The earth squished with mud beneath horses’ and riders’ feet as a mild wind blew away the
guilt-laden clouds above Fairmount, Georgia. The Cowboy Church would still hold its third Saturday meeting regardless of the weather. “We change our clothes, not our plans,” Rebecca Hampton later explained. The kids nor the horses seemed to mind. Quite the contrary!
Black cowboy hats, light blue hooded sweatshirts, horses and ponies dotted the barnyard as twelve or more youth prepared their animals to be ridden for the welcoming lineup and the Drill Team exhibition. Elizabeth combed Nevada, the paint horse’s tail; Tori brushed Montana, her “Rocky Mountain” pony; and Abbey cleaned Sundance’s hooves. Victoria, a pre-teen, lifted a light brown saddle with a red cross hanging from its side over a bay horse and six-year-old Jayda tied the girth around her white palomino pony.
Having been properly groomed, the line of mounted equine, one behind the other around the school, gave way to a side-by-side lineup along the hillside where riders waved at the incoming church attendees as their cars passed and turned onto the graveled driveway.
In the meantime, people walked through the barnyard and around the back to the meeting place at the back of the barn. Metal folding chairs were lined in rows over a floor of wood shavings; rough boards formed the walls, and open beams held the roof. A cheerful woman wearing a black cowboy hat and blue sweatshirt stood on a stage at the front as youth in matching attire gathered around her. Having obviously tethered their horses appropriately, they who had ridden the horses were ready for the church service. She led them in songs of faith and praise.
Having finished the music portion and prayed for their safety, she invited the congregation to go outside to watch the drill team perform in the Brandon Miller Arena. The inside service would continue as soon as the youth filed back into the Cowboy Church and crowded into the seats around Rebecca, the youngest sitting in her lap with a gray cat in her arms. The cat jumped down and wandered under the pulpit as the Reverend Steve from the Joy House in Jasper delivered the sermon.
The lady, Rebecca Hampton, is the founder and the visionary of this triune ministry: the Double HH Ranch, the Cowboy Church and the Christian School. Volunteers describe her as “the heart” of it all.
The ranch had come first after the building of the house. Following the economic downturn of 2008, she rescued as many ill-fed and mistreated horses as she could. After the kids began coming and she agreed to “let them help me at the barn and teach them how to rope and ride, to build relationships with them, and to talk to them about the importance of Christ in our lives,” she became a certified equine therapist. “I realized what a wonderful tool the horse is to work with kids with emotional issues,” she said.
Rebecca’s motivation strengthened as evidence of success became more and more visible. “You take an abused broken horse and put a broken child with it,” she said, “and I’m telling you, you can just sit back and watch God work. It’s amazing. They start taking care of the horses and grooming them. Just for a little while, they’ve got control over something. The horse needs love and somebody to take care of it and that’s what they do. They’re being helped, the child and the horse. Their relationship with the horse is a lot like our relationship with God. You can’t make a thousand-pound horse do anything he doesn’t want to, but because it trusts us and we trust God…. We feed and take care of them, and they let us have the range to lead. One has to lead and the other has to follow. It’s neat to watch the children work with the horses and the horse bow to their will and obey because it wants to, because it trusts.”
Rebecca continued, “These kids will just break your heart sometimes. We were coming back from somewhere one night and they had all gone to sleep, but a little girl in the back seat woke up. Her mama was in prison. She was with her grandma and grandpa. She said, ‘Ms. Rebecca, if Nana and Papaw die, can I come live with you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, baby. You can come live with me.’ That was all that was said and she went back to sleep. I thought, ‘Poor little thing. That is awful that you had to worry about that.’
“There was another little girl that was in an awful situation and she was sitting at a table on Monday night. She asked to pray. She asked God to help all the ones that have hurt in their heart. I thought, ‘She’s eight years old. What should she know about ‘hurt in your heart’?’ That same little girl prayed the next Monday night and she said, ‘God, I hope you had a good time with us tonight.’ It just blew me away. They say some of the sweetest things. It just breaks your heart. It makes you smile. It’s just a blessing.”
“The kids would keep coming and I said, ‘God, what are you doing?’ I felt like he answered, ‘I want a place where these people can come and find love and no condemnation.’” Rebecca explained. Many of the kids who came were abused or disadvantaged. Realizing their need for God, she invited ministers to meet with them in a shed attached to the back of the barn. Since Double HH Ranch’s founding in 2007, many youths have found Jesus through these preachers and have subsequently been baptized in a nearby creek.
“I heard about the Cowboy Church. There were several out West but only two in Georgia. The one in Lafayette invited me to come and the next week, I went. Lord, honey, I knew why I had been created. I found people that loved God and the cowboy life and it was just amazing. I came back and told the kids about a Cowboy Church. They didn’t have a clue what it was and I didn’t either,” she said. They stepped forward, however, and we established the Cowboy Church at Jerusalem.
The school followed. “Low income at risk,” Alan Morris, missionary for the North Central Georgia area, said. “Who are these kids going to associate with in
public school, but other low-income, at risk. Middle income kids are making fun of them because of their clothes or their education or …. They can be so cruel, but she (Rebecca Hampton) was seeing these kids dropping out of school, getting into drugs, getting pregnant. She thought that what we really need is a school.”
Rebecca Morris, Alan’s wife and an experienced teacher, answered the call to help establish a school. “I’m kind of the brains behind it, but Rebecca (Hampton) is the heart,” Mrs. Morris said. Obviously two more “hearts,” Alan’s and Rebecca Morris’s, had been overwhelmingly captured by God’s love and a group of children, because Alan’s and Mrs. Morris’s enthusiastic descriptions tripped upon, glided over, piled upon and illuminated each other’s. She is the school’s lead teacher and Alan is on the Board of Directors.
The school has been overwhelmingly successful in its three-year lifespan. Typically, the students are two grades below their expected grade level when they enroll, but within two years, their Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores have risen six grade levels. “It’s structure. It’s biblical training — solid ChristiaN training. It’s dependable. We’ve been amazed,” Alan said. “Before they leave us, our goal is that they will be joint enrolled at Shorter University for at least a year.” These children who would not have succeeded otherwise are going to college.
Rebecca Hampton summarizes the situation as follows: “We think high around here and sometimes it’s like a boot camp. I tell the kids I do this because I love them and want them to be the best they can be. I think we’re turning out an army for God. These kids have the spirit of Joshua in them and when hard times come, they are going to be able to stand because they know who they are in Christ and what they believe. I know that they know God is who He is and Jesus is who He is and the Holy Spirit is who He is. They know who they are and the power they have over Satan. They know that they don’t have to give in to his tricks because Jesus died on Calvary. We try to teach them grace and not legalism. We teach them who they are in Christ, that He made us like we are and we can just be ourselves as we strive to be more like him and let him live his life through us. We are His anyway. He bought us with a price. We are his. We’re not our own.”