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Spreading the gospel through agriculture

Though STEER Inc. now uses electric branding irons, the office still has an old branding iron with its brand of a cross over a triangle. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service1 / 3
Cattle that belong to STEER Inc. are marked with the organization's brand of a cross over a triangle on their right shoulders.2 / 3
Ivan Friesen, ministry development assistant at STEER Inc., left, and Keith Kost, executive director of STEER, stand next to a map of the world at the STEER office in Bismarck, N.D. STEER works to help farmers and ranchers support Christian missions through agricultural projects. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service3 / 3

BISMARCK, N.D. — Farmers and ranchers, it's often said, are equity rich and cash poor. Most make due just fine that way, but there are times when things get uncomfortable — including Sunday mornings when the offering plate goes by.

Ranchers, explains Keith Kost, executive director of STEER Inc., usually have equipment, land and feed. But they don't always have a lot of unencumbered cash to donate.

But what STEER has found in the past 60 years is that it's far less painful for ranchers to take in a few extra cows and feed them with their herds and share the profits.

"They're not going to notice it nearly as much as if they're going to write out a check," Kost says.

STEER, a Bismarck-based nonprofit missions organizations, works with more than 1,000 farmers and ranchers in 36 states to help them support missions through farm- and ranch-related projects.

STEER will celebrate its 60th anniversary during its annual conference Oct. 6-7 in Bismarck at the Ramkota Hotel & Conference Center. The annual conference features speakers and exhibits from some of the organizations that derive support from STEER projects. As part of the celebration of the anniversary, the conference also will include a reunion of all past and present board members.

60 years

In 1957, Rev. Ed Folden put up $1,000 and bought 14 steers. The sale of the steers yielded $2,000. The $1,000 profit was given to benefit Christian missionaries. And the original $1,000 investment still is in the coffers at STEER Inc., where it has been multiplied many times over.

In the past 60 years, ranchers and farmers associated with STEER have raised $26.5 million to send to Christian missions and organizations around the world. As Ivan Friesen, STEER's ministry development assistant, explains, STEER has allowed ranchers to use their God-given gifts for caring for animals to serve God, in connection to the Parable of Talents in the book of Matthew.

"We will work with what they do, what they're good at," he says.

In STEER's most popular project, STEER owns cows and places them with ranchers, who feed and care for them and calve them out. When the rancher sells his own calves, the calves out of the STEER cows are sold in STEER's name and the profits go to support pre-selected missionaries or organizations.

STEER also has producers with projects centered around feeder calves, sheep, hogs or dairy animals. And for farmers, STEER will put up money for input costs of planting crops on a set number of acres, and the proceeds go through STEER to the selected organizations.

STEER has many ranchers in western North Dakota, where drought this summer shortened the lifespan of pastures and reduced the amount of winter feed available for cattle. Even as herds have been culled and cut down, many ranchers said the STEER cattle would be among the last ones to hit the trailer, Kost says.

"That's one thing about farmers and ranchers," he says. "When they commit to something, they stay committed."

Continued purpose

STEER is an evangelical organization in nature but is non-denominational. The organizations that find support through STEER cover a range of Christian outreach, from mission organizations that send missionaries to far-flung lands to campus and youth groups in the U.S.

"It's all for one purpose," Friesen says. "And that's to see the Gospel spread."

Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, has been the largest recipient of funding through STEER, but many organizations and individual missionaries have found support for their work from farmers and ranchers. Often, Kost and Friesen explain, missionaries with an agricultural background or connection find the most support from people and communities they know who want to help in the only way they can — through the work they do on their farms or ranches.

While organizations worldwide have benefited from STEER funds, some closer to home also have found the support of farmers and ranchers through STEER to be vital. Tim Brenner, executive director of Crystal Springs Baptist Camp in central North Dakota, says the funds have been integral to keeping the camp going.

"There have been times when the camp could not have functioned without the financial help that STEER provided," he says. "It enables (ranchers) to give that much needed support to the missionaries when they don't have liquid assets to donate."

Brenner says STEER also bonds ranchers to missions. Seeing the STEER brand, a cross on top of a triangle, reminds the ranchers to pray for the missionaries, he says.

"I can't think of anything that's quite like it," he says.

As STEER moves past its 60-year mark, Friesen says the organization has plenty of money to invest in new projects.

"Our biggest need is for farmers and ranchers," he says.

Anyone who is interested in becoming involved in STEER should contact the office in Bismarck. Kost says STEER staff can provide names of people in a farmer's or rancher's area who can explain how the program has worked for them. He also invites people to consider attending a portion of the annual conference in Bismarck. The conference is free, though there is a cost for meals. For more information, visit