Ariton Baptist Church hosted its third Second Chance Ministries Youth Hunt Nov. 13.
Designed to share the message and love of Jesus Christ, the hunt provides fellowship and allows children with an absent parent to enjoy God’s outdoor creation.
According to Boyd Deal, Second Chance Ministries chairman, the event began after a friend suggested he take a young man hunting in 2017. Bo Stewart’s father died in an accident in 2014, and his mother, Becky, had been praying for someone to fulfill the boy’s wish to go hunting.
Deal lost his own father to cancer at just 10 years old; 40 years later he said he can see how God planted the seed that would help him understand there are children who need godly men and women to invest in their lives.
Holy Spirit at work
As Deal and Stewart hunted together, the Holy Spirit began to burden Deal’s heart with a desire to serve other children.
“When Bo left that afternoon I told my wife, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, but this is absolutely a mission field,'” Deal recalled. “God had just worn me out all afternoon and then in the tree stand I was thinking, ‘There’s lots of kids out there like Bo.’ That’s where it started.”
Deal later asked Dave Walsh, Ariton Baptist senior pastor, if the church would be willing to host and assist with a youth hunt project. The church agreed and, with the help of donors and community volunteers, began hosting the event in 2018, missing 2020 due to COVID-19.
Second Chance Ministries was formed to coordinate the hunt, to which organizers invite youth ages 10-15 who have an absent parent. Two volunteers accompany each hunter, showing them how to hold a gun and look through a scope. Local game wardens offer safety education, and participants receive gifts like backpacks, coolers, cups, hats, gloves, hand-warmers and gift cards.
Hunting and fishing
Since organizing the hunt, Second Chance Ministries has added a fishing event. Deal said hunt participants “age out” at 15, but may continue fishing until age 18. Youth who aren’t able or interested in hunting often choose the April fishing event.
“It’s not just about the hunt,” Deal asserted. “We truly want to love on them. I always try to stress [to the kids that] there’s going to be some people that … invest in your life and go and do things for you. I can tell you that because I’ve walked that walk.
“[The Stewarts] have probably ministered to me more than I’ve ministered to them,” he reflected. “I have been to Cate’s graduation from high school. I’ve been to football games and soccer games. Me and my wife, Leah, both have tried to be active in their lives.”
Walsh noted some of the hunters live within 10 miles of the church, and volunteers often develop long-term relationships with them.
“Because of contacts we’ve made through the hunt, we actively seek out ways to help the hunters throughout the school year,” Walsh said. “We also try to impress upon the parent or grandparents that we are here to assist them and their youth in any way possible.”
And while the focus is on serving the students, Walsh has witnessed the impact the hunt has on volunteers, especially those who serve as hunting partners.
“When [adult partners] talk about their experiences with these youth who are either parentless or missing one parent, it is not unusual to hear the awe in their voices or to see tears in their eyes,” Walsh recounted. “This hunt has brought many volunteers, for the first time in their lives, face to face with the realities and possibilities of ministry.”
Becky Stewart, who had prayed for someone to take her son hunting, has seen the impact the Deals have made on her children’s lives and now is a hunt volunteer, recruiting many students.
“God blessed us with not only an opportunity to hunt and to learn things about hunting, but really introduced us to open our hearts up to friendships in Christ at the same time,” Stewart said. “I love connecting people and seeing people engaged. I wanted to be a part of my children’s experience, but I also enjoy helping people feel connected.
“What I appreciate so much about this ministry is just the gift of time because there are so many people doing this in a way to honor God. People have helped by giving their time, their money, their land and their expertise at hunting. It’s pretty incredible.”
Deal welcomes the opportunity to speak to groups about starting a similar program. For more information contact Ariton Baptist Church at 334-762-2523.