By Tiffany L. Rehbein
He blends in well with his cowboy hat and dusty boots, chatting with the bronc riders and bull riders behind the chutes. The cowboys know him by the Living Bible that he carries. And the rodeo program.
One cowboy wraps his left wrist with white athletic tape, while Lou Belcher, retired pastor and current evangelist, talks about Jesus and the Bible.
Belcher led the invocation at the Great Northern Stampede Saturday and Sunday at the rodeo grounds before each PRCA performance. And he works to lead as many people to Christ as possible.
I cant take all the credit, Belcher said. I can plant the seed and do some harvesting, but others are involved, too.
Belcher started the group Cowboys and Horsemen for Christ in 1986 after he retired from the Westside Baptist pastory in Great Falls. This group works in conjunction with Fellowship of Christian Cowboys of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Cowboys with a Mission.
I grew up with a lot of cowboys, Belcher said. Belcher said he wanted to give back to this group of little of the love of God that he knew so he started this fellowship.
Belcher travels within about a 100-mile radius of Great Falls to touch cowboys and horsemen with the gospel. He has evangelized in Belt, Augusta and Stanford, among others. With the PRCA rodeo only in its second year at Havre, Belcher made his first trip here last weekend. He held a morning church service at the fairgrounds Sunday.
Belcher said there were a handful of cowboys at the service. But, he added, 11 a.m. was a difficult time when the rodeo wasnt slated to start until 7 p.m.
The cowboys just werent here yet, Belcher said.
Belcher said he doesnt know how many cowboys are saved in the rodeo season through the aid of his evangelism, but he believes that at least 60 percent are not agnostic, or unknowing about God, any longer.
He prays with the cowboys and hands out tracts ranging in topics from becoming a Christian to books of the Bible. He said he sees great work being done when a cowboy volunteers to pray. Saddle bronc rider Johnny Konzak of Belgrade led prayer on Sunday night.
Belcher works behind the chutes so that the cowboys can see him.
I like to say howdy, he said. Usually they tell me theyre not doing too good.
There are heartaches, problems and injuries in the profession, Belcher said, and he has about 300 names in his prayer journal to help ease some of the pain.
I just provide fellowship and contact for the cowboys, Belcher said.
Belcher cited Coors as the greatest competitor in reaching the cowboys.
I dont object to someone having a beer, Belcher said, but so often it leads to so many other things, heartaches and other problems.
I just want to get out and reach the unreached, Belcher said.
To help him, Walter Shields of Great Falls sometimes travels. Shields is a preacher and singer who brings the gospel to the cowboys through a deep yet gentle voice.
This is a witness at large, Shields said. I speak to people where they are. Thats why Im here behind the chutes. Thats why I work all day long.