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December 31, 2000: Saturdany Night at The River

November 26, 2000: College athletes minstry emphasizes Holy Spirit

November 19, 2000: Bad weather doesn't dampen spirits of thousands at Detroit's Convoy of Hope

November 12, 2000: International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Church

October 29, 2000: Frontiersman way of life draws men, boys closer to Christ

September 17, 2000: Loving the unloved

September 10, 2000: Changing lives in a big way

August 13, 2000: Church planting fuels growth

July 30, 2000: Full Gospel New York Church targets 500,000 Koreans

July 16, 2000: Running the good race

July 9, 2000: Hispanic church thrives in border town

June 25, 2000: The hand of God

June 18, 2000: HonorBound: Raising an army of godly men

June 11, 2000: Illinois Christian radio stations deliver message of Christ to thousands

May 14, 2000: A/G foster families minister to children

April 30, 2000: Prison revival reaches beyond the fence

April 23, 2000: Harvest Sunday draws hundreds for water baptism

April 16, 2000: Chain reaction

April 9, 2000: One pastor's burden: reaching the 'white slums'

March 26, 2000: Cowboy church rounds up believers

March 19, 2000: Motorsports ministry: Winning souls at the track

March 12, 2000: A dream blooms in the desert

February 20, 2000: Romanian church prospers for 20 years

February 13, 2000: Ministry at a strategic academic crossroads

January 23, 2000: God's Navy

Running the good race

It’s a sure bet where Chaplain Randy Weaver can be found seven days a week — at Sam Houston Race Park in northwest Houston, Texas.

Since the racetrack’s opening in 1994, Weaver has ministered to hundreds of track employees, jockeys, groomers, trainers and racing fans. He prays with jockeys every race day and visits them in hospitals when they are injured. He regularly visits the backside and chats with trainers, groomers and riders who must devote 24 hours a day to caring for the horses, even to the point of living at the track.

"The number fluctuates, but there are about 1,000 people on any given morning on the backside," says Weaver, whose western shirts, cowboy hats and Texas-size belt buckles serve as his chaplain’s uniform. "That doesn’t include the betting tellers and the other people employed by the track."

Chaplain Randy Weaver (in water) speaking before a baptism at Sam Houston Race Park.

Cowboy religion
On Sundays at 11 a.m., Weaver converts the Homestretch Café, the "track kitchen," into a church where T-shirts and jeans, straw cowboy hats or baseball caps are the Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. Varnished picnic tables become pews, and worshipers munch on donuts or eat a hearty café breakfast. His wife, Darla, ministers to teens during the sermon portion. A children’s church is held concurrently in a carpeted storeroom. Weaver’s down-home approach and folksy sermons laced with "cowboyisms" pack more than 160 worshipers into the services each week.

"Most people here are not your traditional churchgoers," says Gary Hearen, who is one of several who attend the services even though they have no connection with horse racing. "Randy has a bunch of people going to church that had quit, but he got them back into church."

"Rodeo cowboys who do it as a profession are on the road 48 weeks out of the year," says Weaver. "Most of them don’t have a home church, and the rodeos are held on weekends."

Ann McGovern, Sam Houston Race Park’s vice president of operations, says chaplains are necessary because many track employees rarely have time to find a nearby church.

"Working racehorses is a life," she says. "It is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week job. Animals don’t get put on the shelf on weekends."

True religion
Weaver begins the racetrack workday with prayer over the park’s public address system. On Tuesdays, Weaver and his assistant, John Shumaker, hold a 6 p.m. Bible study and gospel concert at the Homestretch Café that draws about 70 people. At 11 a.m. on Thursdays, they host a lunch for backside employees. They also maintain a clothes closet for employees in need. Weaver said more than $15,000 in benevolence funds, raised by church members and horsemen, went to backside employees last year who needed help with medical bills, emergency trips home or other needs. Darla also ministers to women who seek her out for counseling.

"True religion is taking care of widows and orphans, loving God above everything else," she says. "That’s what we try to do — take care of people and not just quote Scriptures at them."

Betting and religion
Weaver is not defensive in the least that horse racing involves gambling.

"Betting doesn’t preclude bringing Christ to the employees or fans alike," he says. "Where would Jesus be? I believe He would be out on this racetrack telling people how much He loved them and cared about them. Our motto is, ‘Helping people run the race.’ We are here to help people run the race with the emphasis on ‘people.’ "

—Richard Vara, religion writer for the Houston Chronicle in Houston, Texas.

Houston Chronicle Publishing Company © 1999. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

 

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