Sunday, 22 April 2018

PRAYnksters Group Brings Giving Twist to 'Flash Mobs"

Jan/ Feb 2018




By Gaye Bunderson

Jeff Agosta, left, and Jesse Fadel, right, dressed up like Donkey Kong and Mario and hit the Capital City Public Market in downtown Boise one Saturday. The co­founders of PRAYnksters wanted to try being “courageous and adventurous”together. (Courtesy photo)

Jeff Agosta loves pranks so much his youngest foster daughter's first word was “Boo!”

The 34­-year-­old said he'll go wherever God takes him and use whatever talent he has for Him, even if it's a passion for playing pranks.

“I want to show God's love without shoving it down people's throats. People already see the negative in church and Christians,” he said.

PRAYnksters got off the ground three years ago. It was in an experimental phase, and it needed some tweaking. One day, while Agosta and his wife Tia were out walking in their neighborhood, they ran into Jesse Fadel, associate pastor at Eastwind Community Church in Boise. It was an accidental but pivotal meeting for PRAYnksters. The threesome started talking, and before you know it, they were all fired up about PRAYnksters and the ways it could go and grow.

“PRAYnksters was in a rough form at that point. Jesse was instrumental in helping form PRAYnksters as it is today,” Agosta said.

“Jeff and I discovered we both had an interest in video production, an interest in helping to reshape people's perceptions about Christians, and a desire to make an impact for God in our community,” Fadel said. “I came up with the cheesy but appropriate PRAYnksters name after we did a test­run video together, running around downtown at the Saturday market dressed as Mario and Donkey Kong. We wanted to make sure we could have fun together and do some courageous and adventurous things before jumping into a partnership.”

Agosta and Fadel's complementary personalities intertwine in a way that benefits the group. “He's grounded. I'm eccentric,” said Agosta, who feels he brings talent, passion for God, and a sense of humor to PRAYnksters. He likes goofy videos and having fun.

Fadel said, “I bring my connections as a pastor, my heart for people, and my desire to tell compelling stories to the team. Jeff has marketing genius, an insatiable drive for craziness and an audience, and a similar love for helping people.”

There are other members of PRAYnksters who help comprise “the team,” and more information about them may be found at

Something PRAYnksters is uniquely known for is its “giving mobs,” a term Agosta coined and which is a play on the term “flash mob,” a popular modern phenomenon where people gather to perform what seems like a spontaneous event, but which is usually planned ahead of time.

PRAYnksters members learn of a person in need, then set about raising funds and working out a way to give the money to the individual without his or her knowing and in a surprising and fun way — similar to a flash mob but with a Christian twist. Families can be unsuspecting giving mob recipients also.

One of their most famous giving mob moments was the time PRAYnksters gave $13,000 to aNampa mother diagnosed with cancer. Though mobs are generally thought of as unruly and bent on destruction, the mob that gave money to Amanda Kofoed of Nampa in 2016 surrounded her with support and encouragement. She didn't know almost 200 people were coming to give her a surprise display of love and generosity.

PRAYnksters creates a video each time it holds a giving mob, and posts it online. Some of the videos have gone viral, being viewed in places as far away as China and Ukraine. They've also gotten the attention of local and national news outlets.

“My favorite part of all this is when people replicate what we've done,” said Agosta. In otherwords, people see the video and perform their own giving mob to fill needs. They then post their videos online and the process repeats itself until more and more people are performing acts of kindness.

“This is one idea I wanted to do, and we've done it,” Agosta said. “It's giving in a fun and creative way. Find someone with a tangible need, create an inspirational video that's shareable, and make it something that affects the people that are part of it.”

He said people who've participated in his giving mobs include every walk of life, from believers to atheists. PRAYnksters precedes its mob moments with a prayer; no one is forced toparticipate, but Agosta's hope is that they enjoyed doing good for someone else and can take something from that.

PRAYnksters holds a giving mob about every other month and generally gets help from someone on the inside of a situation — someone who knows the individual or family in need and who can help set up a time and place for the giving mob to show up. It's the element of surprise that is essential to the impact of the event.

“You want that big reaction,” Agosta said.

PRAYnksters uses as its defining scripture Philippians 4:6 — “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” — and boils it down to “Fear Nothing, Pray About Everything.”

Agosta said he isn't a particularly fearful person, but there's always been something about that scripture that spoke to him.

“In my mind,” he said, “we've already won, so we shouldn't have that stress of life,” he said, explaining Christ gained the victory for all of us through His sacrifice on the cross and freely allows everyone to partake in the victorious life through grace.

Agosta has a day job working in the marketing department for Friends of Zoo Boise. He loves that his job allows him to express care for the planet and its animal inhabitants.

“I get to help people and God's green earth,” he said.

He wants to be a filmmaker and, along with his human resources degree from Idaho State University in Pocatello, he earned a digital media certificate from Boise State. Original funding for PRAYnksters came from his video collection, which he sold on eBay. He now buys and re­sells other videos in a program he calls Games 4 God, to get continued funding, and said people also make cash donations to PRAYnksters.

Agosta is sometimes restless about the growth of PRAYnksters, which has gone through growth spurts followed by lulls. He's always raring to go.

“I'm like, 'I want this!' But I always need to ask, 'But what does God want?' I have to wait on His timing,” he said.

“We serve a fun and creative God,” said Fadel. “I think we reflect Him well when we serve others in fun and creative ways. Following Jesus is exciting, and we want people to experience that joy and fulfillment.”

Farrell Ramsey Serving others as a deputy and chaplain

Nov/Dec 2017




Farrell Ramsey is both a law enforcement officer and a chaplain with the Elmore County Sheriff's Office. He leads a “cop church” every Sunday at his home. (Photo by Gaye Bunderson)

By Gaye Bunderson

First responders frequently see the worst of life: car wrecks, suicides, human cruelty. It can affect them at a deep level. Farrell Ramsey is there to make sure they can cope and carry on, with both their careers and their lives. He is a source of warmth in an otherwise frequently cold profession.

Ramsey is a certified law enforcement officer and chaplain with the Elmore County Sheriff's Office. Originally born and raised in North Carolina, his father was pastor at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Mars Hill. Ramsey met his wife Janet there — he was 6 and she was 5.

“She's my childhood sweetheart,” he said.

Ramsey followed his father into the ministry, and in the 1990s, when residents of the Pine-Featherville area wanted to start a church in the community and needed a pastor, he took the job. He was married to Janet by then, and two of the couple's children came with them, while their oldest child remained behind in North Carolina.

Ramsey was trained in logging and tree-trimming and worked for the Forest Service as projects came up. He and Janet held church in their house on Sunday and homeschooled their two children on weekdays. The small, home-based church was called Boise River Baptist. There was a one-room schoolhouse in Pine at the time, and the teacher there attended church at the Ramsey home and helped them out with homeschooling.

Ramsey also joined the Pine volunteer EMTs, which led to his becoming a part of the area search and rescue team.

In 1997, Robbin Ellis, then the resident deputy in Pine, needed a reserve deputy and asked Ramsey if he'd fill in. Back then, it was only a part-time volunteer position, but Ramsey stepped up to help Ellis out.

In 2002, he became a full-time deputy “in the hills,” as he refers to the Pine-Featherville area, and continued to pastor the church. He eventually studied at POST, or Police Officers' Standards and Training, in Meridian; in 2007, he started working as a patrol deputy at the sheriff's office in Mountain Home, leaving the hills and taking a job in the 'city.'

“It was pretty quiet when I left up there, but it was getting really busy,” he said, attributing the increase to a heavy influx of tourists.

The church he started remained in Pine and is now known as Mountain View Community Church; Ramsey and his wife brought Boise River Ministries down to Mountain Home. Now 62, Ramsey decided to continue his dual careers in law enforcement and ministry after newly elected Elmore County Sheriff Mike Hollinshead asked him about working as a deputy sheriff-chaplain.

“The two jobs are more similar than you'd think,” Ramsey said. “I love what I do; it's the best job in the world.”

He holds a “cop church” in his Mountain Home house.

“Cops fall between the cracks in church services,” he said.

He explained there are several reasons for this, including: they work odd hours; they carry pagers that may go off during a service; and they tend to have strong personalities. All that makes Ramsey's church perfect for them.

“We can work with their weird schedules, and pagers can go off — even mine,” he said.

As for their so-called strong personalities, Ramsey has nothing but admiration for anyone in the first line of defense when danger arises.

“They're a special breed, and I love them,” he said. “They can't be thin-skinned. They're under extreme stress.”

When he is called out to any sort of crime scene, whether a DUI crash or a homicide, he is also there for crime victims; but, he said, “My first concern is for deputies. Cops are different. They can't come apart at the scene. You have to be a rock.”

He wants to help the people who have to be strong for others' sake.

“They need to deal with the stress or they're going to come apart,” he said.

Out on the street, officers may project an in-control persona, but when they speak to Ramsey in his capacity as chaplain, nothing is off the table.

“As first responders, they have to be objective and thorough, but the emotions are there. I want to be their safety valve. They have to be okay on the scene, but when they come into my office and we close that door, what is said in the office, stays in the office,” Ramsey said.

Even in smaller communities such as Mountain Home these days, heinous crimes are sometimes committed.

“There is no 'Mayberry R.F.D.' anymore,” he said.

The sheriff is fully behind Ramsey's work.

“What Farrell does is very valuable to this agency. He brings an avenue to officers that deal with stress and emotional issues. He gives them an open door that they can go in and deal with it,” Hollinshead said. “He goes to their house and talks to them and helps them start the healingprocess. It helps them deal with the emotions of our day-to-day job that we deal with, the visuals, the things we see.”

Did Ramsey originally picture himself in the role he's now been cast in?

“I'd like to say I planned this cop church,” he said, “but it just happened. It fell into my lap. I believe God designs us for what he wants us to do.”

He admits he deals with the same potential for burnout as any other person in law enforcement, despite the “chaplain” in his title. He said he copes by being a fitness buff and by living with his best friend.

“My wife is my No. 1 go-to person,” he said.

She is involved with outreach as well.

“She counsels with some of the ladies. She's instrumental in working with cops' spouses,” Ramsey said.

He asserts that, despite everything, studies still show the primary reason people choose to work in law enforcement is to help other people. In that way he's right: being a deputy and a chaplain aren't as different as you'd think.

Equines plus kids equals Blazing Hope

Mar/Apr 2018




Mike Howard has a lengthy history of ministry in the Treasure Valley. Now 70, he's serving others through Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch in Caldwell.

By Gaye Bunderson

Michael Oris Howard has been known during his adult life as Pastor Howard, church leader; Michael Howard, newspaper columnist; and Mike Howard, director of the God and Country Rally in Nampa for 10­12 years. But now, he has a nickname and a ministry he never imagined he'd have: “Mr. Mike” runs the Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch in Caldwell.

Put him in a corral with a group of horse riding youngsters and despite all the other hats he's worn, Howard looks happy and right at home in his cowboy hat and dusty boots.

As he takes a short break from watching youngsters get on and off gentle horses, he walks up to the corral fence, peers over it, and both asks and answers his own question. “You want to know how did the ranch get started? God did it,” he said.

He explained he went through a personal crisis and found himself starting over financially. For a short time, he left the ministry and started selling cars. At the same time, he took up an interest in horses; he wanted to board horses on a piece of rented property. In about 2004, he got a couple of horses and a couple of volunteer helpers — a Nampa Christian Schools student named Megan and a disabled veteran and close friend, Bob Simmons, both of whom mucked stalls and helped Howard learn all he could about caring for horses.

Word got around about his new endeavor, and before he knew it, he was back in ministry — this time, not behind a pulpit but on a ranch.

“In 2005, a Christian family gave us this property we're on now and invested $275,000,” he said. “They wish to remain anonymous.”

The location of Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch is 26512 Farmway Road. A small sign hangs near a barn, telling visitors they've arrived, but the sounds of horses and happy young people really announce the spot.

“Pretty much everything is donated. That grass that came today was donated,” Howard said.

All the children ride for free, but donations are accepted.

“I teach the kids how to ride horses, and I teach them the good old American work ethic. They all work,” said Howard, now 70.

Every child who comes out to Blazing Hope is expected to pitch in with chores, from shoveling manure to feeding the horses. One mother put it best. “You wanna ride, you gotta work,” Tanya Nakamura, mother of 9­-year­-old Emily, said.

Nakamura said her daughter feels energized after coming out to Blazing Hope. Both the work and the horseback riding benefit her.

“Emily loves horses, and it steadies her and calms her,” Nakamura said.

Another mom, Julie Hamilton, said her 15-­year­-old daughter Brooke is also blessed by her experiences at Blazing Hope.

“She gets to spend time with the horses, learn how to work hard, and learn how to work with horses and other people,” Hamilton said. “Mike has been a blessing in our life. My daughter has always loved horses. Out here, they not only get to share their love for Christ, but they learn how to care for horses and get riding lessons. It gives them confidence.”

Howard offers a devotion and praise prior to the riding sessions, but the horse riding is open to all children, regardless of religious affiliation.

The roughly 30 horses at Blazing Hope give rides to 3,500 to 4,000 kids a year. The horses are a mix of donated and rescued horses.

Howard tells a story about an appaloosa named Freckles whose owner in Twin Falls wanted to sell her just to get rid of her. One of the members on Blazing Hope's 501(c)(3) nonprofit board, Lauri Simmons (Bob's wife), called the man who bought Freckles — referred to as the “kill man” for taking horses and selling them to animal factories — and asked if she could buy back the appaloosa. He said yes. He paid $200 for Freckles, but offered to sell her to Simmons for $500.

Simmons took the offer and now Freckles is a regular sight in the Blazing Hope corral.

“I had to see if she was a good children's horse, and she's one of the BEST children's horses,”Howard said.

He works with a new horse for 30 days to determine if it will be kid­-friendly.

Howard is originally from Oklahoma, where he did some horse riding, but he got back up to speed on equestrian skills more recently when a friend, Colleen Bennett, a former high school rodeo barrel racer, “refreshed” him on horsemanship skills.

Howard, who was a pastor for 35 years, including a youth pastor, loves what he does and makes sure the volunteers who assist him feel the same passion for the work.

“We love kids,” he said. Some of the volunteers are actually kids themselves who are proficient in equestrian skills, but most of the volunteers are caring adults.

Children who come out to Blazing Hope include homeschooled kids, kids from the Idaho Learning Center that is affiliated with Cole Valley Christian Schools, teens from Boise Rescue Mission, and many others.

Howard gives thanks and credit to everyone involved in making Blazing Hope Youth FamilyRanch the success it is. “I have amazing volunteers. They make it so I can keep doing this,” he said.

Said Hamilton: “He has a passion for it, that's for sure.”

Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch is open all year long for kids to come ride horses (unless the weather is unusually  severe). For more information, find Blazing Hope on Facebook or join the closed group at


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