It’s no bull; ministry trains rodeo riders

Scott Mendes, founder and executive director of Western Harvest Ministries, stands in front of the “beginner” bulls used to train aspiring rodeo riders at ministry headquarters on Old Springtown Road. JUDY SHERIDAN

June 3, 2011

It’s no bull; ministry trains rodeo riders

Judy Sheridan Weatherford Democrat

WEATHERFORD — Western Harvest Ministries, a traveling non-profit since 2003, is settling down in a wheat pasture about four miles south of Springtown, but it looks like Founder and Executive Director Scott Mendes may be in for another wild ride.

Mendes, a former world class bull rider, is pulling together a local ranch/church/center that will teach, train and support young men with a passion for the popular and dangerous sport of bull riding.

But his vision is bigger than that.

What he really hopes to do is help aspiring competitors conquer the beasts within them as well as the beasts which gyrate under them.

Mendes, who recently put up two portable buildings and a full-sized rodeo arena to accommodate his unusual ministry — as well as the growing church he pastors — said he knows what it’s like to be an adrenalin junkie, driving hard and doing whatever it takes to become a professional cowboy.

He has battled his way to the pinnacle of rodeo, winning the world championships in Las Vegas in 1997, to local and national acclaim.

And he has crawled to the bottom, too, adrift in alcohol produced by the companies which sponsor the sport, immersed in the combative, wandering ways of the all too typical rodeo cowboy.

As a Christian, he struggled. Eventually, he left.

“I found myself drafted into doing things that compromised my faith,” he explained, “like having to go to bars to sign autographs. Or I would go to speak at a church with my jacket and shirt filled with the logos of beer companies.”

“I turned down a $30,000 contract with Jack Daniels,” he said. “I took a stand.”

Bits and pieces from the community — pews from a church, tables from an ice skating rink, classroom buildings from a nearby ISD — now go to support the new headquarters of WHM Ministries, set on a 15-acre campus on Old Springtown Road.

Bible studies, church services and outreach events will be staged there, and a trailer on site offers berths for cowboys who seek refuge from the tumultuous rodeo atmosphere.

Behind the arena, ”beginner” bulls — young longhorns and the offspring of celebrated buckers — toss their heads. Paint horses graze the barren, windswept landscape, dotted with tufts of grass and weeds.

In addition to hosting “whole athlete” national and local training camps for future bullriders, WHM ministries has created the Conquering the Beast Christian Bull Riding League, an alternative pro bull riding league that “instills a positive message” and offers a “healthy family environment,” Mendes said.

Christian bullriders will perform at the CTB events as members of an outreach team called Spur’n with Jesus, which has enrolled some 50 members nationwide.

The events will also include Christian concerts and guest speakers who advocate staying in school, developing character and saying no to drugs and alcohol, Mendes said.

Mendes was born into rodeo. In fact, his grandfather Frank was a founder. Frank rode in Madison Square Garden, Mendes said, and was one of the first to compete in Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth.

“He was one of 100 guys who came together to develop pro rodeo,” Mendes said. “He helped it to evolve.”

Mendes describes his childhood, split between divorced parents, as dysfunctional.

His dad lived on a ranch near Fresno, Calif, he said, and his mom was a resident of Reno, Nev.

At his dad’s, Mendes was riding calves by the age of six, working hard to be a tough and able cowboy.

“I was under the deception that by obtaining worldly accomplishments I would become somebody,” he said.

But at his mom’s he came to understand that God was not impressed by what he could achieve.

“My grandmother prayed I would hear God’s call for my life,” he said.

The two destinies seemed to converge at the National Finals in Las Vegas in 1994, when Mendes watched a bull crush his close friend, Brent Thurman, minutes before his own ride.

“It was a wake up call when I saw him laying there lifeless,” he said. “The championships were not what was important. I needed to walk the walk, so I would be prepared to stand before God.”

“I felt invincible before that.”

Building on the national platform of Mendes’ bullriding success, Western Harvest Ministries has been featured on Christian broadcasts worldwide, Mendes said. It is supported by churches, businesses, individuals and families.

One big project which has recently come to the fore, Mendes said, is a movie to be called “Gold Score,” which will be shot in Texas and Montana.

“The movie has a $16.5 million budget,” he said. “It is the quickest way get the message out.”

“It will be “Friday Night Lights” meets “Eight Seconds,” he said. “But it will be a featured family film, with no cussing.”

For more information on Western Harvest Ministries, go online at www.westernharvestministries.com or call Mendes at 817-995-9087.