Jesus saw brothers Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea and told them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The Rev. Tom Rakow feels that God has called him, too - not as a fisherman, but as a hunter.
Through the nationwide group called Christian Deer Hunters Association, which he founded in 1994, Mr. Rakow and colleagues spread the gospel by passing out inspirational literature, setting up booths at trade exhibits, and holding special events for hunters.
A pastor and avid deer hunter, Mr. Rakow began writing devotionals for hunters as an independent study while earning a master's degree in biblical literature and languages. He passed out the devotionals, which apply Bible verses to hunting-related themes, to hunters and neighbors in his community of Spring Lake, Minn.
“At first, I wrote about 10 or 12 devotionals and my wife typed them up on 81/2 –by-11 inch paper,” Mr. Rakow said in an interview this week. “We folded them in half and put them in a little booklet and handed them out to people, like a local bar owner who was a hunter. I ended up getting so many requests for more that I got sick of photocopying it.”
Encouraged by the response, and with his wife's support, he became convinced that he had found a new ministry niche.
“I kind of had this concept of using deer hunting as the cultural platform for presenting the gospel,” Mr. Rakow said. “In the United States, depending on who you talk to, there are 12 to 14 million deer hunters, and in Ohio, close to half a million.”
The organization now has about 425 members in 36 states, including 24 members of an Ohio chapter that was started last year.
Mr. Rakow, 44, who is the pastor of a small independent Christian church, met with several friends and drew up four goals: evangelization, edification, education, and entertainment.
The group's pocket-sized devotional booklets, now printed professionally, continue to be its most effective outreach tool. The group has distributed more than 130,000 of them.
“We encourage our members to share the devotionals with people they run into in the woods,” Mr. Rakow said. They also distribute the booklets at trade shows and in hunting-supply stores.
Jim Suttinger, a Sunbury, Ohio, resident and president of the CDHA's Ohio chapter, said he leaves copies of the devotionals in bow shops, gun shops, and other places that hunters frequent. He saw firsthand the impact the devotionals can have.
“There was this guy who would come to church every once in a while. I'd try to talk to him, but nothing really clicked,” he said. “When he found out I was a hunter, he came over to the house. He saw the devotionals on the table and said, `Can I have one?' He took it home, read it, started going to church regularly, and within a few months got baptized. It turned his life around.”
Hunters who may be shy about sharing their faith are surprisingly comfortable handing out the devotionals, Mr. Rakow said.
“They know a lot about deer hunting and they know the Lord,” he said. “This gives them a piece of literature that they feel authoritative about, a realm they feel comfortable talking in.”
The topics cover a broad range of issues, including essays citing Bible verses that support hunting, such as Deuteronomy 14:4-5; Leviticus 17:13, and Genesis 9:3.
One devotional, titled “The Bug,” describes how a flu bug forced a hunter to miss the first weekend of the rifle hunting season. He was feeling sorry for himself until he compared the flu bug to “the bug of sin.” Referring to Romans 3:9-24, he writes that the flu bug affected his body for a few days, but sin brings eternal death to the soul.
Good places to pass out literature are “game feeds,” Mr. Rakow said. These social events, where people bring potluck dishes using the deer, moose, squirrel, duck, or fish they caught, draw between 30 and 3,000 people.
The Christian Deer Hunters Association's publishing company produces the booklets and other literature, including trading cards and scripture cards.
Mr. Suttinger, who discovered the CDHA while surfing the Net, said people often ask him if the Christian Deer Hunters Association sponsors group outings. They do on occasion, he said, but that's not the priority.
“The focus is to get the Word out to people,” he said.
The deer hunting season is in full swing now, with Ohio bow-hunting season running from Oct. 6 to Jan. 31. The state's firearms season is Nov. 26- Dec. 2; Michigan's firearms is now open and runs through Nov. 30, and Pennsylvania's is Nov. 26- Dec. 8.
The CDHA is busy year-round, however, because hunters don't just think about bagging their prey during the season.
“Deer hunters are thinking about the season way before it starts and way after it ends,” Mr. Rakow said. “It's not just for a few months or a few days. It's like golfers. They don't just think about golf during the summer, they think about it all year round.”
More information about the Christian Deer Hunters Association is available online at www.christiandeerhunters.org, or by mail at P.O. Box 432, Silver Lake, MN 55381. Devotionals are available for donations of any amount; please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope with requests.