COWBOY MISSIONS Background
Over fifteen years ago, MUSTARD Seed IDEAS
The Story of Steve Reed’s Guatemala Cowboy Connection
“Come to Guatemala and drive around the country with me,” Cesar Gonzalez said, “and let’s dream of ministries for people who don’t like church.” That off-the-cuff invitation happened to me while on a mission trip to Costa Rica in January 2000. I thought the Guatemalan guy was crazy. I didn’t know anything about Guatemala, and I really wanted to go back to Costa Rica. But in March of 2000, I found myself bopping around Guatemala in a beat-up Datsun pickup with Cesar, a half crazy man who I later found out would have been a mafia hit man if God hadn’t gotten ahold of him!
At the time, I had been involved in four church starts in the Kansas City region and was about to start a fifth with my family and some friends. Since I had a few months of respite between starts, I had a little time to follow up on a whim like this. As a missionary kid for part of my growing up years in Costa Rica and in Peru, I spoke a little Spanish. But it was rusty. Cesar thought I was some kind of church planting expert, since I had done it a few times. I hadn’t told him that most of my ideas didn’t work! But it was too late for Cesar to take back his invitation now.
During the trip we saw all kinds of settings and people groups and dreamed up all kinds of ministry ideas. One day, we were driving through a dusty little cowboy town, and I saw several cowboys with their horses tied up to a hitchin’ post while they were leaning against a wall of a little cantina.
“Are there churches for guys like that around here?” I asked Cesar, pointing over to several guys wearing cowboy hats. “No,” Cesar answered. “Here, evangelical Christians believe it is impossible to be both a cowboy and a Christian.”
“Really?!” I shot back in disbelief.
“I don’t believe that,” Cesar interjected, “but that’s what the attitude is for most Christians. The cowboys are too wild for most church goers, and they certainly don’t get invited into any of the regular churches.”
“Well, what if I had some friends in the United States who could come down here and say, ‘I’m a cowboy and I’m also a believer in Jesus?’ Think that would help?”
“Yes!” Cesar exclaimed. “That’s one of the best ideas we’ve had this whole trip! We have to do that!”
We drove on from there and listed the cowboy idea along with our dozens of other ideas. Six months later, I was heavily involved in my church start in the suburbs of Kansas City, and Cesar called me. “Esteban! (my name in Spanish) Where’s my cowboys?!” Cesar yelled in a gruff voice.
“Cowboys? What do you mean 'cowboys'?” I had already forgotten.
“Remember, we were in such-and-such a town, and you promised me that you would bring me cowboys!”
“Oh yeah! Well, I’m working on it.” Obviously I was lying. I had forgotten about my promise and now I was in trouble. Where would I find cowboys in the suburbs of Kansas City? Not a cowboy in sight! At the time I was on a committee in our denomination, and a few weeks later, during an annual meeting, I had the microphone to make an announcement, and in that moment realized I could invite folks across our two-state convention of Kansas and Nebraska, to help me find some cowboys to go to Guatemala on a mission trip. I made my pitch.
After the meeting, Tom Huffman, a cowboy from the Sandhills of Nebraska walked up to me wearing his cowboy hat and boots and said, “Steve, I was half asleep when you gave your announcement, but some folks said I needed to come talk to you.”
TINY seeds continue to sprout
A few months later, Tom and two other guys went to Guatemala with me to make friends with cowboys and ranchers. Immediately the connections worked. After two or three years of taking teams down, we were consistently seeing cowboys come to Christ in our personal interactions and in our cowboy events. But we didn’t have any organized groups or churches established for them. One day, Cesar told one of our newly converted cowboys that he needed to get involved in a Bible study to learn the Bible and start growing in his faith. Cesar suggested he go to the church of one our pastor friends. A few months later, Cesar saw the man again, and the guy looked like he was mad enough to slug him.
“Don’t you ever send me back to one of those churches ever again!” he blurted.
“Why? What happened?” Cesar asked.
“I went to that church you told me about, and when I was about to walk in, someone said, ‘Excuse me, but you need to take your hat off. Show some respect for the church.’ So I took my hat off. You know how I feel without my hat. I feel naked. But I took my hat off. Then I was about to go in again, and they noticed I had my pistol on my hip. ‘We don’t permit guns in the sanctuary. Please remove your gun.’ Perturbed, I went back out to my truck and locked my gun up. Now I tiptoed, hat in hand, back into the sanctuary, and someone else noticed that I had cow manure on my boots, and they asked me to clean those up before entering. I turned around, got into my truck and left.”
With that, Cesar and I knew we couldn’t wait any longer. Even though we didn’t know what we were doing or how we were going to do it, we had to start some cowboy churches or none of our cowboy friends would ever have a place to grow in their new faith.
After a dozen years of trial and error, we currently have over 75 places we visit throughout Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
We have many invitations to go to places we have never been. And because of the favor we have received in working with Cattlemen’s Associations, we have many invitations to bring teams to speak and perform in rodeos all over Guatemala and Honduras. It’s a long story, but now we even have cowboy friends from other countries who are begging us to come help them.
Though we are still limited in our resources and manpower, we are working on a strategy to see Christian Rancher groups and cowboy churches established in all the countries of Central and South America. But we need cowboys and ranchers from North America to partner with us as we continue to use ordinary cowboys and ranchers from the United States to connect with folks in places where they still believe it is impossible to be a cowboy and a Christian.
Certainly, God is doing something this urban cowboy never dreamed could be possible!