LAVACA, Ark. – More than 1,300 men and boys gathered for the Sportsman’s Safari at the rural church near Fort Smith, Ark., Sept. 15. With exhibits by outdoor sports vendors, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and trophy buck hunters, the Safari hoped to use the passion for hunting to stir in men a passion for Christ.
The goal of the event was "to get guys to see the things at church that they're normally looking for in the woods on Sunday," said Grant Ethridge, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lavaca for 16 years.
"This is men reaching men. I tell them, 'Isn't it ironic that you can come to church and see all of these bucks, what you're looking for in the woods.' Then I tell them, 'It doesn't matter if you have your name in the record book for having killed the biggest buck. The real question is whether or not your name is in the Book of Life.'"
"We wanted to do an exciting event for men in the area," said Stuart Smithson, First Baptist's associate pastor of children. "Men, hunters in this area, are one of the most unreached groups of people. We see a lot of single moms, even married moms, in church each week. But the fathers are not involved. They're out hunting."
To spark the interests of these men, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson shared his insight on African big game hunting. Patterson displayed photos of his African trophies but noted that he actually had come to tell the hunters about "America's number one problem and what they can do about it." That problem, a war against boys and the establishment of laws to prevent men from hunting and owning guns, has produced a generation of fathers disconnected from their sons, he said.
"Today there is a war against boys ... you've got to make little girls out of your little boys," Patterson said. Boys have been prohibited even from portraying superheroes on school playgrounds because the behavior is said by psychologists to illustrate aggressiveness, Patterson said. "Never mind that Batman and Superman were always on the side of right," he said.
However, Patterson said he believes dads can still give boys what they need, and that when fathers provide for their sons the nation is strengthened. Little boys, he said, need three things: a dog, a gun and a dad.
"Every little boy needs a dog," Patterson said, "and not a little 'yip' dog, but a big dog that he can be proud of." By learning to care for the dog and providing its food, grooming and veterinary needs, Patterson said the boy will learn responsibility.
Similarly, the boy will learn responsibility and respect for the safety of others if he has a gun. "Get him a gun," Patterson said. "Not a play gun, but a real gun. Play guns are the most dangerous guns in the world."
Patterson recalled that when he was teaching his son how to shoot his first rifle, he took him out on a west Texas ranch at dusk. "I put a can up on the fence and he aimed. When he pulled that trigger, fire flew from the end of that gun and lit up the place, and he thought he'd been kicked by a mule." The event reinforced in his son the danger of using guns irresponsibly.
Patterson also said that every boy needs a father, for without a father there "is no image in the house they can relate to. He needs a daddy who doesn't just bring home the bacon, but who develops a relationship with him."
According to Patterson, sons follow after their fathers naturally. "No little boy needs a daddy or granddaddy who will take him to hell. He's going where you're going. ... When you go to hell, look back over your shoulder, he'll follow you there."
Therefore, Patterson said, the men must prepare for the future by coming to Christ. Then, God would make each one a "real man" and guarantee him eternal life; their sons would follow their example.
"You won't go to hell and you won't take your kid there. You'll go to heaven and your kid will follow you there."
That same theme was presented again at a second sportsman's banquet at Little Rock's First Baptist Church the following evening. More than 600 attended the church's second annual outreach.
There, Patterson showed the crowd "Boone and Crockett Club's 24th Big Game Awards" book for 1998-2000. Several of the largest deer harvested in the United States were harvested in Arkansas, according to the book.
Touching up on the salvation offered to every man, Patterson said, "There is one book that everyone can get in." In fact, he said, it would "be a personal disaster and a family disaster if you didn't get in."
Patterson told the sportsmen that not getting their names in the Lamb's Book of Life would cause them to be separated from God for eternity. Jesus, he said, had paid the "entry fee" so each person could have his or her name written in God's Book.
"I'll probably never make Boone and Crockett, but my name is written in God's Book," Patterson said.
First Baptist's sportsman banquet featured dog trainer Chris Akin and Boomer, the championship Labrador Retriever and winner of the 2003 ESPN Outdoor Games competition, and championship archer Jim Ingram. Ingram, who has placed among the top 10 archers in the world for the past eight years, offered his testimony while his 5-year-old son, Zach, demonstrated shooting techniques with his bow.
Twenty-seven men made decisions for Christ at the Lavaca banquet. Another 36 made decisions at the Little Rock banquet.