A trail ride with a higher purpose

Len Crow, pastor of the North Country Baptist Church in Orillia, Ontario, Canada, and Tina Mae Weber of Fredericktown pause along the Hildebrand Route of the Trail of Tears that goes through Iron County.  The pair, along with several other trail riders are riding the Trail of Tears to raise money for mission projects that would help on reservations in Arizona and Montana.

Some trail riders passed through Iron County recently on a mission. Rather, they are trail riding for missions.

Their leader, Len Crow, pastor of the North Country Baptist Church in Orillia, Ontario, Canada, organized the ride to raise money to benefit mission work being done on reservations in Montana and Arizona.

They started in Tahlequah, OK on Sept. 10 and plan to reach Cherokee, NC by Nov. 10. They are riding 

the Trail of Tears backwards.

Len’s wife, Nancy, calls it “... a mental thing. Instead of going towards exile, we are going home.”

Home would be the original lands east of the Mississippi River, home of the Cherokee Nation, which was forced under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Military to resettle in Oklahoma in 1838-1839.  The Trail of Tears is the name given to the route of the devastating forced migration.

The riders spent the October 5 weekend with their RVs that travel with the group parked at the Arcadia Valley Lions Club Rodeo grounds. The club set them up with electricity, water, a place to keep their horses overnight and some donations of hay.

Len Crow also preached that Sunday in the Ironton Cowboy Church, something he often does on trips like this.

This ride is to raise money to assist two Native American groups, the Navaho Reservation in Arizona and the White Mountain Apache in Arizona.

The group has set a goal of $60,000 - $30,000 for each reservation.

People donate along the way, they have some business sponsors and they also have a Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/RideForMissions/) and a GoFundMe page.

Len has been doing endurance style rides since 1996 to raise money for orphanages and children in third-world countries. His calling to do so came from his mission work in the Philippines.

“He didn’t know how on earth he could come up with that kind of money, but he did know how to ride a horse,” said Nancy, who does not ride, but is part of the travel-along support team.  “He started Ride for Missions, riding alone from Fairbanks, AK to El Paso, TX.

“He has done two rides in the Salt Lake desert -148 miles in 24 hours, relay races - pony express style. It was 46 hours and over 300 miles on the second ride, nonstop.”

“One in Canada was from the Prairie Provinces to the Calgary Stampede. It was the 100th anniversary of that province, so he had a letter from our Prime Minister to the Premier of that Province and delivered it Pony Express style - across  1,000 miles.”

“The longest ride was in 2014 from the Arctic Ocean to southern Mexico to raise money for orphanages in Guatemala, Philippines, Mexico and Cambodia. We run our own orphanage in Cambodia. We have 21 children there and we are the sole support.”

The idea for the Trail of Tears ride stems from his support on the Native American reservations he rode through and the conditions of those reservations, including problems with suicide and hopelessness.

He grew interested in two missions on the reservations: one in the White Mountain Apache in Arizona where they are trying to use a donated block building to teach trade skills to the men, but they can’t afford electricity.  The other was on the Crow reservation in Montana, where another pastor has set up a residence house just outside the reservation in Wyoming to teach Indian men welding in a donated shop.

“We are trying to help those two ministries,” Nancy explained.

Two Native Americans have joined him on this ride. Lee Standingready is a Lakota Sioux from Canada. He rides and his wife, Kim, helps with the camp.

Bennie Halwood is a member of the Navaho Nation and is a pastor on the Navaho reservation in Arizona.

Tina Mae Weber, of Fredericktown, who is part Cherokee, joined the riders for the Missouri portion of the trail.

The trio note that it may be the first time a Lakota Sioux, a Navaho and a Cherokee have ridden together.

“This has been forgotten, and shame on us,” Tina said.  “It is part of our history and we want to bring some awareness back to it.”

“The Trail of Tears was quite an ordeal and a black eye in American History, but it happened and we pray that it never happens again,” Len said.

Other members of the support team include Richard and Debbie Howell and Lee and Kim’s son, Josh.

Len Crow is uncertain about future rides.

“Every time I do one I say it is the last one,” he laughed, “but we don’t know what the future will hold. If the Lord lays another one on our heart, I guess we’d better respond.”