What an Awesome Month!!
God showed up big time during the July Kicking Bear camps in Wisconsin and Michigan! In these uncertain, trying times God showed up through so many incredible people to bring joy, fellowship, and healing to so many of the Kicking Bear friends and family members. At our most recent camp events the folks that came got to forget about the world’s troubles and darkness, just go out, and hoot, holler, and go wild at our great venues. We saw God move into many young people’s hearts when they chose to be baptized under a sky lit by fireworks! There were many special encounters at each of the camps, so let’s encourage you with some of them.
During our West Salem camp at Maple Grove Venues we had such a great turn out of participants with over 370 people showing up to fly down a 150-foot waterslide, run the Kicking Bear Tough Course, and shoot all the different and unique archery targets, throw tomahawks, shoot BB guns, and even shoot pop bottles with wrist rockets! There was a great team that was well prepared and created a loving environment that could be both seen and felt. None of this would have taken place without the relentless effort of all these volunteers who made this a safe and fun environment for everyone.
Pastor Matt Schroeder from Horizon Christian Fellowship Church, La Crosse, WI and his team prepared and packed sack lunches for everyone. Austin Siewert, with One Trust Realty, provided backpacks for all the kids; these were filled with several different “treasures” including the Simple Gospel. Pastor Travis Becknell and his worship team from New Hope Fellowship Church in Onalaska, WI played up-lifting Christian music during the lunch break and during the baptisms. It was awesome to witness all the singing and dancing! A huge marshmallow fight broke out after the games and for 40 minutes the “battle” waged on. At the same time, the bonfire was lit, and it was the size of a one-story building. The crowd gathered around as Pastor Billy Hestand from Bethan Ev. Free Church, La Crosse, WI shared the message. Everyone was focused on his words. Afterward, Billy gave the invitation to the crowd that if anyone would like to have Jesus as their personal Savior, they should join him in prayer. There were so many decisions for Christ, and we were handing out Salvation Poem cards and Bibles at the same time as all the hands reached out for them. (Bibles were donated by the Gideons at Living Word Church in La Crosse, WI) Then the question was asked, “Would anyone like to be baptized here tonight?” Then one by one they came up to get interviewed for baptism. All these kids wanted to let the world know that they love and follow Jesus!
At my station, the tomahawk throw, it was so refreshing to see kids be able to compete, whole-heartedly, against each other as they chased the “World Record” for the number of tomahawks stuck in a row. Zack won with 39 in a row!! Another highlight was getting to see whole families compete against each other. “I BEAT MOM!” one little girl said, and I got to see that family grow closer together in that moment. That’s what Kicking Bear camps are all about! There was SO much joy and laughter to be heard, especially from the kids screaming down the waterslide! The folks from Centershot Ministry and Genesis bows showed up to help the Kicking Bear Team instruct proper form on the archery course, and they also shared how Jesus first showed us the proper archery form. The local Fire Department, Police Department, and officers from the DNR all gave presentations on their equipment and there were even awesome animal furs that could be touched. Thank you to all the service men and women!
Rick Pedersen, Division Publisher and Editorial Director for Driftless Outdoors Magazine, said, “I contacted Ray to see what Kicking Bear camps were all about and Ray invited me to the West Salem camp. I remember meeting Ray over 20 years ago at a gym and also met him several times since. He has a larger than life personality and performs his intended mission of faith.” During the next several hours at the camp, my feelings ran from goosebumps to almost tears of joy as I witnessed the interaction of all the kids and their families—I saw lives being changed! It was amazing to see the activities I witnessed and how smoothly the event ran. Ray and his team managed the group of volunteers as efficiently as military generals and with the same precision. As I listened to countless success stories, I knew my calling was not only to be part of all this as a partner, but to use my God-given gift to write, to share, and to spread the Kicking Bear mission. Words can’t describe this opportunity nor my level of excitement!
Aaron Scheer, President of Centershot Ministries, was one of the many great volunteers at the camp. Here’s what he had to say about the camp, “I always love going to a Kicking Bear Camp because I see and meet great people, but I also get to do one of my most favorite things in the world, and that’s teaching kid after kid how to shoot a bow. You get to see their self-confidence grow right before your eyes. They thank you with a grateful heart because you helped them overcome their fear. At the end of the night you see those same kids listening to a message about our wonderful Savior. Then beneath the fireworks, the baptism tank is full—only at a Kicking Bear Camp! “
After all the games and wild events, Aaron was asked to interview each kid that wanted to get baptized. He remembers asking them questions to make sure they understood what this first step of obedience represented, and then it happened! A 12-year-old girl came forward to Aaron with a look of sadness and fear in her eyes. He asked her the same question he asked all the kids, “Why do you want to be baptized”? What she said next broke his heart. “I don’t know if I need to get baptized yet, I think I have evil in me.” As his heart sank he said, “Oh sweetheart, there is One who is greater than all evil”. She asked, “Is that Jesus?” He explained that Jesus has overcome evil and He offers us safety and salvation. At that moment she asked Jesus to forgive her, and she gave her life to Him. The baptisms continued, and they were almost finished when, to Aaron’s surprise, the young girl came walking back up to him holding someone’s hand. With a big smile she said, “This is my brother and he wants to be free like me.” As Aaron thought about that experience, he said, “Freedom—it still overwhelms me.”
At First Free Church in Onalaska, WI Kevin Bonnar is a youth pastor and at the last two West Salem camps he’s been one of the many incredible pastors that has stepped up to volunteer. This year, as he was by the bonfire with the fireworks going off helping Ray baptize 10 young people. he said, “There was an overwhelming feeling of joy that came from those kiddos as they came up and out of that water, and their families were there cheering.” Talk about an unbelievable experience! The smiles and tears that overcame many of the kids and families truly let you know that God was present in an incredible way. “The way that the outdoors, a bow and arrow, and, most importantly, God are so beautifully intertwined in this ministry, well, it is truly what Jesus asked us all to do in Mathew 28:19-20,” Kevin shared. And Kevin wanted to tell everyone, “If Ray or any of the Kicking Bear Team members invites you to come share the Gospel, make a little ruckus and tear it up with friends and family, you’ll do yourself a big favor by saying “yes”!”
Now let’s jump over to the Roscommon, MI Kicking Bear camp where Michael Ritchie had a special encounter with a young man at the camp. “Day one of Kicking Bear-Centershot camp in Roscommon, MI and we were doing a practice round for Saturday’s Centershot tournament. I could see the frustration grow on young John’s face as he was shooting a bow for only the second time in his life. He was not even hitting the target half the time. Introducing myself to the youngster in the coonskin cap I asked him if I could make some suggestions on his shooting form. Looking down he nodded and said “yes.”
The name John is a biblical name and means “God has been gracious.” Talking to his foster father, Michael learned that John had not had an easy life. Both of his parents struggled with addictions, and John has since bounced from foster home to foster home. Michael thought about Ray Howell’s testimony, and could see a young “Ray” standing before him, and he instantly saw a boy with a huge future in God’s hands. “John, squint your left eye, then keep your right eye open, and finally relax your grip,” Michael told him. He immediately began to hit the target and he could see John’s confidence start to soar.
Now it was Saturday and the Centershot tournament was set up with 62 registered shooters, including John. In the end he shot very, very respectable to finish with a score of 162 out of 300. Not bad for his first time shooting competition! After giving out the awards we were scheduled to baptize three young people in the lake. As they were baptizing the last person, John wandered down and stood in the water. “John, why are you here?” Michael asked. “I want to be baptized.” he replied proudly. Surely God is gracious! John and his foster Dad have been in church the last two weeks, and Michael has been speaking to him about salvation and discipleship. To sum things up Michael said, “Remember, every child is just one caring adult away from success. Put a bow in the hand of a child and lead them to Jesus!“ Couldn’t have said it better ourselves Michael!
God Bless you!