Buck and Lynn Heard of Moultrie, Georgia, own a bird dog named Queen Mary that is worth over $30,000. The number of championships determines her value and she has won several. Her first national championship came in 2010 when she was named the Purina Top Shooting Dog of the Year. Just this year she was named runner-up in a competition that sported the top twelve shooting dogs in the country.
Many years ago, a friend invited Buck to a field trial. Buck borrowed a horse and ran in the gallery. Field trials are run only in areas where there are huge uninhabited tracts of land. The quail plantations where these trials are run will have four to eight thousand acres of land where there are no roads and no houses, just acre after acres of pines and brush. Some of the plantation owners will spend $1000 an acre cultivating wild coveys of quail, yielding 2-3 birds per acre.
At a field trial a handler and a scout manage a dog from their horses. The handler calls the dog and directs the dog through the woods. The dog runs off the sight of the handler’s horse. Whichever way the horse’s head turns, the dog will turn in response. The dog runs several hundred yards out ahead of the handler, smelling for birds. The scout’s job is to signal to the handler and the judges when the dog is on point. A gallery of riders, which may number from 30-100, ride in to watch the dog hold point until the handler flushes the birds and shoots a .32 blank pistol, simulating a kill.
Buck and Lynn have been to field trials in Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee. They have been up the East coast to New Jersey and Connecticut. They have been out west to Montana, North Dakota and into Canada. They once stayed on the road for 32 straight days with four dogs and four horses.
Recognizing that their love for field trial running was taking them away from church and the regular gathering with other worshippers, Buck and Lynn decided to ask each host of the field trial if they could invite people to a devotion ten minutes before the breakaway, the time when the first dogs were let down to run each morning.
After doing this for a couple of years, Buck has more empathy for preachers. He says, “You never know who’s listening or what people get out of those devotions. It’s hard to know if the devotionals mean anything to anybody.”
Last year they were at a field trial in Lynn Haven, Florida. Buck and Lynn had to pack up early as Buck had a Saturday morning deacons’ meeting back at his church in Moultrie.
One of the men saw them packing up and stopped by and asked Buck if they were going to be at the party that night.
Buck said, “No, we’ve got some business to attend to and we will not be able to stay.”
The man Buck was speaking with was Ricky Southridge (name changed), a man cut rough around the edges. At Lynn Haven it was Ricky’s job to run the dog wagon. He followed the gallery with the dogs, as every hour two new dogs were set on the ground to run. Buck’s way of describing Ricky was that “he drove a four on the floor with a fifth of Jack Daniels under the seat.”
When Buck told Ricky that he and Lynn were not staying another day, he asked Buck, “Well, who’s going to do it?”
Buck replied, “Who’s going to do what, Ricky?”
“Who’s going to do the devotion?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Buck, “but I don’t imagine you’ll miss it.”
Ricky said, “I haven’t missed one yet. I don’t go to church.”
With this confession Buck realized he had at least one in his congregation that was listening.
Buck said, “Ricky, I don’t know who will do the devotion but I will make sure it gets done.”
Buck and Lynn had friends in the camp, Jack and Fran Miller, that they had called on before to read scripture and to pray. Buck told them about Ricky Southridge. He asked them if they would do the devotion the next morning and his question to them was the same as Ricky’s, “If you don’t do it, who’s going to do it?” While acknowledging they were not the best public speakers, they agreed to do their best.
Ricky Southridge was there the next morning, cup in hand, to hear the good news for the day, to hear God’s name invoked with praise and thanksgiving for another day in His outdoor sanctuary.
This week many people will make their way to stained glass sanctuaries to hear the Easter story. Many preachers will ask themselves, “I wonder who was listening.” While all of these sermons are important, they are not nearly as important as the ones that are given by people with no seminary degrees out in the highways and byways of life because there are a multitude of Ricky Southridges who will never darken the door of a church, but that doesn’t mean they are not open to knowing about God’s love.
Without knowing it, Ricky Southridge points us to similar questions raised by the Apostle Paul two thousand years ago:
“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?” (Romans 10:14 The Message).
Most Christians feel inadequate like Jack and Fran Miller to be witnesses. We forget that people are not looking for polish and slick presentations. People want to know our hearts. People want authenticity and genuineness, not a bunch of religious phoniness. People just want to know what God means to us and how they can find God for themselves.
I suspect that the reason Ricky Southridge came to hear Buck and Lynn’s devotional at the breakaway was that he could sense the joy in their hearts and that it was real, even though they are people who have lived through some real challenges in their lives. Who among us hasn’t or won’t?
However, if those of us who have been given God’s gift of grace don’t tell others how they can also receive such a gift, who’s going to do it? Ricky Southridge and others like him want to know.