"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis
This story truly begins with a planted seed years before it ever sprouted. M.A. as a young boy fell in love with hunting but gained an interest in his teen years to introduce others to the sport. In college, he spent many weekends during hunting season taking college guys down to his parent’s Georgia property and allowing them to pull the trigger for the first time, many instantly falling in love with hobby; myself being one of them! With all the time in the world, we even came up with a name—Hardwood Legends. With many of the same guys coming down to hunt and many “newbies” joining in, we would film each other’s hunts and created our own hunting video. I will never forget the day that I was hanging out with M.A. and his roommate and he was telling his roommate about how he would one day be a hunting guide. I rolled my eyes and let out a laugh that was not meant to be heard by the others in the room. I thought to myself, “If I marry this guy, how will we make money? Guiding is not a career! He is a dreamer!” He unfortunately heard my laugh and was offended by my lack of support. If only I knew…
In college, M.A. really was a dreamer. He would spend hours searching for properties in North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia. Some for lease and some for sale. He would email realtors that had large properties for sale for long lengths of time to see if he could get a lease out of it. Every once in a while, a realtor would respond. But nothing ever came of it.
We graduated in 2010. M.A. moved to Georgia to work for his dad. I stayed in North Carolina to finish student teaching, in which I was offered a job to teach at Brevard High. We had huge decision to make. His hunting was in Georgia and Brevard hardly has hunting at all. But, he did like the town and he loved me enough to move up here. His first job landed him at a local summer camp. At the end of the camp season, they had a special Military Father Son Weekend in which they invited select counselors to stay for. M.A. stayed for the extra money and this weekend would change so much. The seed that hand been planted finally gained the light it needed to grow. M.A. sat down with a group of emotionless military men. He had to lead a discussion about their relationship with their sons. It was a slow start and he timidly lead the conversation until finally these muscular, men of all men began to open up. One in particular, who had been very awkward with his son the first day of the weekend, began to bawl. He explained with honest tears flowing from his eyes how he has spent most of his son’s life deployed. He did not know his son at all. He didn’t know what his son liked to do, if he was in to girls yet, if he had fears or talents, or even what he wanted to be when he grew up. By the end of the weekend, M.A. saw this same man carrying his son to the car over his shoulder, both lit up with smiles and laughter.
Life happened; jobs, engagement, marriage, a new home. I had always had a dream of going to Africa. Like for as long as I could remember. I had the opportunity to go to Kenya and Uganda with Compassion International and meet our sponsor child. We could only afford (well, not even really afford) for me to go. Long story short, I came home and said, I feel called to ministry. Not sure what yet… maybe we go to Africa? M.A. felt a similar calling. But we couldn’t really pin-point what that calling was. We began to plan a mission trip for the falling year through Sports Friend in Ethiopia in which we would lead a team. And maybe this would open a door or shed light on what we were supposed to do.
One day, M.A. received a very random phone call. A realtor asked if he would still be interested in leasing a piece of property out in Harmony, NC for the cost of the taxes. It had been for sale for years and the original owner passed away and the new owners (family it had been handed down to) did not want to pay any money on it while they tried to sell it. This realtor had held onto M.A.’s email he sent years before! M.A. talked to his dad because we couldn’t even afford the taxes at the time. He told his dad he really wanted to use the property to take dads and their sons hunting; a passion that grew after his experience at the camp. We were already heading that way the following week to have Thanksgiving at his grandmother’s who just so happened to live in the same town. We went to see the property and signed the lease in January of 2014.
In the fall of 2014, M.A. invited several dads and their sons to come on a hunting weekend. We literally stayed in a cinderblock building that had no beds and ran off of propane heat that actually ran out by our last weekend and we all almost froze to death. M.A. showed a devotional series by Kirk Cameron about a father’s blessing. It was a start—but it was actually pretty rough.
That December, I felt like I needed to investigate non-profits and the process. We still weren’t sure what sort of ministry we were being called to, but it felt like maybe we were not supposed to leave the country. I told M.A. for fundraising purposes so we could afford the lease, we should become a non-profit. He laughed at me. He couldn’t understand why we needed to take such a big, expensive and time-consuming step in this very simple ministry that was literally just a couple weekends out of the year. I offered to do all the paperwork myself. The biggest struggle we had was the funding behind becoming a non-profit. There are lawyer fees, application and submission fees. The process could take a very long time on top of that. Within that same week, one day he sifted through the junk mail in our stack of never-important mail and there was one very thin envelope with a local return address. Within it was a check written to us to put towards the ministry. We hadn’t hardly asked for funding at this point. But one of the dad’s that survived our very cold weekend saw our vision and they became our first donors. The check was the exact amount needed to submit for a non-profit status. Around the same time, we had an attorney in our church that we approached to see what the cost would be for them to help us through the process. He met with us, wrote up our By-Laws and Articles of Incorporation as well as walked us through starting a board and even prayed with us… all. For. Free! We were overwhelmed at how God was showing up. It seemed to just confirm that we needed to continue with this process knowing God was in this!
I finally got the last bit of paperwork and payment sent in and received an email stating that it would take up to 6 months before we were (if we were) approved. M.A. and I prayed that night that it would take 6 weeks or less. We felt like this was a bold prayer, but we needed the funding if we were going to make any improvements on the next year, pay for a lease, etc. On top of that, the owner of that cinderblock building we borrowed the year before wanted to charge us for its usage. And we really could not afford any of that.
M.A.’s dad was a huge financial supporter in those first few years. Well—he still is! But back then, the ministry would have failed without his support! He has always been our go-to when we needed to seek out wisdom or prayer for another ministry decision. He has also been our #1 volunteer! He has been at just about every weekend we have done, has helped with guiding, property maintenance, the devotions, and more. The ministry seriously would not be what it is today (nor be what it is going to be) without him!
2 weeks to the day I submitted that application, we received another letter in the mail. In February of 2015, Nimrod Outdoors was officially Nimrod Outdoors, Inc… a 501(c)3, non-profit organization. We were pretty blown away to say the least, but God shows up even in the slow government paperwork!
2015 was a pretty incredible year to say the least. When I look back, that year was probably the most our ministry had grown and we had to rely quite heavily on the Lord to move pieces that we just couldn’t. We could start fundraising with purpose now. We started a Facebook page and I built a free website to get us started. We created a newsletter and mailed it out to all of our friends and family. Funds certainly did not start flooding in but checks did trickle in just as another need fell into place. And our number one supporter helped with the lease, which was a huge financial help!
We still had an issue, however. We couldn’t afford that cinder block building and there were no hotels near the property we were leasing. We were lost at where we would house our groups during the weekends. That summer, I wrote a letter explaining who we were and that we needed a space… any space… for a group of men to sleep. We were happy with a gym floor at this point! I mailed this letter to about 15 churches within a 10 mile radius of the property. A month went by and we heard nothing. We began to panic a little as we investigated other options that could potentially be really expensive. Then, one day, M.A. received a phone call. It was from the pastor of a tiny church called Ijames Baptist Church. The pastor said he normally got the mail, but one particular day, an elder at the church picked up the mail. The head deacon read our letter and placed it on the pastor’s desk and said, “we should consider helping them”. The pastor admitted that he is not a hunter at all and most likely would have tossed the letter without ever thinking twice about it. That month, at their monthly meeting, the deacons of the church talked and were willing to think about housing us in their unused parsonage… just miles from our property. They had a lot of questions of course! So, M.A. made a trip out to the church and presented our mission and need to the entire church body. That next month, they voted us in.
For the next 3 years, we would call that parsonage our ministry home and that church our family. I cannot even explain the love and support the Ijames body provided us. They would volunteer to cook us meals during our events. We would go to church there any Sunday we were out there and were always greeted with hugs. That same deacon who made the nudge in the very beginning that opened the door to begin with even cleared some roads for us on our new property! We will always have Ijames in our hearts and will always be so thankful for their love and support!
New property. Oh yea! We certainly cannot forget that. Just a couple months before hunting season began in 2016, the property we were leasing sold. And it didn’t just sell. The new owner told us we had 7 days to get all of our stuff off of the property or it would be his. We scrambled to make it out there to rescue hundreds of dollars of stands and equipment we had spent the past couple years setting up. And now we were stuck. Again. Where would we take our groups hunting?? M.A. began the property search and sent a kazillion emails to local property owners, realtors, etc. We had a tight budget and finding something within that budget or someone willing to let us take a group of people hunting on their property was not an easy search. Then, one day, M.A. had this random memory. While he was at Brevard College, a boy played ball there with M.A. for just one year. Through conversations they had that year, M.A. remembered this boy had a grandmother that passed away and his parents were handed down that property pretty close to Harmony. M.A. couldn’t even remember his name. He began to scroll through Facebook hoping he was friends with him. He wasn’t, so he began searching through the some of his college buddies’ friends on Facebook. Sure enough… there he was… Evan! M.A. Facebook messaged him to explain the situation.
A few weeks went by when M.A. finally got a message back. Evan said his parents still had the property but were about to sign a lease with some hunting club, like that next day. This same club had practically taken over any lease or property out that way and had pretty much been the root cause of us not finding any properties. But, Evan said he would try to help us out if he could and to immediately send him all the info we could about what we were doing. That next day, Evan’s parents offered to hold off on their deal but wanted to meet with us before making any commitments. So, we did. We met up at a local Mexican restaurant and discussed all the business side of the property. We confirmed we had insurance and all the safety precautions we take. We signed a lease for the cost of the taxes and volunteered to do a lot of their property maintenance. Again. We left a situation of panic shouting praises to the Lord.
Another big way the Lord has shown up through the ministry was with our devotional series. M.A. felt the Kirk Cameron series did not allow time for discussion and didn’t touch on some topics he felt was important. A young couple had just started attending our church, in which the husband was a videographer. M.A. approached him about filming a devotional series for us at a discounted cost. We approached a friend about doing a talk on relationship and how a relationship with the Lord is the foundation of fatherhood. We approached another friend who was a huge mentor of ours in the early years of our marriage to present the importance of being intentional and how to be an intentional father. And then M.A. asked his dad to talk about legacy. David, our videographer friend, spent hours filming and editing the devotional and then presented it to us with no cost at all. We did this the second year of our ministry and were able to use it in at our weekends in 2015! We still use this series but are now investigating other options as it is definitely becoming dated. But it served a huge need and was the number one goal of our weekends!
From 2014 to 2015 we became a non-profit, gained a new place to house our groups and created our own devotional series. In 2016, we changed properties and introduced our Father-Daughter weekends. We also met a volunteer at a local festival who would start up our monthly men’s breakfasts and lead our backpacking/camping trips which started the following year. We also did a canoe-camping trip with a group of college guys, purchased Archery Tag and ran several shooting events. We have also taken father-son groups on fishing trips and turkey hunting. Over the past 5 years, we have taken over 60 father-child groups on some sort of event in which we could share with them their biblical role as a father.
In 2018, we slowed down. M.A. had taken on a new job and we had a baby boy due that March. We were debating if we wanted to stay at the parsonage because the property we were now at was a 45 minute commute. We talked with our volunteers and decided we would try something different. It was SO hard to step away from Ijames but hope we do not lose our relationships there. We decided to try out a hotel just a few miles from the property instead. We also purchased brand new blinds and a storage container for the property. We were donated a carport to use as a shelter and set-up a “base camp” to spend time at while on the property. With so many potential changes, within our life and in the ministry, we only did 2 hunting weekends.
A few years ago, M.A. and I both felt called to take Nimrod Outdoors full time. We didn’t know exactly what that looked like but knew it would involve a lot of fundraising, different jobs, and quite a few sacrifices as well as some changes and growth within our Board itself. We went through some difficult situations that convinced us that it was not time to step into that next level of ministry.
God works in funny ways. M.A. was offered a job at Brevard Community Church which opened up the door to do ministry… well, full-time. Although it wasn’t Nimrod full-time, it was certainly ministry and a group of pastors that supported what he was doing 100%. Right before M.A. took the job, his dad sat us both down and asked us what we wanted to do with our lives. Did we want to enter the life of ministry or did we want to pursue careers and stability? It was pretty clear to both of us that our hearts were in ministry. And that brings us to where we are now.
Still uncertain of when God will open the door for Nimrod Outdoors to be our primary ministry investment, He has definitely called us to start moving in His direction. What does this look like? Well, removing all the weight that holds us down so we can be freed for His use. We are about to place our home on the market with intentions of down-grading to something smaller and be completely debt free. We pray the timing of this is quick, but knowing it is all in God’s hands, we will be patient with the process. We have found and are in the process of finding our sweet fur-babies new homes. We are also investigating a home-base of operation for the ministry to function more permanently. There is a LOT of transition taking place in our lives right now, but with some pretty incredible support that has moved its way into our lives and into full provision of Nimrod Outdoors’ vision, we are excited to make the dive--- in God’s timing.