By Michael Ritchie DC
The Camp of God
“Give up my bear tag?” I heard myself say over the phone. “I have been waiting for two years for this hunt and you want me to give up my tag?”
The call came out of the blue and the caller ID said: “Randy McPherson” Answering the phone I was pleased to hear from a friend and fellow Centershot board member. “Doc, do you have any hunting spots for this year’s bear hunt?” “No, all tags are taken, what’s up?” I replied. “I have this Pastor friend, John Skipworth, I would like to bring him along as he has never shot a bear. Won’t you let him have your bear tag? You have already shot four bears and if you need meat for your Wild game dinner, I’m sure he would give you the meat.” he bargained. “Alright if he will agree to that, I will be Chief fishing guide and dishwasher in camp,” I replied not knowing anything about him.
This would be the third trip I would take to NW Ontario. This trip was a Centershot Ministries sponsored hunt and fishing trip. There would be 11 bear hunters and 8 fishermen. Quite a large group to be sure but most of our previous trips had been successful and everyone wanted to bring a friend. We had Pastors, Doctors, Law enforcement, EMTs, a Veterinarian, CEOs of companies, and a Newspaperman on the trip. Like every group of men, we are all going through our own challenges and I was in prayer that everyone would receive a blessing for being at camp.
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The plan for the week would start with some hunters arriving on Friday night and the rest arriving Saturday afternoon. Each day a continental breakfast would start the day and the fishermen would go out and return at noon for the big meal. Each day a different person would share their Christian testimony. After lunch we would take the hunters to their stands and fishermen would go out and catch dinner. The hunters would return long after dark and we would fry up fresh walleyes for everyone.
The bear hunting was slow but consistent with the first two nights yielding 4 bears. Sunday, at the noon meal, my good friend and Illinois Church planter, Dr. Ken Wilson shared his “God story” with 17 hungry men. Most were visibly touched by Ken’s message as he told of how God drew him to himself after a serious pickup truck accident which miraculously yielded no injuries.
The fishing was good, and every night people brought in their limits of fish. As the hunters filled their tags, we would take them out to take advantage of the plentiful catches from the cold Canadian waters. We were using 6” bombers in chartreuse and both walleyes and pike were taking our offerings.
Both Ken Wilson and John Skipworth had taken bears with their bows in the 300-pound range and were ready to go fishing. John seemed to have an especially good time teasing Randy about losing big fish. Ken had never taken a northern pike before so that was my goal taking him out. After the early morning fishing, it was John’s turn to share his testimony. The usual smiling and energetic young Pastor began by sharing a passage of scripture from Genesis chapter 32:1 Jacob went on his way, and God’s angels met him. 2 When he saw them, Jacob said, “This is God’s camp.” So, he called that place Mahan aim.
He followed by saying, “What I am about to tell you I am not proud of except it will show you God’s overwhelming love and grace” He then went on to tell this group of men how at 18 years old he and a friend were at a hotel selling drugs when the deal went bad. They proceeded to beat a 21-year-old man, slit his throat, throw him in a ditch and left him for dead. “By the time I was 21 years old, I was in court charged with 7 felonies and sentenced with 20 years in prison without parole. As the guard brought me to my jail cell, he asked me “Son, do you know what just happened in that courtroom? Son, you just threw away your life!” Right then the gravity of my choices hit me, and God’s Holy Spirit began to convict me of my sin. I prostrated myself on that jail cell floor begging God to forgive me of how I had wasted the life he had given me”
As John proceeded through his story there was not a dry eye in the group of hard-core hunters and fishermen. God was dealing with me as well. He had just called me to begin a faith-based drug rehab center in my home near Roscommon, Michigan. This was something I knew was needed in our county where:
- #1 in Michigan for opiate drug prescriptions per capita
- # 6 in the country for child abuse
- #2 in the state for poverty
- 61% of the children born at our local hospital had drugs and alcohol in their systems at birth.
I told God, “I don’t know how, I don’t have the money, and I don’t have the time to start something like that.” Not only for these reasons, but these people are difficult to work with. The truth is, I don’t even like them because they have created their own problems.” The voice in my head was clear as a bell, “I don’t care if you want to. You will do it.” Broken I replied “Lord I have two requests. If you want me to do this, please help me to see them as you see them and love them the way you love them.”
Be careful what you ask for because God will answer your prayer.
Wasn’t I telling you a hunting story? This camp was more than a typical hunting camp, it was Mahan aim- God’s camp! The week went on and more hunters filled their tags with most of the bear above the 200-pound mark and the good fishing continued with Officer Ben Lowe catching the largest pike at 43” and the largest walleye coming in at 27”.
Randy McPherson shared his story telling the high and low moments in his life and assuring the group that God never left him nor forsook him. Randy is the owner of several successful businesses and has never lost sight of the fact that by God’s grace we live, move and have our being. He likes to bless Pastors whenever he can by taking them on hunts.
John Dankert came from Roscommon, Michigan and he was the General Contractor on Roscommon Baptist Church’s building project in 2015. He told the story of how he and his wife became certified foster parents. “Before my life was all about getting the things I never had as a child. I found that was not the path the Lord would have me follow” adding, “Now it is about my kids and the other children in our community that need someone to show them the love of Christ.” John and his wife Julie have adopted 1, fostered 4 and raised 5 of their own.
Friday came and the last two hunters to fill their tags went out early to see if they could catch one sneaking in early. One of the hunters (a retired Michigan State police officer) returned shortly before noon with a nice 275 -pound boar. The other hunter had passed on a bear.
Retired Pastor Don Wiltshire was last to share his life story as a small-town Pastor. “I never lacked anything I have needed over the years. My greatest blessing is that all of my children love the Lord and are serving him in the church”
God had shown up this week and had blessed this camp. We ended up with 10 bears for 11 hunters and limits of fish to take home. I was told by the hunter that passed on a bear that it was the best hunt he had ever been on. Another hunter told me “Doc, it was one of the top 5 experiences of my life” I questioned “Hunting experiences?” “No, of all my experiences!” he said emphatically.
If you don’t bring God along on your hunts, maybe you should invite him to make your camp- Mahan aim!
If you would like to hear the rest of John Skipworth’s testimony look up his name on youtube under “Called by a new name” or click on the link: https://vimeo.com/277324393
If you would like to learn more about Centershot Ministries on the web www.centershot.org