FUN AT RAINBOW BIBLE RANCH - HORSES AND FAITH ARE THE STAPLES FOR YOUNG CAMPERS
by Mary Garrigan (Used with permission from Rapid City Journal)
Ten-year-old Kelli Bones has trouble deciding exactly what her favorite thing about Rainbow Bible Ranch is, but she can narrow it down to two things: riding horses and learning about God. Horses and faith have been a winning combination at Rainbow Bible Camp for the last 23 years, as the Henderson, Minn., girl and about 50 other young campers proved again this past week while spending five days at Rainbow Bible Ranch. "That�s the beauty of the horses," said Larry Reinhold, director of the family-run Christian camp located on the Lonetree Ranch, a 4,250-acre working ranch 20 miles northeast of Rapid City that raises Hereford cattle, purebred Quarter Horses and a pretty good crop of Christian campers, too. "The kids can work through so many other things they�re facing in life - spiritually, mentally or physically - when they�re working with the horses." Reinhold says Rainbow Bible Ranch is unique among Christian youth camps in the United States. There are lots of other Bible camps that call themselves "ranches," but they are more dude ranch than working ranch. Few, if any, are located on a real cattle ranch, where calves need branded, alfalfa needs to be mowed and pastures need to be picked clean of rocks. Rainbow is a private, non-denominational Christian camp that hosts about 400 kids between the ages of 6 and 18 each summer. A two-week long teen camp, Legacy II, challenges older youth who want to improve their riding skills as well as their spiritual and personal growth, said Reinhold. Most campers, such as Sami McKee of Nemo, and Whitney Witcher of Rapid City, come from the immediate area, but this week�s group also had kids such as Greg Olsen, who came from Baltimore, MD. Some years, campers have come from as far away as Germany and Guam, said Reinhold. Sami and Whitney are both second-generation campers. Their mothers, Laura McKee and Sasha McBride, both attended Rainbow as kids. Sami has been coming to Rainbow for four years, but this is Whitney�s first time. "She told me I�d have so much fun I wouldn�t believe it," Whitney said of her mother, as she sat atop one of the mild-mannered saddle horses with names such as Marigold and Flicka or Majesty and Thunder. There are about 150 horses on the ranch, 30 of which are saddled and ridden by campers each day. The camps end Friday afternoons with a rodeo of sorts. Younger campers compete for the best time plucking a ribbon from a calf�s tail, older kids ride steers, and everyone tries their hand at team penning competition. In between, there�s quiet time for devotions, Scripture study and memorization, and group worship meetings filled with songs and spiritual discussion. The kids earn points for memorizing Scripture passages. This year�s Bible verses from Ephesians 6:10-13 and Psalm 118 were chosen to reflect the 2002 camp theme: "Be Strong in the Lord." The day begins early and ends late at Rainbow, especially for the 15 teenagers and young adults who serve as team leaders and wranglers for the camp. Team leader Lisa Spader of Black Hawk is up at 5 a.m. each morning to prepare for her day of working with the small group of girls she leads each week. Spader, 15, spent five summers at Rainbow as a camper herself. Even though her day may not end until midnight, she likes getting to know the kids. This week, she had nine girls, most of them 10-12 years of age, and all crazy about horses. "I learn a lot about kids, about horses, about ranching," Spader said of her summer job. Many of the team leaders, such as Spader and Megan Amdahl, are home-schooled students. Amdahl says being a children�s camp counselor is a ministry she loves. "I can make a difference in people�s lives here," she said. It�s fun, too, she admits, while supervising a group of 10-year-olds on the Zip Line, a gravity-fed ride where kids are strapped into a harness and fly down a highwire to a creekbed below. The Zip Line is as close to "entertainment" as this camp gets. Unlike other Christian youth camps that provide one fast-paced, fun-filled outdoor adventure game after another, Reinhold subscribes to a different philosophy of Christian camping. "We try to show the kids a way to develop joy for a lifetime," he said. "That kind of joy goes much deeper than the fun you can have for an hour or so of being entertained." College intern Ethan Walker; 21, plans a career in Christian camping after graduation from Colorado Christian University in two years. He is spending the summer learning the business side of Bible camps from Reinhold, and his work schedule is as varied as spraying spruce trees or running the weekly talent show at the camp. He�s learning that kids love to be challenged, both physically and spiritually. At this camp, work projects - from picking rocks to cleaning corrals - go hand in hand with challenging kids to make a spiritual decision, he said. "Kids love that challenge," Walker said. Amdahl says she deals with the camp�s demanding work schedule with the help of intercessory prayer. She sent our letters requesting friends, family and church members at her Baptist church back in Sioux Falls to pray for her this summer. "It helps a lot. I can really feel it while I�m out here, those people praying for me," she said. This year, the campers are all praying for rain, just like any other western South Dakota rancher. The wide-open grasslands of Lonetree Ranch that roll and break toward the horizon like the muscled, rippling haunches of Reinhold�s prize stallions, are usually lush and green and dotted with Hereford cattle. But this year, the landscape is increasingly brown and dusty, streaked with green only where its gumbo soils still retain a little moisture. He hasn�t sold any cattle yet, but he�s talking about it. As Reinhold says a blessing over the noon meal (reminding one boy to remove his baseball cap first), he asks for rain and gives thanks for the air conditioning in the new 4,500 square foot dinning hall-kitchen addition, which was finished last year. The addition has large windows that overlook the corrals on one side, the swimming hole on the other. A breezeway connects the new dinning hall to the old camp building, still used as a dormitory and meeting room. Camp cooks Lana and Chris Morris are thrilled with their new kitchen facilities after years of cooking in a small, hot, windowless kitchen. Lana, who is Reinhold�s sister, has been working with the camp since its beginning in 1979. Chris came to work for six months 15 years ago and never left. Together, with help from their daughter, Jana, they turn out three meals a day for about 80 or 90 people each day during the summer camping season. Lana is known for her kid-friendly foods: pizza, macaroni and cheese, sloppy joes. "We have mothers tell us all the time that their kids won�t eat school lunches, but here they come back for seconds," she said. The rest of the Reinhold family is involved, too. The family patriarch and matriarch, Tige and Vicky Reinhold, are "Grandpa" and "Grandma" to all the young campers. Larry�s wife, Robin, is an accomplished pianist and songwriter who writes a new theme song for each year�s camp. This year�s selection, "Be Strong in the Lord," is a contemporary hymn based on the same verse from Ephesians that the campers memorize. The song�s message is also one the Reinhold family took solace in 23 years ago after their sons and brothers, Lee 19, and Lyle, 18, drowned in a stock pond during a Memorial Day boating accident. High winds capsized the boat and only Larry was rescued from the icy water. A third teen, Wayne Brost, also drowned that day. Starting a Bible camp was a dream the Reinhold brothers had shared with their parents before their deaths. That dream became a reality and what seemed a tragic ending became, in the Reinhold�s eyes, "the promotion of three young men to their eternal home and a wonderful beginning - Rainbow Bible Ranch." Kelli, the 10-year-old horse lover from Minnesota, first heard the sad story about the brothers drowning when she came to Rainbow four years ago. She may think about them when she sees the two wooden memorial markers that note their deaths, but she doesn�t dwell on it. Instead, she finds God in everyday life on the ranch: in the young motherless colt that she leads around the corral by the halter, a task she would gladly perform for hours at a time; in the camaraderie of her fellow campers splashing in the ranch�s swimming hole on a hot afternoon. And that, says Reinhold, is memorial enough.