The Joy of Rodeo: FBR in the U.S.

24 February 2024

Dear friends,

As you may know, in Burma we use horses and mules to move supplies and for riding. In Iraq and Syria, we’ve made many friends by rescuing horses and by riding with the locals. When we visit America, we like to continue that and, because of the generosity of cowboys and cowgirls in America and the blessing of God, we get to take part in rodeos when we’re in the U.S.  

Rodeo is a great American event that exemplifies the wild and free spirit of the American west and the relationship between people and animals on the American frontier. The first rodeos held in America were held in Texas and Arizona and continue to this day as a friendly contest between cowboys, cowgirls, and their animals. Some of the events, such as rough stock, pit a man against a bucking bull or bronco. Other events, such as roping and barrel racing, have the riders and horses working together, catching and racing. Rodeo, unlike most sports, gives you only one chance. There’s no second down, there’s no extra innings. You have one shot, so you better not waste it. When the gate opens, you’re out – on a bucking bronco, or on a speeding horse trying to catch a quick and dodging steer.

Our children grew up in Burma, riding horses before they learned how to walk. They have become world-class equestrians and enjoy every aspect of horsemanship. Even though they are excellent riders, that doesn’t guarantee an entry into a rodeo. You have to have those specific skills and you need to have a good horse if you’re going to compete. In our travels back through America each year we have been blessed by God and generous cowboys and cowgirls who let us borrow horses and taught the kids the finer points of rodeo. Our very first rodeo happened because of the generosity and organization of the Woodall family, who now serve in FBR’s medical department. Later the Parsons, Angstroms, Gudmundsons and others in Washington provided opportunities at Diamond J Rodeo Camp. In Idaho and Wyoming, the Pierce, Smallwood, Linebaugh, La Rouche, Lamb, Miller, Nicholson, Pearce, and Kingston families provided coaching, horses, and trailers so that the kids could compete. That’s a lot of cowboys and cowgirls.

Mary Murdock, a champion barrel racer in her 70s, coached the girls to winning rides in Jackson, Wyoming, and was one of the great inspirations in their lives. She just passed away last year and we are all forever grateful to her, Brent, Jeff, and the whole family. Pete started out riding steers at six years old. He then graduated to bulls and once, despite breaking both arms, managed to win that event. He has won many competitions since. The girls started out as small junior barrel racers and then advanced to compete against the women. Without  the coaching and gifting of horses to us, none of this would have been possible. Every time we go to the US and compete in rodeos, whether it’s Washington State, Wyoming, or Texas, we are always awed by the generosity of people.

Even though each of the kids have won buckles and prizes, most of the time they actually lose. In rodeo, there’s only one winner in each event so by design most people lose. One night in Cody, Wyoming, our entire group lost in each of their events. This circle included the Wyoming state champion and other top rodeo contestants. But on this night, along with our kids, Peter, Sahale, and Suuzanne, they had all lost. Afterwards they all gathered together. The sky was dark and full of stars, the contestants and spectators, all gone, except for this little group. They stood in a circle, with the horses trailing behind them, and talked softly, looking at each other.

I was watching this and I could feel the sadness and disappointment they had at losing, but deeper than that I could see and feel the love they had for each other, a love that had only grown because of their shared losses. They were tight, encouraging each other. They weren’t blaming their team members if they were team ropers, or blaming their horses if they were barrel racers. There was no complaining about bad luck of the draw, or the judging. They just accepted the loss and recognized that their group’s friendship was based on something much deeper than winning or losing. Their love of each other, of their horses, and all the animals, was much deeper than the competition. They encouraged each other and finished up with a prayer and, “Love y’all, we’ll try again tomorrow night!“ The smiles on their faces as they said goodbye and led their horses off to the trailers were something to see. 

I stood there and watched and felt I just learned something about life. A lot of time we do lose, and that always hurts, but the love that we gain for each other, the empathy and sympathy that we share, is even sweeter. I believe, in God’s eyes, winning and losing is not that important. It’s loving each other and getting up to try again that He cares about. As one of our board members, Doug Yoder, reminded us when we lost a very important piece of equipment that we had prayed for and felt we needed to have: “If you felt God‘s peace that it was worth trying once, it’s worth trying again.”

I also think of Sahale’s first race when she transitioned from a junior barrel racer to competing with the adult women with almost no practice. We showed up, borrowed horses, and raced that night. Sahale came in last. But as she came across the finish line, she was beaming, standing up in her saddle, waving to the crowd in pure joy. I went up to her at the open gate, ready to comfort her, and she was still smiling and said, “Daddy, did you see that? I got to do this! I was there, I was there! Thank you, dad and mom, thank everyone, and thank God.” 

I thought, wow, that’s another lesson. Just the fact that we’re here is what counts, all of us in this together.

Thank you for letting us share this with you, as well as some photographs from our rodeos in America. It is an unexpected and undeserved gift to be able to come back from missions in Burma, the Middle East, Ukraine, and other places, and be able to ride in between visiting churches. Thank you so much for your love and prayers. Thank you all of you who live in America and make it a place we can come back to that is full of joy, peace, freedom, and such good things as rodeos! May God bless you all wherever you are, whatever you do, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Thanks and God bless you, Dave, family and FBR