James Douma, a former rodeo rider and member of Discovery Christian Reformed Church in Bowmanville, Ont., has been building a part-time rodeo outreach ministry, encouraged by his pastor and supported by his church.
Douma began his rodeo career in 2012 seeking new thrills. “I grew up on a farm. . . . We were too poor to have horses, but I tried riding a steer as a kid, and I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’” Released from the chute, Douma’s first bronco had him stretched out unconscious on the corral floor long before achieving the eight seconds of contact required to meet the rodeo standard of a “ride.” He decided to take some training before trying again, and for the next few seasons he was a regular contestant in Ontario’s rodeo circuit, even winning a best rider award at a small event.
Before entering the chute to mount the back of a rodeo horse, Douma would kneel in prayer to ask God’s protection. In 2015, another contestant asked Douma to pray with him, and James began to think about how his faith connected with his rodeo weekends. Later that year, he had a long conversation with Scott Hilgendorff, an American rodeo rider he had met at a bronc riding school in Ohio. Hilgendorff suggested that Douma should organize an Ontario branch of the organization Hilgendorff had founded called Cowboys of the Cross. Intrigued by the idea, Douma decided to have a conversation with pastor Martin Spoelstra at Discovery Church. Spoelstra encouraged Douma to take on the challenge and led him through a four-month course in outreach ministry.
Since 2016, Douma, together with his wife, Jen, and their young son, Mason, have showed up regularly at Ontario’s Rawhide Rodeo circuit, pulling a Cowboys of the Cross trailer behind their vehicle. They set up to welcome guests for lunch or coffee in the trailer and organize a “cowboy church” talk and prayer on Saturday and “church in the stands” on Sunday. There have been setbacks, including a severe foot injury sustained when a bronc surprised Douma with an unusual bucking move, and a tire blowout that inflicted heavy damage to their hospitality trailer. Discovery Church supports the Doumas in their outreach, having commissioned James as an “elder at large,” mentioning the ministry in regular prayers and member reports and offering financial support to help cover expenses. Douma sees God at work, acknowledging the “miraculous” recovery from his foot injury. He is also grateful for the gift of a trailer-towing truck from a local car dealership and for conversations with people who have told him how they have come to know Christ through his ministry.
Although Douma has reluctantly given up the bronc riding “because nobody offered me new boots to replace the pair the doctors had to cut off me,” as a Cowboy of the Cross, he plans to follow the rodeo circuit across Ontario once again in 2019.