by John Smithbaker, Founder and CEO, Fathers in the Field - Thursday, November 23, 2017
Who introduced you to the outdoors and to shooting? I sure hope you have looked that person in the eyes and said a heartfelt “Thank You.”
Generally speaking, it is from a father that a boy learns to appreciate nature, to value conservation, to hunt and to responsibly use and respect firearms. It is from a father that a boy learns to be a man, and there may be no greater classroom than the outdoors in which to learn those lessons.
Sadly, this traditional teaching path and rite of passage is breaking down with the generational crises of increasing fatherlessness. Fifty percent of this country’s children—more than 25 million kids under 18 years of age—are growing up in homes without their fathers.
Malakhi is one of those children. At a young age, he began to ask about his father. Knowing she would not be able to fill all the roles of a father, Malakhi’s mother, Karlin, worked hard to find outlets that would put Godly men in his life. It was in this search that she came across Fathers in the Field and rejoiced to find its ministry directed at fatherless boys.
The effects of our society’s fatherless epidemic are growing in every community around the country. The statistics are terrifying and profound. The fatherless account for 63 percent of youth suicides and more than 70 percent of youth in jail, teen pregnancies, high school dropouts and teens in treatment for drug addiction.
Thankfully, I did not become a statistic. My dad took off when my mom was pregnant. I owe a debt of gratitude to my uncle and a couple of friends’ fathers who invited me along on their outdoor adventures. Those men, heroes in my mind, did something very simple, something they already enjoyed doing themselves: They took me hunting and fishing. Looking back, those efforts comprised small amounts of time that made a huge difference in my life. Because of those unselfish acts of kindness, I formed a lifelong passion and was able to build a career in the outdoor industry.
Karlin didn’t want Malakhi to become a statistic either. She reached out to me through our website seeking a church in Vancouver, Wash. Our Western Regional Missionary connected her to 6:8 Church, where Church Champion Russ Manning helped Karlin to begin the process of getting Malakhi a Mentor Father through Fathers in the Field.
The Fathers in the Field mentoring ministry works through local churches to pair outdoorsmen with a fatherless boy—called a “Field Buddy”—in their community. Boys ages 7 to 17 in urgent need of male role models meet four times a month with their Mentor Father. While gaining insight and understanding, they serve others, worship and plan an outdoor activity so they have a year-end “rite of passage” celebration to prepare for and anticipate.
Fathers in the Field seeks to remove any apprehension toward taking on the role of a mentor. It doesn’t require its mentors to learn anything, just to share their outdoor skills and interests. By taking a little time to pass them along to someone who otherwise would never have such opportunities, the impact a Mentor Father has in his Field Buddy’s life through his simple gestures and kindness is far reaching. The program also takes a holistic approach to the family. The Mentor Father commits to caring for the fatherless boy while the local church commits to caring for the single mom and the rest of the family.
Mentor Father Jon Steinmann was the perfect fit for Malakhi; he is a strong leader and a Christian man who desires to see Malakhi heal from his wounds of abandonment. “Jon is the Christian male influence my heart longed for Malakhi to have,” reflects Karlin. “When Malakhi knows Jon is coming, he gets excited. He can’t wait to go and do manly things. He is becoming a better-rounded person who is able to express his emotions and needs in healthier ways than he could before. But the greatest gift is watching his relationship with God getting deeper because of Jon’s influence.”
She explains, “It’s an amazing feeling to know that my son is not just out having a good time, but that he is safe and learning how a Christian man is to live,” Karlin continues. “The desire of my heart is to make sure every single mom I meet knows the blessings of this life-changing ministry.”
This program that has impacted the lives of so many boys like Malakhi is solely funded by charitable sponsors and participating churches. Since 2013, The NRA Foundation has awarded 32 grants to our programs for a total of more than $300,000. We are so grateful to The NRA Foundation and Friends of NRA for their support in helping us reach the next generation.
Our outdoor and hunting heritage and legacy is at risk. The traditional method of how we communicate and pass along this outdoor passion is broken, and the next generation’s involvement is diminishing.
We all need to take a hard look at how each of us can be of help to the next generation. It is the critical question we need to ask and solve. We can turn the tide. If not us, then who?
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Editor's Note: Author John Smithbaker is a former NRA employee who is dedicating his life to helping those less fortunate. To learn more about his Fathers in the Field program, click here. To apply for a grant for your group’s educational shooting sports program, visit nrafoundation.org.
*Republished from Traditions 2017 Quarter 3
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