowboy Camp was held over three days at the church property in Williston, running each day from about 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. For this event they brought in a camp pastor and a camp band that had participated in previous cowboy camps through the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches. About 70 additional volunteers helped make the camp possible including a security team, activity leaders, food team, crafts team and three nurses and a paramedic.
Like Vacation Bible School, the camp started each morning with music from the band and a short challenge from the pastor. Then campers, separated into herds according to their age, were led to various activities throughout the day. Lunch was followed by more activities, then dinner and an evening worship experience. A final hour of fun and games would end the day.
Campers got to try their hands at roping, tying and even painting branding steer. They also roped goats and chased greased pigs. With pool noodles in hand, students took part in donkey jousting. They also had fun with water slides and games, muddy kick ball, wet volleyball and tug of war. Crafts included working with leather, burning wood and tie-dying T-shirts.
Throughout the day, campers were also taught about the love of Christ. As the youngsters rotated to each activity, there would be an opening and closing prayer, as well as a short devotion from the activity leader.
“All day long they were hearing about Jesus,” Keith said. “Our whole purpose is for kids to find Jesus.”
“Freedom from fear took on a whole new meaning for a lot of them because on the first day they were scared to death,” Keith said of students interacting with the animals, many for the first time. “But by the second day it was amazing to see how that fear had dissolved.”
And before camp was over, 15 students had made professions of faith and were baptized the cowboy way in a horse trough. Several campers and their families have even started attending the church, which is the goal of outreach events like the camp.
The church was originally scheduled to take its youth to a cowboy camp in Alabama as had been done in previous years. When that camp was cancelled due to COVID-19, the church decided to do its own camp, said Keith, who helped start the cowboy church back in 2006.
“These kids have been stuck at home, away from their friends, out of school. Their lives have been turned upside down,” Keith said. “We wanted to give them something before summer was up. It didn’t seem like anyone else was doing anything, so we decided we’d let God lead this thing and we’d try it.”
The camp was so successful that organizers have decided to do it again next year. With rave reviews from campers, plus changes and improvements already planned for next year, organizers are expecting an even bigger crowd. And they like the idea of reaching the locals.
“Instead of sending our kids off somewhere, we feel that it’s important that we focus on our own backyard and reach out to our community and the surrounding places.”