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By Peter Sawyer
Area churches are leaving the comfort of the pews in an effort to reach local sportsmen.
Fifteen years ago Palestine Baptist Church paved the way for a new outreach in Bedford County involving wild game.
Pastor Dean Oliver came to Palestine from a church in Georgia where wild game dinners had been held for the community. Palestine held its first dinner for more than 100 people. Oliver left after a year, but Palestine continues to reach out in this way through Quest Outdoor Ministries. Several other churches in the area now also hold their own events.
“I have no doubt we are in [an] area that hunting and fishing are just popular,” Quest Team Leader Rodney Dellis said.
Dellis said their mission is to “reach those people who might not come to a Sunday morning service because it’s church.” They accomplish this by building relationships within the community through sports-related activities such as the wild game dinner.
At the wild game dinner, Palestine provides side dishes and desserts, and guests bring main courses. Main courses consist of the meat from what guests have killed during the hunting season.
These dinners have grown significantly over the years. Palestine now sells 1,000 tickets in advance, and sells out within two weeks.
“I think it’s because we give great prizes,” Dellis said.
Palestine gave away three guns the first year, and word spread. Now the event has many prizes relating to the outdoors including firearms, tree stands and bows.
Palestine’s success with this ministry has sparked a local trend among churches. Southside Baptist Church began a similar outreach 10 years ago.
“It brings a crowd that wouldn’t usually go to church, and that’s what it’s all about,” Southside Baptist member Steve Jones said.
Because Southside’s church building is not big enough to accommodate its usual crowd of around 250 people, the church holds the event at Goodview Elementary School. Like Palestine, Southside recommends guests bring wild game to the dinner. Prizes are given away and a speaker presents a Gospel message. Southside provides the event at no charge to those who attend.
“It’s an outreach program for the community,” Jones said. “That’s why we keep it free.”
Three years ago, Southside’s focus expanded beyond sharing the Gospel with the people attending the dinner.
“Back in 2008 we started using this dinner to help people in this neighborhood whose kids have battled cancer,” Jones said.
They decided to take a love offering. Jones said nobody was coerced, but many gave generously.
In 2008, they were able to raise $1,200 for Hunter Monk, a third grader at Goodview Elementary School who was battling cancer. In 2009 the event raised $2,000 for two girls who were also fighting cancer, and the money was split between their families. In 2010 they raised $500 for disabled veterans. Southside makes a point to honor veterans at its wild game dinners. This year the money raised by the love offering will go to help 9-year-old Faith Wilson, who was born blind and suffers from other medical problems.
For 17 years, EastLake Community Church’s Ricky Thomas has worked with Roanoke Valley Outdoor Ministry. This ministry’s focus is reaching people through a shared interest in the outdoors.
“The number one thing is to share the Gospel,” Thomas said. He said the ministry also aims to get youth interested in outdoor activities. The outreach has sponsored bass tournaments, hunter safety courses, trout fishing and archery events for almost 20 years.
For about eight years Roanoke Valley Outdoor Ministry has hosted wild game dinners. In years past these have been held in the Roanoke area, but EastLake Community Church in Moneta will host the dinner this year. Thomas said he wanted a new location because he wanted to reach new people.
“I approached my pastor, and he was all for it,” Thomas said.
In addition to being sponsored by RV Outdoor Ministry and EastLake, the event is also sponsored by Rainbow Forest Baptist Church, East Gate Church of the Nazarene and Camp Eagle.
The event will be held Saturday, March 5 at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults, free admission for children 12 and under.
Door prizes will be offered, including shotguns, fishing rods and reels and compound bows. Prizes will also be awarded in a mount contest.
For tickets or more information call 540-297-0966 or 540-890-6022.
This trend of holding the dinners has spread outside the Lake area. Last year Thaxton Baptist Church decided to start a wild game dinner through its Christian Sportsmen Association. The CSA’s mission is “leading others to Christ through common interest in sporting event.”
Thaxton Baptist suggests guests bring wild game dishes, but provides beverages, side dishes and alternatives to wild game. Like Southside and Palestine, they give away prizes including: a framed oil painting by local award-winning landscape artist Patricia Strobel, a .50 caliber muzzle loader and a three-and-a-half-foot chain-saw sculpture of a bear. Melanie Hylton said she saw many life-changing decisions made last year.
A variety of well-known speakers come to these meals. Phil Robertson, also known as the Duck Commander and the Buck Commander, will speak at Palestine’s Wild Game Dinner on Feb. 26. Jeremy Harrill will speak at Southside’s dinner on Feb. 19. The Rev. Dale Riddle will speak at Thaxton Baptist on Feb. 19. Thaxton will also present game calling performances by Fowl Mafia, and Ben Shrader will present wildlife photography. The guest speaker at the event at EastLake on March 5 will be Tom Rakow, author, speaker and executive president of the Christian Deer Hunters Association.
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Southside Baptist’s event: The 10th Annual Sportsman’s Wild Game Dinner will be held on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.. Sponsored by Southside Baptist Church. Enjoy dinner at no cost. They ask that each one bring a covered dish of meat, vegetables or dessert to share. There will be a mount contest and prizes will be given for first, second and third places. A special door prize, a muzzleloader, will be given away for mount contest entries. Lots of other door prizes, muzzleloaders, tree stands, etc. will also be handed out. Guest speaker is Jeremy Harrill, a game warden from North Carolina, who has helped produce several videos, including Lord of the Springs. The dinner will be held at Goodview Elementary School. Doors open at 5 p.m. For more information, call the church- 890-3815 or Steve Jones- 890-3975.
Thaxton Baptist event: The Christian Sportsmen Association of Thaxton Baptist Church will hold its second annual Wild Game Dinner on February 19 at 5:30 p.m. A buffet-style meal, (including meat selections for non-game-eaters). There will be a program, door prizes, plus a grand prize drawing for an original oil painting and a brand new muzzleloader. Tickets are available for a donation of $7 per person and may be obtained early at the church office, Catron’s Tire Service, or Overstreet’s Cities Services in Bedford. Thaxton Baptist is located on 460 West of Bedford at 1067 Penicks Mill Road in Thaxton. For more information, call 540.586.8348 or 586.7474.
Roanoke Valley Outdoor Ministry event at EastLake Community Church: The Wild Game Dinner will be held Saturday, March 5 at EastLake Community Church. For directions call 540-297-0966 or visit www.eastlake-church.com/. Cost: $5 for adults, children 12 and under are free. Everyone is asked to bring their favorite wild game dish or a covered dish of ham, chicken or beef. Desserts, sides and drinks will be provided. The church will be open from 3:30 – 5 p.m. for mount display setup; doors open to the public at 4 p.m.