By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
WOODWORTH – Cowboy hats vied with baseball caps for space atop the heads of the 500 or more first- through sixth-grade boys at this year’s RA Congress.
One young man even wore chaps on his legs and spurs – decorated with his first name, Read – on his boots for the mid-March event that this year carried the theme “Cowboy Up!” The chaps and spurs were gifts from his uncle, who rides the rodeo circuit in Texas, explained Read Areingdale, 10; he attends Calvary Baptist Alexandria.
The “Cowboy Up!” theme will continue at RA Camp this summer, June 24-27 at Tall Timbers Baptist Conference Center in Woodworth, which also was the site of the RA Congress.
“It has a good message,” said Brady Sanders, 12, of First Baptist Pineville of this year’s RA Congress. “You need to saddle up and get on with God.” It was Sanders’ second year to participate in RA Congress, the statewide missions education gathering for boys and their leaders.
This was perhaps the most multi-faceted of any Louisiana RA Congress.
Headlined by Paul Daily, who tamed a wild horse while the boys and their leaders watched in rapt attention, the two-day event also included a mechanical bull, goat tipping, ropin’ ridin’ and chasing calves – chasing chickens too – plus pony rides, hay dig, greased pig, horseshoes, stick horse races, Pony Express sack cloth races, cowboy crafts, wagons and buggies to sit on, and Old West weaponry: sling shots, BB guns and the like.
This plus the usual RA Congress stuff: Soap Box Derby, Pinewood Derby, kid-friendly food, and four missionaries. Boys being boys, there was also a considerable bit of running, jumping, football, soccer, and doing a bit of Davy Crockett in “the woods” across a narrow creek.
“I like it,” said Gabriel Craig, 11, who attends New Life Community Church in Alexandria. “I like to be with all my friends,” he added as he looked up from the Subway Surfer game he was playing on his Kindle Fire while waiting in line for lunch.
“I like the lessons they teach while training the horses,” Craig continued. “God will reach out and help if you let Him.”
A sturdy 6-year-old, Kyler McNeely of First Baptist Pineville, gathered his courage to ride a calf that had been roped by at least five boys working together. The calf was down on the ground. McNeely perched himself astride the miniature black bull. The other boys let the tension ease on the rope and the calf came up bucking. McNeely held on for about seven seconds less than the eight seconds needed to score, and the ground that hit him was harder than expected, but at least he tried.
Not long after the calf-riding, it was time for Paul Daily to tame a wild horse. Bales of hay to be used as seats had been stacked around a portable round pen, inside of which the horse ran wildly around and around and around.
People live their lives in much the same way, Daily said as he reached out his hand. “Stop your rat race and look at God,” Daily said as the horse warily examined the horse whisperer’s hand from a safe distance. “God is reaching out to you and me.”
Within 45 minutes, Daily’s daughter was riding that no-longer-wild horse, and probably nearly every one of Daily’s listeners was pondering one or more of the spiritual truths he had given while taming the horse. Here’s one: “We can’t help what happens in our life, but we can handle how we react.”
Here’s another: “You can’t get away from where God is.”
By the end of RA Congress 2013, 48 Lads and Crusaders made spiritual commitments. The 500 in attendance came from 25 churches, up from 19 last year.
Ricky Howard, who works as a forester when he’s not leading the RA chapter at Quitman Baptist Church, said he gets as much out of RA Congress as do the youngsters he’s brought with him for the last dozen years or more.
“I was an RA like them once,” Howard said. “I love to try to steer the boys in the right direction. … I’ve seen that those who stay with RAs, stay close to the Lord as young adults.”