Being able to grow up in southeast Alabama working in and around agriculture is a blessing that I will always be grateful for. It is a way of life that I love more than any other I can imagine. As the theme song for the old television comedy 'Green Acres' put it: "Green acres is the place to be. Farm living is the life for me. Land spreading out so far and wide, keep Manhattan just give me that country side."
As a small boy, I started helping neighboring farmers with any kind of work they needed me to do. I spent long summer days pulling weeds in peanut fields with nothing but a hoe and a water jug. It was hard, hot, lonely work, but I always enjoyed looking back at the end of the day and seeing the difference I had made. Back then, chicken farmers had to unload their own biddies and had to recruit their own catching crews on sale nights. Chicken catching in those days was done the 'hard way'. Wooden crates were offloaded outside the houses. You entered and exited through only two small doors about 1/3 of the way down from each end of the house. You had to feel around in the dark until you had the legs of six, 3.5 pound chickens in each hand, then you walked back to one of the two doors, went outside, and put your birds in your stack of crates. You did this until the house (or houses) of 16,000 birds each were empty. Catching started as soon as it was dark and we usually finished just before daylight. When I first started catching, my hands were only large enough to hold three birds in each hand, so my crates were set aside from those of the older men since I had to make twice as many trips to fill a crate.
There were few summer jobs on the farm as remembered (and dreaded) as hauling hay. When I was growing up, all of the hay was square baled and had to be stacked in the lofts of barns. I started in the hay fields when all I could do was stand up in the floor board, let off the clutch in 'grand ma' gear, and stretch to see over the hood of the 2 ton truck so that I could steer between the rows. By the time I was tall enough to drive, I had already moved to being a loader. Any bales that were still in the field after a rain shower, were sure to filled with fire ants by the next morning. Peanut hay was especially dirty and bloodied up your arms.
I specifically remember one afternoon when just my friend Al Britt and I loaded and unloaded 500 bales by ourselves. I wore overalls without a shirt. We were both tanned like the dirt, soaked with sweat, and covered in mud and peanut trash. When we finished, we drove down to the nearby Coffee Springs pool (dirt pool fed by cold underground springs) to cool off. I remember jumping in, losing my breath, and thinking I was having a heart attack!
When I was in the fourth grade, Pooster and Effie sort of took me in and let me start working part-time at the local custom butchering and meat packing company just down the road from our house. They also had a cattle farm. From the time I was 10-15 years old, I spent most days with Pooster working at the packing company, buying cattle and hogs, and working on the farm. Before I married, I leased four chicken houses and also helped another friend farm.
After Lisa and I were married and our children were young, we started raising bottle calves on the side. We bottle fed about 150 head per year until I purchased our first commercial cows. Later, we sold them to purchase our first registered cattle for our One Way Angus herd. We sold our home and cows in 1997 when we went into fulltime Christian ministry. In June,2001, we started Cattle For Christ International Inc., and have been doing that ever since. In addition to the 250 head of cattle that the ministry owns, Lisa and I also have 4 horses, 10 goats, 60 chickens, 4 turkeys, 2 dogs and a wide variety of other temporary animals that the grandchildren catch, to include: snakes, baby birds, baby squirrels, lizards, frogs, turtles, etc..
I love the farming life. There is no better place to raise children and grandchildren and there is no better classroom than the farm. Every day you see the miracle and sanctity of life and the reality and inevitability of death. On the farm you learn about sex and reproduction, cooperation, determination, teamwork, fallibility in yourself and others, forgiveness, administration, financial management, science, chemistry, biology, math, networking, technology, how to work, your need for rest, patience, perseverance, the value of sweat and dirty clothes, and the gratification of a hard day's work. Most importantly, you learn without doubt that there is an all knowing, all powerful, ever present, merciful, trustworthy, almighty, faithful, creator God--and that you are not Him!
Those of us who have been blessed to grow up and live in the country and work on the farm, understand--though we may have to remind ourselves from time to time during the hard times--that we experience on a daily basis what most of the world longs to have. We have open space: solitude when we want it and good neighbors when we don't. We have clean air, clean and abundant water, livestock, freedom, independence, a hope to be profitable, ability to feed and provide for our family, wealth (cash and/or assets), land and homes, utilities, education, transportation, and clear evidence of a living God who loves us.
We need to thank God for how richly He has blessed us and we need to humble ourselves before Him. When we honestly look at how good He has been to us as compared to the rest of the country and the rest of the world, how can we not submit to His Lordship and sovereignty over our lives and give Him the glory that only He deserves?
One lesson that I have learned through the years from studying Scripture, from my time in the Army and from being a farmer, is to always strive for perfection. This does not mean that I will ever be perfect, but it means that I will do whatever I do, to the best of my ability.
As a Cattleman, I have never had a desire to raise mediocre cattle. I had rather not be a Cattleman if I cannot produce quality cattle that get better with each generation of daughters.
The past two years, we have had more problems with our Cattle For Christ herd than ever before. Numbers and stocking rates were too high, hay and grazing were in very short supply, donations were down, cash flow was a serious issue, we were short of labor, and therefore; expenses were excessive and unsustainable. Our only option was to cull heavily and then sell some cattle that we really did not need to sell, at a time when the market was really low. I really feel that though we did the best we could do under these circumstances, I was not doing a good enough job to refer to myself as a good Cattleman.
On the other hand, though we love the life and enjoy cattle, we have no desire to raise cattle just to raise cattle. Ministry to the poor and un-reached around the world is now our passion; cattle are just a means to help us accomplish our ministry efforts. In economic times like these, we are better off if other Cattlemen will sell a cow and donate the proceeds to fund our work.
Spiritually, there have been times in my life when I knew that I was walking in the center of God's will and I had the fruit of the Spirit and peace of God in my life as evidence. However; there have been a few times in my life when that fruit and peace were missing and I knew that I was not living the life God had called me to, nor was I maintaining a right relationship with Him. To change that, I had to confess my sin to God (and sometimes to others), repent (turn away from my sin and turn toward Jesus), and I had to change my priorities. It took more than just regret or bring sorry for what I had done.
I remember the testimony of a Christian brother and one of our ministry partners in West Africa. He is the youngest son of a Fulani Muslim village Chief. When he was a young boy, a hired hand of his father was secretly sharing the story of Jesus with him. Several times he was caught studying or worshiping Jesus with a small church who met under a large tree away from his village. His father repeatedly warned him to reject Christianity. To make a long story short, his father did not punish him too severely, but finally told him: "If you are going to be a Christian, then be a good Christian!" What a lesson from a Muslim Village Chief!
Scripture says: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Col 3:23-24).
Jesus said: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth." (Rev 3:15-16).
If we are going to be Christians, we have the responsibility and the command to be good Christians!