A few years ago, when Lloyd walked into Eagle Nest Life Center, where he often went for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it looked more like a hospital than a church.
Exam tables had been set up across the basement floor of the Assembly of God church in Wanblee, South Dakota.
Lloyd was in the right place, though.
He brought his dog to one of Eagle Nest’s veterinarian clinics, held biannually as a service to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding community of Wanblee.
Veterinarians and technicians working with Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) partner with Eagle Nest for the clinics. They provided Lloyd’s dog with a free exam and vaccinations. Before Lloyd headed home, those at the clinic prayed for him.
Church staff learned weeks later that Lloyd had died.
“We never know who we’re going to encounter and what the next day is going to bring,” says pastor Gus R. Craven, 64. He leads Eagle Nest with his wife, Terry, and serves as an AG U.S. missionary with Intercultural Ministries to the Oglala band of Lakota Sioux Native Americans on the reservation.
“We need to look for and take advantage of every opportunity to share the gospel,” Craven says.
Twice a year since 2010, the church and CVM converts the Eagle Nest basement into a pop-up vet clinic. They provide vaccinations, dewormings, flea and tick treatments, and exams to small animals. Since Craven owns an adjoining ranch with horses, he also helps with vaccinations, castrations, and care of local horses during the clinics. Veterinarians treated 130 small animals this spring during the three-day clinic event. After the clinics are done for the day, the vet staff has a place to stay at the church and ranch bunkhouse.
The first year, the Cravens and their team helped 20 cats and dogs. To date, 530 cats and dogs have been seen.
Knowing there are animals in the community that don’t receive adequate care inspired Craven to host the vet ministry. It allows church adherents to build relationships with local residents while their pets are being tended.
The ranch is often bustling other parts of the year, too, as Gus and Terry minister in other ways. One facet of Glory Ranch is providing life-skills training such as welding, woodworking, and mechanical work to those ages 8 to 14.
“Vacation Bible school is fine, but we need to go beyond cookies and punch,” Craven says. “We decided to begin to plant seeds within people and give them skills that they could use as an opportunity for employment.”
Craven worked in the construction industry for many years and also brings in other instructors to help teach workshops.
At the Glory Ranch arena, the Cravens, both born and raised in the Wanblee area, provide basic horsemanship and rodeo skills, such as bull riding and barrel racing clinics, They share how those in the clinic can combine their faith with their rodeo life.
Twice a year, they hold Camp Noah, where they take kids camping along the Missouri River and conduct outdoor activities, along with Bible teaching and crafts.
Every October, they minister through their Harvest Festival, including horseback riding, archery, a pumpkin patch, carnival, and zipline.
Craven says they wouldn’t be able to host their events without volunteer support. One of those volunteers is Shawn Pike, who attends Real Life, an AG church in Batavia, Ohio.
Over the years, Pike, who has typically volunteered once or twice a year since 2006, helps with vacation Bible school, food pantries, construction projects, Camp Noah, or bringing in supplies such as donated Bibles.
“My wife and daughters wanted to serve overseas, but I wasn’t really ready for that,” Pike says. “So, they came up with a plan to get me started within the country, and I just fell in love with it. Helping the kids out there really gets me.”