RUBY, La. Pete Reed didn't attend church because he didn't feel welcome.
"Too often people are judged by their outward appearances, and not for who they are," said the 45-year-old Reed, a giant of a man with a bad back and knees and a hunger for the Lord and a love for making children laugh.
Reed was baptized early in life but began to feel out of place around the very people who had known him for years. Over time he and his family drifted further and further from all the places that made him feel uncomfortable including the church.
And Reed wasn't alone, says Dwayne Rogers, pastor of Pine Grove Baptist Church, who led the Louisiana congregation to start a ministry for the cowboys and ranchers in the small community of Ruby.
They called it Cross Branded Cowboy Church.
"It is one of the finest churches there ever was," Reed declared. "I feel welcome and loved here. Where other churches are about neckties and a suit, this church is about what's inside you. They care about your soul, not your looks."
"We started this ministry to be a mission church," Rogers said, "but it really has taken hold here in this community. There are a lot of men and women like Pete who would not darken the door of a traditional church.
"Here, though, they feel accepted and welcome, and it doesn't matter their background or what they're wearing," Rogers continued. "When those type of burdens are lifted from their shoulders, it is easier for the Holy Spirit to move through them."
Rogers keeps Cross Branded's worship services simple. They're held on the back of a flatbed trailer in front of the stands at a rodeo arena or in a shed or building. Some people sit in camp chairs or on bales of hay while they listen.
There is plenty of fellowship and laughter, but everyone grows quiet when Rogers begins to present the Gospel.
"I like the way Bro. Dwayne preaches but it took a while before I could let go," Reed said. "It takes a lot for me to trust a person."
When Reed's 15-year-old daughter, Bernice, gave her life to the Lord, he decided it was time for him to truly do the same.
Reed and his daughter were the first two believers to be baptized at the 18-month-old cowboy church last spring, but Reed's baptism posed a bit of a dilemma. How does one baptize a six-foot-five, 300-pound man in a six-foot water trough?
It took some thought, but Rogers finally hit upon a solution. He had Reed cross his legs, get as much of his body into the trough he could, and let his head rest against the back. Then water was poured over Reed's head into the baptistry to complete the baptism.
It was a tight squeeze, but the baptism went off without a hitch. Afterward, Reed was pleased.
"Bro. Dwayne told me I would be making history tonight, and I am so happy my daughter and I could be the first to be baptized," he said. "I thank the good Lord for giving me a second chance.
"As a matter of fact, I thank the good Lord for every day I am able to wake up and kiss my wife and children," Reed added. "He is good."
Rogers agreed, describing baptism as "one of the most exciting things to take place in the life of a church," Rogers said. "[M]ore importantly, it is a wonderful day in the lives of Pete, his daughter and their family.
"To see people accept our Lord Jesus Christ is just awesome," the pastor said.