The man is Johnny Walker, a West Virginia farmer who has a love for horses. He and his wife, Robin, are summer volunteers with the Mission.
Walker is a surveyor and works with a company that manufactures large diameter PVC sewer pipes. Coming from a family of blacksmiths, he has crafted flint lock rifles as a hobby.
He revived the Mission horsemanship program, which ended when the Mission sold its horses several years ago.
Since the mission didn’t have horses, Walker persuaded some of the local ranchers and horsemen from Pasagshak, Bells Flats, Chiniak and Kalsin Bay to lease their animals. This is the second year of the revived horse program.
This summer, the horse camp included a kid-friendly variation of a mounted shooting contest in which the contestant rides a course following a geometric pattern as he or she shoots blanks at balloons.
The kids didn’t carry firearms, but were timed as they followed the course on horseback.
Some of the adults participated in the shooting contest at the fairgrounds, shooting blanks from Colt 45 pistols.
Besides showing kids the skills required in the challenging courses, Walker taught them how to take good care of the animals, to look at them as creatures that should be treated well.
The horse “is not a beast of burden,” Walker said. “I like for kids to realize that they are intelligent, caring beings that need somebody to take care of them.
“If it wasn’t for horses, we couldn’t have broken the ground. Man would be starved out.”
Walker has been a horseman most of his life. During his childhood he always had a horse or a pony on the subsistence farm the family lived on.
Once he got married and began raising a family, Walker seemed to forget about his equestrian interests. But things changed when the Walkers’ daughter turned 15. She wanted a horse for her birthday.
“She liked it for about 20 minutes,” Walker said. “But that was okay. I fell back into being interested. I had forgotten how well I had liked horses.”
Walker owns one horse and two mules. He said he’s “actually a mule man by heart.
“A mule is superior in almost every way to a horse. They are more sure-footed.” They handle the “terrifically steep, hilly” terrain gracefully, he said. “Unless you fool with them, you don’t know about their superiority.”
Although Walker wouldn’t call himself a horse whisperer, or for that matter, a “mule whisperer,” he said he is “tremendously in tune with the animals. I see an animal as something God created and put here with the same purpose He put us here. It’s not a happenchance. If He didn’t like animals, they wouldn’t be here. That’s legitimate enough reason for me to take care of them.”
Walker is in his element when he works with horses and kids at the Mission.
He heard about the opportunity to work in this capacity during a Sunday morning service at the little Baptist church the Walkers attend in Beaver, West Virginia.
The church secretary read a letter from the Baptist Mission, which was seeking volunteers for the horse program. Johnny told his wife, “’That’s something I could do.’ The Lord laid on my heart, that I should contact these folks and tell them that I could go up there and help them.”
Robin was surprised by his enthusiasm. “This is a man who does not take off one day of work since he’s been married,” she said.
About two weeks after he had made that decision, Kelli Foreman, who is in charge of the summer camp, called to say that they didn’t have the horses at the Mission any longer and were not going to do horse camps. She urged the Walkers to visit anyway and to volunteer in a different program.
At first Johnny declined. “Inside I felt like the Lord had tested me. I had actually offered to go, and then I didn’t have to go.”
About a month later, Trevor Jones, the Mission’s executive director, invited Walker to come to Kodiak to take a look. “I wasn’t really looking for something to do,” Walker said.
He decided to take Jones up on the offer.
During his Kodiak stay, Walker made arrangements with local horsemen to lease their animals for the horse camp. The following year the camp was off and running.
The Walkers commend their West Virginia church family for raising funds to pay for saddles, fence material and other supplies for the horse camp.
“They’ve been wonderful,” said Robin, who works with the kids in the summer camp. “Our goal was that the Mission didn’t have to spend its money. We paid our expenses. Anything raised for the church goes to the Mission. It’s all for the kids.”
Walker said he and his wife “weren’t really missionary kind of folks” before their experience at the Mission. “This mission at Kodiak has really touched my heart,” he said. “It changed my life. It gave us a purpose to try to do something.
“I’m a completely changed man from what I was. I’m a hundred times more concerned about what the Lord would have me do to advance His kingdom.”
A concern for pleasing themselves has been replaced by something better, the Walkers said.
“You feel better about yourself, and feel better about your relationship with the Creator,” Walker said.
“We feel a part here,” Robin said. “Everybody is just amazing on the Mission teams. We met some wonderful people with the same goal. That’s really a good thing.”
PHOTO OF JOHNNY AND ROBIN WALKER WITH HORSES
JOHNNY WALKER POSES WITH HIS HAND-CRAFTED FLINT LOCK RIFLE