- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

WILLIAMSTOWN, Kan. (AP) - Brandon Milam has been riding bulls since he was about 4 years old, and he’s been riding big bulls for the past five years.

“It’s all I want to do,” he said.

Since he was a child, Milam, 19, said he’s come to notice a pattern in the bull-riding culture. It’s full of temptation, the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1LUcgqE ) reported.

“I’ve got to control myself. I found myself going out the last couple of weekends, and you drink and all that,” he said. “You can’t get away from it in the rodeo world.”

You can’t get away from the nightlife culture, he said, unless you’re at a place like the Crossroads Cowboy Church in Williamstown, north of Lawrence, a place where Western culture and worship intertwine.

“We started out in a circus tent five years ago, and it has grown,” organizer James Hathaway said. Now the church boasts a congregation of more than 150 people.

The idea came from a desire to mix a passion for cowboy culture and a passion for Jesus Christ, Hathaway explained. The organization hosts events from Bible camps and studies to line and barn dances, riding clinics and rodeos.

“And there’s not just cowboys out here,” he said. “We’ve got golfers, old people, young people. They’re all just comfortable here. You walk in the door and you’re not judged.”

This weekend, the church hosted its first bull riding school, Conquering the Beast, with 1997 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bull riding world champion Scott Mendes. A young bull rider listens to a professional bull rider this weekend at the Crossroads Cowboy Church. The church hosted its first ever bull riding school, called Conquering the Beast.

“The idea is that if they can come out and ride this bull and conquer this fear, they can go out and conquer their lives,” Hathaway said. “If you focus on something better, you can go on and be a champion.”

Mendes said he tours the school all over, but this is his first time to Kansas.

Both Mendes and Hathaway agreed they were pleased with the weekend’s turnout of 15 participants to take part in the class, but it takes more than that to make everything work.

“We thought if we had four or five, we’ll feel fortunate, but we got our 15,” Hathaway said. “But it takes a whole church full of people to do.”

Because of the nature of the sport, Mendes said, it attracts folks from all different backgrounds, often rougher than average. But it’s the goal of his school and the church to set them on the right path.

“We’ve all seen the bad role models, and they’re nothing to write home about,” he said. “Bull riding is a crazy sport, but it can be used for positive things. We’re teaching them why they got bucked off and how to fix it and to conduct yourself like a businessman, a role model, remembering where you came from and being humble.”

Pastor Brent Noe has been at the Crossroads Cowboy Church for about three years, and he’s seen a lot of progress in that time. On weekends like this one, he’s the man in the ring who tries to keep the riders safe.

“When the cowboys hit the ground, it’s my job to get the bull’s attention and lead them away. To protect the cowboy from the bull,” he said. “When those kids fall, someone’s got to take the bullet.”

Noe’s willingness to take a few lumps is one of the things that helps build relationships within the church, he said. People have got to be willing to give for one another and to control their fear in order to do the right thing.

“It’s a healthy fear,” he said. “You have to have respect for the animals but know that your skills are prime to what’s got to be done.”

Milam plans to keep coming back to the church, year after year. It keeps him involved in the rodeo world - and on the straight and narrow, he said.

“I’m starting to strengthen my life. I still ain’t all the way done,” he said.

___

Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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