This week (Dec. 6, 2017), HarvestShare members can choose a cut of venison: extraordinarily healthy protein from deer hunted at the farm. The venison comes thanks to HarvestShare member Rob Gray and his organization, Orange County Outdoors Ministry. After learning about Anathoth’s mission at Efland United Methodist two years ago, Rob reached out to partner with us: to help us manage deer damage, while providing venison to as many HarvestShare participants as possible. Rob lives in Efland with his wife Staci, and sons Jake and J.T.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Rob in 2015 (when we first started partnering with Orange County Outdoors Ministry). Read on to learn how Rob’s love of hunting and his faith developed and intertwined.
How did you get involved in hunting?
My dad passed away in April 2013, and for some reason shortly after that fall, I watched a TV program about turkey hunting…and it just intrigued me, from a sportsmanship standpoint. I was working 60 hours a week at a desk job, and just the thought of doing something in the woods, outside…intrigued me. The problem was, it wasn’t turkey season. It was deer season.
But my father’s brothers were deer hunters. Learning from his brothers — I thought that would be the perfect season to learn. My father’s oldest brother set up a (hunting) trip, and we had three of my father’s brothers on that trip.
I didn’t expect it at the time, but it was kind of a healing experience, really. Being around family and around my father’s brothers really helped the healing.
What we didn’t know, but would learn, was that the oldest brother developed stage 4 lung cancer. He died within two months after the hunting trip.
We never saw any deer on that trip. But that was a start. I liked the family and friend aspect, and sharing the experience, much like the experience you guys share at the garden.
The second time hunting was by myself, in Alamance County…for various reasons, I started to pray. I think I said my first prayer, while I was up in that deer stand on a cold December evening, since my son had been born, eight years before.
Wouldn’t you know, as soon as I said that prayer, a seven-point buck walked out in there. I had thought my first deer would be a scrawny little deer, but here was this beautiful, majestic buck.
Then I said my second prayer — I thought this could be my first deer…and it was.
And it was off the to races from there. It’s really a family experience, and a spiritual experience.
How did you decide to start Orange County Outdoors Ministry?
I tell everyone that when you’re sitting in a tree stand and hunting, you don’t have much to do other than be still…that prompted me to start thinking about faith and reading the Bible…and that led me to exploring my faith. My family started going to Efland United Methodist in January of 2015.
The following month, Chas came to speak (about Anathoth)…that afternoon, I began thinking, “I wonder if he has any deer problems. And if there are problems, I know it’s not a big farm, so it might cause significant problems.”
The ideas just started coming together: “I wonder, if he allowed me to hunt out there, I wonder if we could donate the venison.”
How would you describe the purpose of Orange County Outdoors Ministry?
I would say it has three missions. We call it reaching up, reaching out, and reaching in. The “reaching up” part is serving God, keeping our relationship strong with him.
“Reaching in” is fellowship, just things we do as a group, because that’s where we get the whole experience from, supporting other members. Some of that came from you guys (Anathoth) — (at the workday) we worked together, and then we had the lunch, and I thought that was awesome. I went home and told my wife, “I’m exhausted, but mentally, I’m refreshed.”
“Reaching out” is ministry. We work through food pantries, on a one-to-one basis.
You can be a part of Orange County Outdoors Ministry…There aren’t card-carrying members; it’s a community — it’s community-based. It’s not a hunting club or a fishing club. Whatever your gifts are, or whatever you can do, you can be a part of it. I think that’s part of the beauty of it.
The one thing I do want to say…to me, the whole idea of having someone who has land or a farm, and being able to have someone actually hunt on it…and now we’ll be able to distribute some (deer), proved to me that this model can work.
(Hunting the deer at Anathoth) was the completion of something Chas and I had talked about, and went along with our ministry. That deer meant a lot. I don’t know know how to describe the feeling I had in the deer stand (at the Anathoth farm). It was a feeling you don’t forget…The partnership with you guys has just been great.
It’s kind of like when you open your hearts and minds to things, things just unfold.