Raindrops stream from the brim of Dale Hirschmans black felt hat onto the pages of his Bible as the lanky cowboy scoots his finger across Scripture on the water-stained pages.
The man from Weatherford, Okla., (pop. 9,799) is drenched and so is his congregation. But they listen intently to the man whose boots are planted in a mire of mud and manure.
Nobody is leaving this church.
Wimps dont go to cowboy church, Hirschman says. We have cowboy church rain or shine, sleet or snow.
Hirschman is one of a handful of preachers who travel the college rodeo circuitrodeo competition for college students onlyspreading Gods word. He logs thousands of miles each year preaching to worshippers who come out in all sorts of weather to hear his message.
The congregation may show up on horses, and bulls may nuzzle the preacher. Services are typically conducted in a dusty arena surrounded by stock.
Its neat to have the sky as your ceiling, Hirschman says. Were out there in Gods creation.
That freedom can mean braving the elements to preach 45 minutes in a driving rain at Pratt, Kan., (pop. 9,700) or with temperatures in the mid-30s and 25 mile per hour north winds at a service in Guymon, Okla., (pop. 8,354).
They still came, he says. Thats the coldest Ive ever been since I started preaching.
Theyve been coming since Hirschman preached to eight people at his first rodeo in 1980. The cowboy church pioneer now attracts an average of 80 people at each service.
When I first started, cowboy life and Christian life were separate things, he says. People thought you had to be one or the other.
Today, there are a lot of cowboys who now acknowledge God.
Tara Davis of Weatherford, a rodeo coachs daughter, says she knows why cowboys and cowgirls flock to Hirschmans services. She grew up attending his sermons.
Its his general attitude towards life that keep them coming back, she says. He follows a very strict life with God. But hes also someone who will have a lot of fun with you.
Thats not all. Hirschman offers stability for those on the road and away from family. He is a confidante to many.
They trust Dale because hes not an outsider to the sport, Davis says. Hes one of thema real cowboy to the core.
Without Dale Hirschman, faith wouldnt be as intense on the rodeo circuit as it is now.
Cowboy Billy Williams says those on the circuit need Hirschman.
Were gone all the time from our homes, and he is the one a lot of cowboys put their trust in, Williams says.
When Dale speaks, people listen. He speaks nothing but the truth. I think thats what keeps people coming back to hear him preach, says Williams, who has been to several of Hirschmans services.
Hirschman committed his life to Jesus in 1978 while in college. The bareback rider of 28 years competed on the rodeo team at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. After he decided to become a cowboy preacher, it didnt take long to discover the challenges.
Youve got some cowboys who are really tough, he says. They face fear and dont back down from it. Its not always easy breaking through that tough outer shell that some of them have.
But it does happen. Hirschman has helped many cowboys and cowgirls become Christians.
Its always neat to see their eyes well up with tears when they talk about God, he says. Seeing God touch their lives is the best part of what I do.
Hirschman says the toughest part is spending time away from home. His wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 5, miss him when hes gone. But they understand the urgency to reach those in need.
They also understand his work isnt done and hes not quitting cowboy church services any time soon.
My goal is to reach those who dont know Jesus. Im a selfish Christian.
I want everybody in Heaven with me.