August 4th, 2011
04:00 AM ET
By Ken Tuohey, CNN
Carroll County, Maryland (CNN) -Jon Bisset, who is one part cowboy and one part Christian missionary, is the owner of River Valley Ranch in Carroll County, Maryland.
It is a family business. Bisset's grandfather started the ranch after immigrating to the United States from Scotland in the 1920s, he said.
"He always had a fondness for the American cowboy, and he was a minister down in Baltimore city," Bisset said. "He saw a lot of kids getting in trouble during the summer time and thought this might be an opportunity to reach out to the kids of Baltimore city in a unique way."
So his grandfather started RVR, the first dude ranch on the East Coast, reaching out with the gospel to kids who ordinarily wouldn't step foot in a church, Bisset said.
His grandfather's legacy continues today at the ranch, where they offer a Christian-themed summer camp, rodeos, horseback riding and even bull riding.
The ranch is not formally tied to any denomination or church. On its website it calls itself an "organization in the evangelical Christian tradition." It also notes that its summer camps "present the simple message of the Gospel as found in the Bible and teach Christian values without promoting nor condemning any denomination or church."
"You won't see too many cowboys that when you call for a word of prayer, don't come around and circle up," said Matt Schock, RVR's rodeo coordinator. That could be because these cowboys are getting ready to strap themselves onto the back of a snarling three-quarter-ton horned bull that could kill them in any number of ways.
Schock takes care of the bulls on the ranch, oversees the rodeos and leads Thursday night bull riding practice sessions. He also makes sure that everyone maintains a Christian environment.
On this night, as Schock rounded the bulls up into the corrals, the cowboys prepared their gear.
Clad in denim and leather, the riders donned cowboy hats and boots, and readied their ropes like soldiers preparing for battle.
When Schock called them over to gather for a word of prayer, everyone joined in. After seeing the size of the immense bovines they were up against, it was easy to see why.
"These bulls are bred to buck," Schock said. "They weigh 16, 17 hundred pounds. You can't make them do anything they don't want to do."
One big tan bull slammed his head against the cage, knocking in the steel dividing door that kept him in his pen. Then he jumped in the air and smacked a camera before it could be pulled out of the way.
"It's the world's most dangerous sport for a reason. You get on that bull, you have a good shot at dying," Schock said.
Penned behind a gate, the bulls would charge like a derailed locomotive, showing no mercy as their riders tried to get settled. And once the bulls were released, the riders were tossed off like rag dolls.
The cowboys would amble to their feet, brush themselves off and get ready to ride again.
"You could go out and get your head stepped on and die like that," Schock said as he snapped his fingers. "(When) you stand before the Lord and finding out where you go ... that's what's important right there."
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