By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — —
The Way of the Cross Ranch Ministries held its annual Cowboy Christmas celebration Saturday at Hutchason Longhorn Arena in Mt. Vernon.
As part of the event, volunteers on horseback reenacted the original Christmas story “the cowboy way” for more than 20 children in attendance.
The goal of the reenactment was to educate youth about the true meaning of Christmas by making the birth of Jesus Christ even more memorable for them, said Michelle Burwell, co-founder of the Way of the Cross Ranch Ministries.
“We want them to learn the story of Jesus the cowboy way,” Burwell said. “We do use the Bible, but we use a lot of license to do that. … We try to give the kids a sense of what the true Christmas story is, but maybe they'll remember it better this way.”
This is the third year the Cowboy Christmas has been held locally. The free event helps at-risk youth, but is also open to any members of the public who want to attend.
In addition to watching the reenactment, kids in attendance Saturday also had the chance to ride a horse under the supervision of trained volunteers.
Ernie Miller, a member of the ministry, was one of the volunteers supervising Saturday's horseback riding. He said kids gain much from the experience of riding.
“It gives them a little respect,” Miller said. “We've had some kids that really take hold of this and enjoy riding with the horses.”
The centerpiece of Saturday's event, though, was the reenactment of the Christmas story.
As children watched in the audience, volunteers performed the story of Christmas, but with a cowboy twist.
Mary and Joseph were seen arriving at the “Bethlehem Inn” on horseback, where they were told there is no room at the Inn.
The story then progressed to the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Wise Men on horseback, who were bearing gifts.
During the performance, Bible verses were read over the sound system to provide context for the story.
At the end of the reenactment, Santa Claus entered the scene, riding on the back of a pickup truck. Gifts were then handed out to the children.
Before distributing the gifts, however, Santa reminded the kids that he is not the true meaning of Christmas. The birth of Jesus is the real focus of the holiday, he said.
“Our whole purpose of the ministry is we just want to share Jesus with whoever will listen to us,” Michelle Burwell said. “The kids that we work with, a lot of them don't even know Jesus. They don't know who Jesus is. They know Santa Claus and their presents. They're not really sure about the true Christmas story. So we're hoping with this imagery that they'll remember.”
Another volunteer at Saturday's event was Cyndee Gillmore of New Castle, Ind., who also brought her seven children to help out.
Gillmore, who has her own ministry in Indiana, said Way of the Cross does a great deal to help share the Gospel with Mt. Vernon area residents.
“There are so many wonderful people that are involved in this,” Gillmore said. “Their goal is to just show the love of Christ through everything that they do.”
Parent Tina Gass of Dix brought her 9-year-old daughter, Keelie, to the Cowboy Christmas Saturday. Keelie was able to ride on one of the horses.
“I think it's really nice,” Tina Gass said of the event. “I mean, anything to help kids is well worth it.”
The not-for-profit Way of the Cross Ranch Ministries was founded in 2008 by Jerry and Michelle Burwell. It offers monthly clinics and a Bible school.