Sunday, 23 September 2018

Micah & Nancy Smith - Under Dark of Night, a Trip into Syria

Jul/ Aug 2018

 


 

 

By Gaye Bunderson

Syria  may  be  the  last  place  anyone  would  want  to  find  themselves  in  these  days,  but  when  the  ravages  of  war  depleted  medical  supplies  for  citizens  of  the  beleaguered  country,  two  organizations  stepped  in  to  fill  the  void:  Nampa-based  Hands  of  Hope  Northwest  and  Global  Gateway  Network.

Micah  Smith  is  president  and  founder,  with  his  wife  Nancy,  of  Global  Gateway  Network.  The  nonprofit  is  a  group  of  volunteer  professionals  who  travel  the  world  caring  for  the  sick,  building  homes  for  children,  drilling  wells,  teaching  agriculture  skills,  literacy,  and  much  more  (globalgatewaynetwork.org).

It  was  Micah  and  Nancy  who  slipped  across  the  border  from  Israel  into  Syria  earlier  this  year  in  the  dark  of  night,  while  the  jackals  howled  in  the  distance.  Their  mission  was  to  accompany  10  tons  of  medical  supplies  to  the  Syrian  people.  The  supplies  were  provided  through  Hands  of  Hope  NW  and  included  everything  from  gauze  to  surgical  supplies.  

All  of  the  Boise-area  people  involved  in  this  endeavor  acted  out  of  a  sense  of  Christian  compassion  as  people  of  faith.  For  Micah,  now  62,  that  faith  began  at  the  age  of  23,  and  it's  over  the  course  of  the  intervening  years  that  God  brought  him  and  Nancy  to  a  connection  with  Hands  of  Hope  NW  —  a  connection  that  would  critically  benefit  the  people  of  war-torn  Syria.

“I  don't  know  what  word  you'd  use,  but  when  I  was  'saved'  or  'born  again'  in  the  late  '70s,  I  was  a  farmboy;  I  never  dreamed  I'd  be  doing  what  I'm  doing.  But  a  year  later,  I  was  in  Stuttgart,  Germany,  preaching  with  a  translator  on  a  street  corner,”  he  said.  “I  have  an  adventurous  spirit;  I'm  highly  curious.  I  want  to  see  what's  over  the  next  mountaintop.”

He  originally  attended  a  vocational  school  and  became  a  journeyman  pipe-fitter;  later,  he  studied  for  the  ministry  through  Jack  Hayford's  School  of  Pastoral  Nurture  at  King's  Seminary.  He  led  a  church  in  Richland,  Wash.  where  about  500  people  attended.  The  congregation  was  full  of  Ph.D.'s  and  engineers who  captured  the  vision  of  what  Micah  wanted  to  do  in  his  “next  mountaintop”  ministry:  dig  wells,  build  schools  and  orphanages,  and  help  the  disenfranchised  around  the  globe.

“At  one  point,  I  told  the  congregation,  'Don't  give  me  a  raise,  send  me  overseas,'”  he  said.

Thankfully,  there  were  many  in  the  congregation  who  not  only  wanted  to  support  him  but  also  join  him,  and  who  could  bring  the  requisite  skills  to  dig  and  drill  and  build  throughout  the  world.

At  one  point,  Micah  learned  about  what  is  called  the  10/40  Window,  an  area  that  includes  North  Africa,  the  Middle  East  and  Asia  approximately  between  10  and  40  degrees  north  of  the  equator.  Within  this  range  are  billions  of  citizens  known  as  “unreached  peoples,”  and  that  includes  many  groups that  Westerners  may  not  be  familiar  with,  such  as  the  Shaikh,  Yadava,  Turks,  Moroccan  Arabs,  Pashtun,  Jat  and  Burmese.  These  people  are  predominantly  Muslim,  Hindu,  Buddhist,  animist  or  atheist.

“The  area  holds  60  percent  of  the  world's  population,  but  only  8  percent  of  Western  efforts,  resources  and  energy  are  going  into  preaching  the  Gospel  in  that  part  of  the  world,”  Micah  said.

Nancy  stated,  “These  are  hard  places.”  They  are  full  of  the  poor  and  uneducated  who  struggle  to  meet  basic  daily  needs,  who  are  not  guaranteed  a  modicum  of  moral  or  legal  rights,  and  who  may  live  in  the  throes  of  military  conflict  or  government  upheaval.

“We  want  to  reach  the  unreached,  with  compassion  and  humanitarian  needs  and  with  no  strings  attached  based  upon  Matthew  5:16,”  Micah  said.  “We  want  to  meet  people's  physical  needs.”

He  explained  they  are  also  ready  to  help  meet  spiritual  needs  but  do  not  put  pressure  on  anyone  to  convert  to  a  religion.  “God  is  not  a  marketing  tool,  and  people  are  not  consumers  competing  for  the  best  deal,”  he  said.

Micah  was  invited  to  attend  Billy  Graham's  Amsterdam  2000  event,  where  evangelists  from  all  over  the  world  —  including  the  developing  world  —  convened  and  were  involved  in  finding  ways  to  reach  the  unreached.

“Every  day  in  a  think  tank,  we'd  sit  at  different  tables  and  identify  unreached  people  groups,”  Micah  said.  He  started  to  focus  on  three  specific  groups  that  he  wanted  to  reach  with  his  own  ministry.  They  included:  

  • The  Hill  Tribe  in  Vietnam  and  China  (the  Kim-Mun)
  • The  Albanian  Tosk  in  Egypt
  • The  Urdu  speakers  of  Europe

In  all,  there  were  10,000  people  from  90  nations  at  the  event;  a  lot  was  going  on,  and  Micah  prayed,  “Lord,  put  me  with  the  people  You  want  me  to  meet.”

He  said  event  organizers  served  lunch  in  a  huge  dining  area,  feeding  one  large  group  after  another  in  a  very  efficient  way.  In  the  gathering  of  10,000,  there  were  only  11  Egyptian  evangelists  in  all,  but  three  times  Micah  sat  by  an  Egyptian  during  lunch.  The  odds  of  that  happening  other  than  supernaturally  were  pretty  slim,  and  he  began  to  see  the  Lord's  hand  at  work.

After  he  narrowed  down  the  focus  of  his  ministry,  he  began  to  seek  out  information  about  the  people he  set  his  sights  on.  His  sense  of  adventure  was  stirred.  “We  researched  all  the  people  but  found  little  information,  so  we  got  on  a  plane  to  find  them,”  he  said.

Nancy  would  frequently  accompany  her  husband  abroad,  except  when  their  five  children  were  small.Others  in  the  group  would  be  the  vision-catchers  who  wanted  to  help  minister  and  build.  Their  global  searches  produced  results,  as  they  met  and  worked  to  provide  for  the  unreached  people  Micah  chose  while  in  Amsterdam.  Their  work  has  taken  them  to  North  Vietnam,  Burma,  Thailand,  and  Egypt,  all  in  accordance  with  Matthew  25:40:  Whenever  you  did  one  of  these  things  to  someone  overlooked  or  ignored,  that  was  me  —  you  did  it  to  me  [Jesus].  (The  Message)

Thousands  have  been  fed  and  clothed,  provided  with  medical  services  and  clean  water,  and  given  shelter  and  hope.  More  than  50  teams  have  been  sent  out  all  over  the  globe.

Micah  and  Nancy  came  to  the  Treasure  Valley  from  north  Idaho  two  years  ago  to  care  for  Micah's  mother,  who  has  Parkinson's  disease.  She  was  once  involved  in  ministry  herself,  living  in  Israel  for  10  years  and  working  with  Bridges  of  Peace,  a  Jerusalem-based  Christian  organization  supporting  Israel.  Micah  fostered  connections  with  Israel  through  Global  Gateway  Network.  “We  have  projects  there,”  he said.

The  couple  visited  Vineyard  Boise  Christian  Fellowship,  and  around  that  time,  had  two  pivotal  meetings.  They  met  the  leadership  team  of  Vineyard's  i61  program,  a  global  ministry  for  justice  and  compassion,  and  met  Hands  of  Hope  Northwest  board  member  Gwyneth  Bledsoe.  Meeting  Bledsoe  eventually  led  them  to  meet  Hands  of  Hope  NW  Executive  Director  Debbie  Wheeler  (now  retired).

Hands  of  Hope  NW  wanted  to  find  a  way  to  get  medical  supplies  to  Syria  —  a  huge  challenge,  considering  the  turmoil  in  the  country.  Even  a  route  through  Israel  presented  obstacles.  “Israel  is  a  difficult  country  because  of  its  security  protocol,”  Micah  said.  Other  problems  included  getting  medical shipments  to  Israel  despite  high  tariffs  on  imports,  and  insufficient  infrastructure  in  moving  anything  from  Israel  across  the  border  into  Syria.

The  Smiths  were  asked  if  they  could  help  Hands  of  Hope  NW  find  a  way  to  overcome  the  obstacles.  Ultimately,  the  answer  was  a  third  nonprofit  —  this  time,  one  in  Israel,  a  volunteer  humanitarian  non-government  organization  that  provides  lifesaving  aid  to  communities  affected  by  natural  disasters  and  human  conflict  but  that  wishes  to  remain  anonymous.

“Two  U.S.  nonprofits  worked  with  an  Israeli  nonprofit  to  help  Syrian  Muslim  refugees,”  Micah  said, aware  of  the  counterintuitive  nature  of  his  statement.

When  a  Hands  of  Hope  NW  shipment  of  supplies  left  Seattle  for  Israel  late  in  2017,  with  the  ultimate goal  of  reaching  Syria,  Micah  and  Nancy  were  there  to  accompany  the  shipment  across  the  border.

“We  were  cautious;  we  were  in  vehicles  in  a  secure  zone.  We  had  a  team  of  snipers  with  us  for  protection;  young  Israeli  soldiers  were  all  around  us,”  Micah  said.

The  following  information  was  taken  from  the  Hands  of  Hope  NW's  “Heartbeat”  newsletter  and  is  inMicah's  own  words:  “Nancy  and  I  traveled  at  dusk,  then  under  the  cover  of  darkness  to  the  border  where  the  supplies  are  transferred  one  item  at  a  time  to  a  waiting  truck.  The  work  is  done  in  darkness  because  of  the  constant  threat  of  snipers,  and  the  items  are  carried  individually  by  the  Syrian  rebels  across  a  short  buffer  zone  to  prevent  any  vehicles  that  might  be  armed  with  high  explosives  from  getting  too  close  to  the  delivery  team.

“Each  night,  when  this  operation  takes  place,  if  needed  the  critically  wounded  are  brought  on  Israel’s side  of  the  border,  then  taken  to  hospitals,  while  medical  supplies,  coats,  baby  formula  and  diesel  fuel  are  transferred  to  the  Syrian  side,  where  they  are  dispensed  at  field  clinics.  This  is  a  humanitarian  disaster  that  is  exacting  a  price  on  innocent  children  and  families  of  non-combatants.  Israel  is  allowing  30-50  Syrian  children  to  come  in  for  treatment  every  week.  The  hospitals  that  have  not  been  bombed  are  severely  lacking  in  equipment  and  supplies.”

Though  the  nation  of  Israel  is  under  constant  threat  from  jihadists  (Islamic  militants),  there  are  people  in  all  Middle  East  countries  who  simply  want  to  live  in  peace.

“Israel  learned  it  must  have  a  strong  defense,  but  they  are  the  people  of  Abraham  and  want  to  be  a  light  to  the  world,  they  want  to  be  good  neighbors,”  Micah  said.

The  Smiths  went  to  Israel  and  Syria  in  January  and  did  not  return  until  March.  They  praise  others  involved  in  getting  medical  supplies  to  those  facing  profound  suffering  within  Syria.

“The  Israelis  have  low-profile  medical  field  clinics  in  Syria  that  they  man,”  said  Micah,  who  then  gives  credit  to  HoHNW  for  its  work.  “Debbie  and  Hands  of  Hope  NW  did  a  great  job.”

The  Smiths  aren't  done  with  their  travels,  nor  is  Hands  of  Hope  NW  done  with  medical  supplies  provision  for  Syria.  In  late  April,  a  fundraising  tea  was  held  to  raise  money  for  another  shipment.  At  the  Tea  for  Hope  at  Chateau  des  Fleurs  in  Eagle  on  April  28,  host  Claudia  Weathermon  Tester  spoke,  followed  by  the  new  executive  director  of  HoHNW,  Todd  Durbin,  and  then  Micah.

“From  A  to  Z,  from  Nampa  to  the  Golan  Heights  in  Israel,  it  was  a  miracle,”  he  told  the  audience  regarding  the  Syrian  shipments.  A  miracle  of  compassion,  hard  work,  and  God's  love,  he  said.  With  that  trifecta,  as  well  as  the  generosity  of  people  in  the  Treasure  Valley,  many  nations  will  continue  to  be  blessed.

For  more  information,  go  to www.GlobalGatewayNetwork.org, Hands  of  Hope  Northwest  Inc.  on  Facebook,  or  contact  Micah  Smith  at globalgatewaynetwork@gmail.com.

Shipments  Update With  the  money  raised  from  the  Tea  for  Hope  and  Idaho  Gives  Day  events,  Hands  of  Hope  NW  is  now  ready  to  send  two  more  shipments  to  Israel.  One  will  be  distributed  by  Global  Gateway  Network  and  the  other  by  The  Joseph  Project,  an  organization  that  imports  aid  into  Israel  from  charities  worldwide.The  goal  was  to  raise  $30,000  between  the  Tea  for  Hope  and  Idaho  Gives  Day  2018.  A  total  of  $27,810  was  raised  through  Tea  for  Hope,  including  event  donations,  silent  auction  sales,  ticket  sales,  and  sponsorships,  and  $2,625  was  raised  on  Idaho  Gives  Day,  held  May  3.The  HofHNW  warehouse  is  full,  and  six  shipments  of  medical  supplies  were  in  the  works  as  of  late  May.  More  shipments  are  planned  for  Israel/Syria,  as  well  as  shipments  for  Gambia,  Nigeria  and  Guatemala.  Note:  This  information  is  taken  from  the  May  Hands  of  Hope  NW  “Heartbeat”  newsletter.

 

Peter Vasquez Making the best of his second chance

May/ June 2018

 


 

 



Peter  Vasquez  built  a  replica  of  the  high  security,  solitary  confinement  prison  cell  he  once  spent  4½  years  in.  Today,  as  founder  of  Second  Chance  Grace,he  takes  the  cell  around  to  show  others  what  life  in  prison  is  like.  (Courtesy  photo)

By Gaye Bunderson

 “ I  thank  Christ  Jesus  our  Lord,  who  has  given  me  strength,  that  he  considered  me  trustworthy,  appointing  me  to  his  service.  Even  though  I  was  once  a  blasphemer  and  a  persecutor  and  a  violent  man,  I  was  shown  mercy  because  I  acted  in  ignorance  and  unbelief.  The  grace  of  our  Lord  was  poured  out  on  me  abundantly...”  —  1  Timothy  1:12-14

Peter  Vasquez  has  undergone  a  full-scale  life  remodel,  with  help  from  the  ultimate  Carpenter.  A  hard-core  gang  member  in  his  youth,  Vasquez  spent  time  in  California's  San  Quentin  State  Prison  and  4½  years  in  solitary  confinement  in  the  California  State  Prison-Corcoran  SHU  or  Security  Housing  Units.  The  units  are  “the  most  high  security,  restricted  cells in  California's  prison  system.”*  

To  make  it  into  the  SHU,  an  inmate  has  to  be  part  of  a  dangerous  prison  gang  and  a  high  threat  to  other  prisoners.  Peter  Vasquez  fit  the  profile.  Look  at  some  of  the  photos  taken  of  him  during  those  years  and  you  see  a  tough  guy,  a  violent  guy.  But  ask  Vasquez  to  describe  himself  now,  years  later  at  age  47,  and  he  says,  “I'm  the  little  ladybug  from  California.”

He's  been  rebuilt  from  the  ground  up  by  his  Savior,  and  he  lives  every  minute  of  his  life  now  to  tell  his  story  to  others.

“I  got  saved  in  a  prison  cell,”  he  said,  “in  the  same  place  where  they'd  send  Charles  Manson.”  

Sirhan-Sirhan,  Robert  F.  Kennedy  assassin,  also  spent  time  at  Corcoran.

Vasquez  said  no  one  was  allowed  to  visit  residents  of  the  SHU;  it  was  a  cold  existence.  His  feelings  toward  God  were  very  negative.  His  earthly  father  had  been  a  prisoner  —  Vasquez  only  saw  him  once  in  his  life.  A  stepfather  had  been  an  abuser.  Vasquez  grew  angrier  and  angrier  over  what  he  calls  “the  heartache”  of  his  life.

“My  dad  was  the  founder  of  a  notorious  gang.  I  had  love  for  the  father  I  never  knew,  but  I  hated  God.  I  flipped  off  the  sky  in  anger  toward  God,”  Vasquez  said.

But  the  Holy  Spirit  is  able  to  penetrate  prison  walls  and  prisoner  hearts.  A  friend  of  his  father's  managed  to  get  a  prison  Bible  to  Vasquez,  a  special  edition  written  specifically  for  inmates  and  titled,  “Free  on  the  Inside.”  The  friend,  named  Julio,  wrote  in  the  Bible,  “I  hope  you  find  the  peace  I  have  found  in  Christ  Jesus.”

Vasquez  didn't  read  the  Bible  right  off.  “I  hated  myself,”  he  said.  “I  thought,  'Who  am  I?  What  am  I  here  for?'  My  nickname  was  Sniper.  Here  I  was  in  a  wicked,  evil  place.  You  could  feel  the  evil.”

But  one  day,  out  of  the  blue  a  fellow  inmate  at  the  SHU  yelled,  “John  14:6!”  Just  like  that.  No  other  words.  “Jesus  answered,  'I  am  the  way  and  the  truth  and  the  life.  No  one  comes  to  theFather  except  through  me.'”

Vasquez  picked  up  his  Bible  and  found  the  verse,  and  after  reading  it,  he  said  he  fell  to  his knees,  verbally  spewed  out  his  sins  and  asked  God  for  forgiveness.  It  was  a  deeply  spiritual moment  of  grace  and  salvation,  as  well  as  the  beginning  of  the  softening  of  a  very  hardened  man.

“When  I  met  God,  He  became  the  most  beautiful  thing  in  my  life,”  said  Vasquez.  “I'm  still  on  fire  now,  just  as  I  was  then.”

Vasquez  came  to  Idaho  in  2004  to  attend  a  school  operated  by  the  Idaho  Commission  for  the  Blind  and  Visually  Impaired.  He  suffers  from  retinitis  pigmentosa  and  is  legally  blind.  He  cannot  drive,  and  yet  he  travels  frequently.  At  one  point  in  his  life,  he  prayed  to  God  for  a  wife,even  giving  Him  specifications  for  the  kind  of  wife  he  needed.  That  included  someone  to  join  him  in  his  work  —  not  just  to  drive  him  around  but  to  be  a  full-time  partner  in  his  ministry.

Amazingly,  God  chose  for  him  a  woman  who,  at  the  time  of  the  couple's  first  meeting,  was  not  even  saved.  But  Christine  is  everything  Vasquez  prayed  for.  In  a  story  full  of  incredible  twists  and  turns,  Mrs.  Vasquez  became  a  strong  believer  —  in  both  God  and  the  work  of  the  man  she  married.

“I'm  not  with  him  just  as  a  wife  but  as  a  supporter,”  she  said.

Looking  proudly  at  his  co-partner  in  life  and  ministry,  Vasquez  said,  “That's  my  prayer  warrior.”

At  present,  it's  a  powerful  but  small  ministry,  which  they  named  Second  Chance  Grace.

“The  ministry  is  just  me  and  my  wife,”  Vasquez  said.  

But  the  strength  of  their  mutual  commitment  to  each  other  and  to  the  Lord  cannot  be  understated.  Vasquez  frequently  speaks  for  free  whenever  he's  asked  because  the  work  is  so  important  to  him.

“It  hurts;  I've  got  to  support  my  family.  But  I  still  do  it.  I  do  it  because  it's  my  heart,”  he  said.“We  don't  have  any  money,  but  when  I  speak  for  free,  I  speak  like  I'm  getting  paid.  It's  a  hard  way  to  live,  but  we  trust  the  Lord.”

He  has  some  donors  who  support  him  and  an  occasional  job  speaking  in  schools.  He  isn't  allowed  to  say  “Jesus”  in  secular  schools,  but  he  instructs  the  students  on  “what  to  say  'yes'  to  and  what  to  say  'no'  to.”  

He  said  it's  challenging  because  “what  works  for  me  is  Christ  —  but  I  can't  say  'Christ'.”

So  he  stands  as  an  example  of  what  can  be  overcome  in  life  and  how  a  person  can  be  transformed  to  contribute  to  the  betterment  of  society.

He  speaks  once  a  month  at  church  services  at  Idaho  Juvenile  Corrections,  the  Idaho  State  Correctional  Institution,  and  the  Idaho  State  Correctional  Center.  He  also  holds  a  church  service  for  women  on  work  release.

“I  want  them  to  parole  with  a  Bible  in  their  hands,  to  parole  with  faith,”  he  said.  “Helping  people  parole  that  way  is  better  for  the  community  and  better  for  the  ex-prisoner.”

When  he  speaks  one-on-one  with  prisoners  or  parolees,  he  gives  them  his  full  attention.  He'll stay  as  long  as  they  need  him.  An  example  of  Christine's  commitment  is  that  she  frequently  waits  for  him  outside  in  their  vehicle,  for  as  long  as  it  takes,  so  she  can  drive  him  home.  And  she  usually  waits  with  the  couple's  daughter,  a  toddler  named  Danisia  Agape.

Vasquez  has  been  asked  by  professors  at  both  Treasure  Valley  Community  College  in  Ontario  and  the  College  of  Idaho  in  Caldwell  to  speak  to  students  whose  career  paths  will  lead  them  to  places  where  they  will  encounter  people  turned  bitter  by  their  experiences.  He  speaks  about  the  difficulty  of  growing  up  with  an  absent  parent  who's  incarcerated,  and  living  in  a  household  with  an  abuser.

“It  gives  them  an  understanding  of  dysfunction  and  how  it  affects  you,”  Vasquez  said.

He  built  an  exact  replica  of  the  cell  he  lived  in  at  Corcoran,  and  he  takes  it  around  for  young  people  to  look  at  as  an  object  lesson  of  what  to  avoid.  “Kids  are  very  visual,”  he  said,  explaining  his  motivation  for  building  the  cell  —  it's  a  warning  of  what  a  miscreant  life  can  lead  to.

The  ministry  also  includes  tattoo  removal.  The  Vasquezes  work  with  board-certified  family  nurse  practitioner  Gia  Swope,  or  Dr.  Ink-Off,  and  ERMA  (Eagle  River  Medical  Aesthetics).  Vasquez  still  wears  the  tattoos  of  his  past  life  because,  he  said,  board  members  of  his  nonprofit, Second Chance  Grace Inc.,  told  him  to  leave  them  on  for  credibility  with  convicts.

“They  all  open  up  to  him,”  Christine  said.

The  couple  feels  the  Lord  has  even  bigger  plans  for  the  ministry,  possibly  taking  it  national  and  allowing  Vasquez  to  speak  throughout  the  country.  He  likes  to  use  colorful  phrases  in  his  presentations,  such  as:  “Try  Jesus  for  a  week  or  a  month,  and  if  it  doesn't  work,  Satan  will  give  you  back  your  misery.”

He  seeks  to  comfort,  strengthen,  encourage,  and  leave  people  with  a  sense  of  hope,  he  said.  He's  done  the  work  for  12  years  and  has  spoken  to  thousands  already.  One  of  his  favorite  scriptures  is  1  Timothy  1:12-14  about  a  violent  man  saved  by  God's  love.  He's  not  only  read  it.  He's  lived  it.

For  more  information,  go  to www.2ndchancegrace.org.

*https://www.scpr.org/news/2013/10/08/39613/inside-corcoran-state-prisons-security-housing-uni/ 

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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/BlazingHopeYouthFamilyRanch/.

 

Christian Living Magazine

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