Ministry aims to lead people to Jesus by taking them outside

Danny Souder, left, poses with Memphis Lafferty and his dad, Chris. The young man, a quadruple amputee since infancy, successfully shot a turkey with a specially adapted gun during a COM hunt. Photos Provided by COM

COLLEYVILLE—Pastor Danny Souder recalled sitting in a Hill Country deer blind with his dad when he was eight. The elder Souder, who died in 2017, shot his last deer at age 88 on a hunt guided by his grandson Scott, Souder’s son.

“One thing [besides faith] that bound us all together was our passion for hunting,” the pastor told the Texan of his family’s love of the outdoors.

That generational bond is something Souder has facilitated for hundreds through Christian Outdoor Ministry, which he founded in 2017.

COM’s purpose is to connect parents and kids to hunting, fishing and Jesus.

“Jesus sought leaders who were outdoorsmen,” Souder said. “In Matthew 4:19, he says he will make the disciples ‘fishers of men.’” Fishermen are “patient, persistent, don’t give up, work hard and go where the fish are,” he added. “They trusted the Lord to provide fish.”

Much the same can be said of hunters and game.

Growth during COVID

For Souder, a veteran pastor and missionary, retired Dallas police department chaplain and former trustee and chair of the North American Mission Board, COM is a fulltime occupation that has grown exponentially. Some 50 kids, parents, ranchers, volunteer guides and cooks participated during its inaugural year; through 2021, more than 600 had joined in.

“COVID hit; our fundraising decreased but participation doubled,” Souder said, referring to COM’s annual wild game dinner, raffle, and auction which had provided 98 percent of the group’s operating capital and was scaled back during the pandemic. Scholarships and grants from local hunting clubs and donors have augmented the lost income.

The pandemic also proved a powerful lure for people “tired of being quarantined” and longing to “get out and hunt,” Souder said. “You can social distance in the outdoors.”

How it works

The ministry works like this. COM offers 25-30 weekend hunting or fishing experiences for parents and kids each year. The 2022 schedule features opportunities to hunt ducks, hogs, deer, turkey, exotics, rams or fish for bass or striper on Texas ranches and lakes. Outdoor experiences are generally limited to 4-6 youth hunters, ages 9-17, plus parents, volunteer guides and cooks. All volunteers complete Ministry Safe training and undergo background checks.

Texas ranchers volunteer their property for the hunting and fishing experiences. Currently COM networks with about 35 ranchers, Souder noted, adding that he is hoping to increase that number as the ministry eventually expands from locations 2-3 hours from Dallas down to the Hill Country and South Texas.

If accommodations are not available on a host ranch, the group camps or stays in a nearby hotel, Souder said, stressing that participants take care of the property they visit. “We leave things better than we found it,” he said. They also write thank-you notes to the ranchers. COM is consistently invited back to the ranches where groups have been.

With ranchers providing the locations, costs for each weekend stay low and scholarships are available.

As for participants, Souder said he prays every day and that it’s “definitely a God thing how he sends people our way.”

Word of mouth brings participants. The ministry is often recommended by teachers to students enrolled in outdoor adventure classes at school. Souder sends information to wilderness coaches who help advertise.

During the weekend events, which typically begin on Friday afternoon and last through Sunday, Souder urges cell phones and devices be set aside.

Guides arrive early to become familiar with the location and greet and orient the hunters. Each youth must be accompanied by a mom, dad or, occasionally, another relative, Souder said. Half the participants are girls and mothers. About half of the parents and youth are novice hunters.

Half of all participants in COM hunts are novice hunters and each youth is accompanied by a parent. 

The heart of the hunts COM emphasizes:

1. Gun safety

2. Basic hunting and/or fishing skills

3. Parent-child time

4. Support of the second amendment

5. The gospel

“There’s no hard sell, but we present the plan of salvation every weekend,” Souder said, adding that COM provides discipleship materials for participants. More than 30 parents and youth have made professions of faith in Christ and COM connects these new believers with area churches and pastors for follow up.

“Being with other believers … not only let me unlock a passion for hunting but it also let me see another side of God,” said Will Saunders, a high school student who appears on COM’s promotional video.

“I keep coming back for the guides and some of the kids we meet. I like spending time with Danny and my dad, a lot of time with my dad,” added repeat participant Jack Caamano.

The parent-child time is among the program’s unique features, Souder emphasized, calling the memories of shared hunts with his father and son far more significant than any trophy mounted on his wall. He wants others to have that opportunity for togetherness in the outdoors and for eternity.

Besides, “God is a hunter,” Souder offered with a grin. Adam and Eve were naked in the garden and he clothed them with animal skins, didn’t he?”

“We welcome youth and parents, volunteer guides and cooks, ranchers, pastors and sponsors to get involved,” he said.

For more information, visit https://www.christianoutdoorministry.org/ or contact Souder at dsouder3@gmail.com or 214.394.5250. COM’s annual fundraising dinner and auction will be held Sept. 22, 2022, in Richardson, Texas.

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