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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Gerry Stoltzfoos
Aug. 17, 2014

Reaching for the Stars

When you think of typical church ministries, horse-riding therapy doesn’t spring to mind. But for Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos of Freedom Valley Church (Assemblies of God) in Gettysburg, Pa., that ministry has brought significant church growth. The Shining Stars ministry was the result of a couple who had a passion for disabled children and a desire to help them using what they knew — which was horses. Brandy Crago, the director, was a world champion trick rider. She, along with husband Vaughn, approached the pastor with the idea of starting a ministry for disabled kids at the church.

Freelance contributor Amber Weigand-Buckley recently interviewed Pastor Stoltzfoos about the success of Shining Stars.

evangel: Tell us about Shining Stars.

GERRY STOLTZFOOS: Brandy borrowed some land from the church and she put up a coral, and for seven years she did ministry like that. But that was only summer ministry. Six years ago we started building her an indoor facility. We ended up building a totally enclosed arena. We officially opened this past summer to operate 12 months of the year.

evangel: How has that ministry grown over the years?

STOLTZFOOS: Today, that ministry is 130 students with 160 volunteers from 20 different churches. We had a sign out front that said: “Please pray for us. We need a building for our handicapped ministry.” A person was driving by, saw the sign, and stopped in and asked if they could write a check for $100,000 for it. Church people have generously given, but we’ve also had an amazing amount of outside support from the community.

evangel: How has this ministry affected your church growth?

STOLTZFOOS: When this ministry took off, we quickly ballooned. And then we started planting churches more aggressively and sending people out. We’ve been involved in 14 church plants since then. We are constantly sending people out, many who come through the Shining Stars therapeutic riding ministry.

evangel: Tell me about some of the kids’ testimonies who have come through the program.

STOLTZFOOS: A 14-year-old child who they said would never walk or talk or sit up or recognize her parents has done all of those things. And, we had a 12-year-old who talked for the first time.

Some of these kids ride on the horse face down, spread-eagle at first. And there are four to five volunteers per horse depending on the child. It’s a tremendous team.

We know that in some way these children are leaping in their personal development. It’s an incredible thing to be part of.

evangel: What makes your approach different from typical therapy?

STOLTZFOOS:  At the beginning of the season a small team, usually two staffers will sit with a family and ask, “What are your goals for this child?” Many say they’ve never been asked that question before. They’ve only been told what their child will never do.

We make prayer goals with them, and then we pray. We hold to the goals they set for their own children.

evangel: Is there a downside to a ministry like this?

STOLTZFOOS: The downside is, it does take an enormous amount of church energy. Sometimes we’re tempted to think we could’ve grown faster or been more effective in making disciples in some other way. But that’s probably not reality, and this is our assignment from the Holy Spirit, so we do what we’re called to do. We’re very privileged to do it.

evangel: Any closing thoughts?

STOLTZFOOS: This ministry has given us credibility in areas we didn’t know or expect. Before this we were known as a church that believes in crazy things, like speaking in tongues and miracles. Now they know us as the church that helps handicapped kids.

One man who used to call us “freaks” got saved about two years ago. He has some handicapped people in his family, and to find out that we were reaching out and offering to serve them was incredibly moving to his soul.

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