A Different Kind of Deer Camp
A Values Storying Spotlight: A Different Kind of Deer Camp
A values storying spotlight captures the backstory of an organization. That story captures the values from which the organization was built, a story that may or may not be readily obvious. “A Different Kind of Deer Camp” is a story in which PJ Weeks’ values will be readily obvious.
Occasionally, I like to introduce my readers to organizations with great backstories. In April of this year, I was able to re-connect with PJ Weeks on a mission trip to Idaho. P.J. is a former student of mine who also played baseball for me until difficulties with his eyesight brought his career to a close. When that door closed, though, it helped PJ engage more deeply with what was already a lifelong love of the outdoors. Two decades later, he’s still pursuing that passion by connecting men and boys to the outdoors, teaching them God’s plan for conservation and for their lives. Rain Down Ministries is based near Laurel, Mississippi, but has hunting land in various places throughout the state.
Meet P.J. Weeks and Rain Down Ministries and a different kind of deer camp.
How did you get your start?
I grew up in the outdoors. I grew up hunting and fishing in Mississippi. I grew up following my dad through the woods. A lot of times, hunting camps get a bad name for being places that men go to get away from their wives and kids and spend the weekend with the boys. I grew up in a hunting camp that was completely different than that. I sat around the campfire in the Mississippi Delta north of Vicksburg with my cousins and with my dad and my uncles and my granddad and hear them tell stories that were healthy for young boys to hear, telling stories that created in my mind an adventure I wanted to re-live. And they weren’t anything vulgar; they were healthy.
What do you think were some of the values you gained from that?
Of course, at the time I didn’t know. I was just going hunting with Dad. My dad worked a lot, but that was the time I got to spend with him, following him and listening to him and being around him. What it built in me was character. It built in me the desire to not be afraid, to take off in these 40,000 acres of woods, knowing the direction where I was going, knowing how not to get lost, and knowing that if I did get lost, how to get back.
At what point did you feel you were becoming a man?
When Dad turned me loose on my own, ten or twelve years old. Before that, I had grown up sitting in a stand with my dad. When I would sit up there with him, he would say, “We need to pray.” And we would pray about, just everything. It was just kind of an open prayer meeting right there in a deer stand. One day, when I was about eight or nine years old and it was my turn to pray, I prayed that we would see a deer that day, When I opened my eyes, I looked out and saw a deer standing about 20 yards away from us. Of course, Dad had heard him walking up, but I yelled, “DADDY, THERE’S A DEER!” I was so excited that God had answered our prayer immediately, and of course the deer ran off.
But then, Dad began to turn me loose. He began to trust me, knowing that I was going to make decisions that weren’t going to be unhealthy. Not as much that I was going to shoot the right deer, but he knew that I was safe with a gun. He knew I was safe climbing stands. He knew I was safe with understanding what I was doing.
I remember being at a hunting camp they had in Arkansas. My dad had a funeral to go to back in Mississippi, so he left me with two of his friends that he trusted. He was going to come back the following day, and that was the first time I had sat in a stand by myself. That afternoon was also the time I killed my first deer ever.
It wasn’t like Dad said, “Oh, now you’re a man,” but when I began to take responsibility for my life is when I began to feel more like I was becoming a man. That’s what we (at Rain Down Ministries) teach. You’re not a man just because of biology; you’re a man because of what you have accepted responsibility for. Decisions that you make, good or bad–take ownership for them.
At what point did you realize that not all boys your age were being handed down the values that you were?
I was at Mississippi State University, and I was serving as a youth minister at a church in North Carrollton, Mississippi. I had a good group of kids. I thought they were fantastic, but I just began to ask how could I teach them biblical principles, biblical truths and not be confined just to the church building. It wasn’t like a light bulb (moment), but it was a series of events.
I was sitting in a deer stand one afternoon. I began to think that this was going to be a part of my life for the rest of my life. I have bad eyes, but one thing I can see are deer. I can’t see a baseball, but I can see deer. Just that conversation with God–God, if I’m going to do this for the rest of my life, use it for Your glory in some way–having no clue what that meant. It wasn’t just an excuse to hunt; I hunt less now that I ever have in my life.
That’s when I began to think–we send kids to summer camp; why can’t we take them to hunting camp? Why can’t we re-create what I grew up doing? Not that what I did was perfect, but why can’t we bring a group of men in–fathers and sons–and give them time…and add Bible study to that. And really, that’s all I was going to do, is say we’re going to hunt and we’re going to study the Word.
I had no clue how that interconnected. No clue.
Do me a favor and forward this post to every outdoorsman whom you think might be encouraged by this “different kind of deer camp.” And if you’re so inclined, contact PJ through his website and find out how you can get involved.
About Al Ainsworth
Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.