By Fred Davis
I am a city boy. I know nothing about farming or ranching. I make Billy Crystal’s character in the movie “City Slickers” look like a real, seasoned cowboy. So, it may seem strange for me to write the following piece. If you read to the end I hope you will understand.
When we lived in Las Cruces, N.M., we had friends that owned a large cattle ranch. I mean really large – like thousands of acres. It is not like the Enumclaw Plateau where we see bucolic scenes of peaceful contented cows grazing on lush green pasture with abundant hay stored up as well. No, in the desert cows have to be heartier and more resourceful in order to survive. Whereas one acre of pasture here can keep a fairly large herd healthy, in the vast high desert plains of south central New Mexico and West Texas, the same number of cows require an entire section, that’s 640 acres, of grazing land. Our friends had several hundred head that they ran on their ranch which required a piece of land you could not walk across in a day. That’s a large bit of real estate.
They also shattered a lot of the myths I used to hold about the life of a rancher. Long cattle drives with hours in the saddle, chuck wagons and roundups – all that stuff had been replaced by modern methods. When it was time to brand, they took their helicopter out to round up the cattle. And instead of keeping well-mended, barbed-wire fences around the entire ranch, they maintained three windmill-driven water wells.
One day I asked how they kept their cows from running off or disappearing without fences to keep them in. The answer was all about the wells. The cattle would always stay close to the water. They knew instinctively that water was a source of life and safety. When the herds gathered around the wells, they were safer in their numbers from coyotes and other predators. There is strength in numbers. But it was the water that was the key. It always drew them back to the center of safety and life.
In ancient days, wells played a vital role in community life. In Africa and other places that have little or no access to safe water, the community well or tank is a gathering place. Everyone comes there to draw life-giving water for their daily needs. Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well one day and reminded her that drawing water at the well in the center of her village would be a constant effort. Drinking that water is only a temporary fix for thirst. Humans need to continually drink from that kind of well. Jesus went on to say “Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become in that person a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13,14).
Lately I’ve been thinking about church – how to get people to come and how to get people to stay. One approach would be to put up some fences, so to speak. Keep people herded together by strict, enclosed boundaries that leave little room for wandering and grazing. But I think people are a lot like cattle. I think people need to be drawn to the center of the faith where there is the life-giving water of the gospel. Sometimes the fences we put up keep people in all right: they maintain our denominational distinctive, our pet doctrines, our unique brandings within the kingdom. But those same fences might keep people out as well. There are hungry and thirsty folks who are searching for the water hole and they can’t get to it because they are fenced out.
Christ’s kingdom is pretty large. But we are fortunate to have a number of churches here in town that have agreed that the most important thing is to keep the life-giving water of the gospel of Christ at the center and not worry so much about the fences that restrict or divide or keep out. At the center of our little corner of the kingdom we have as a ministerial association to keep a real central focus of life-giving water and that is the historic gospel of Jesus Christ. Why not wander in to one of those watering holes this week and take a long, refreshing drink.