- Written by Mark Boardman
- Published on July 01, 2009
Randy and Heidi Gunn are throwbacks to the cowboy preachers of the Old West. The old-timers traveled from ranch to ranch in a buckboard with a horse tied on the back. It wasn’t unusual for them to help out with branding or other essential tasks. Sometimes, they even pitted their riding or roping or wrestling skills against the local crew in informal competitions.
In the Gunns’ case, the buckboard has turned into a tour bus, which pulls a trailer with horses inside. The place of worship is an arena instead of a ranch house. And the congregation is a bit more diverse; some aren’t working cowboys (or cowgirls) at all. But for Heidi and Randy Gunn, the concept is the same: bring the Word of God to a special group of folks—the riders of mounted shooting.
A Sit Down with Randy and Heidi
We’re sitting in the bar at Amarillo’s Tri-State Arena, the site of the 2008 CMSA Worlds. Muffled “pop-pop-pop” sounds drift in from the competition course. Randy is conscious of the time; he’s got another stage coming up in a little while. He doesn’t want to miss it, though it’s already clear that Randy won’t be winning any buckles at this event.
“We try to keep our heads in the match. But we’re mostly here for the spiritual needs of the cowboys and cowgirls,” Randy says. “It can sometimes affect our results.”
Make no mistake—the Gunns are very good riders. Mr. Gunn has Men’s 4 wins at the 2002 Worlds and Nationals, and the 2003 Westerns. Mrs. Gunn was 2002 Western Champion in Lady’s 2.
They’re proud of those things, no doubt, but the honors are gravy. “The gist of our ministry is the cowboy. That’s where God has called us,” Randy explains. “If we didn’t have the music, if we let the band go, if we never did a thing like that again, we’d still be here—competing and sharing cowboy church and ministering to these people.”
“Whether they want us to or not,” Heidi adds with a laugh. Oh, “they” want them to. Most competitors show up for the early Sunday morning cowboy church. “If you’re not here for cowboy church, you’re kind of the oddball,” says Randy.
You talk with the Gunns, you’ll get a lot of laughter. And smiles. They finish each other’s sentences; they’ll throw verbal jabs at each other. They’re a team, natural, unforced.
Getting there wasn’t easy.
Randy was a high school football hero with dreams of the big time. An accident at his dad’s nursery in Michigan changed things. Now understand one thing—even at that young age, Randy suspected that God wanted him to be a minister. But when you’re a kid…
Anyway, he was on a tractor, trying to haul a vehicle out of a ditch. The chain pulled the tractor back over on him. Bones were crushed, there was a hole in his chest, and he was dying: “And I prayed: ‘Lord, if you’ll let me live I’ll serve you.’” Against all earthly odds, Randy lived. And he kept his word.
By the ‘80s, Randy’s service entailed singing and performing. He’d hit the big time, like he dreamed, but as a Christian recording artist. Somebody up there still had other plans. “I was doing a concert in South Carolina, and I started singing the first song, and I felt so empty, so hollow,” Randy remembers. “Later that night, I was back at the hotel and talked with the band and said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’”
He didn’t give up performing. But that wasn’t going to be the focus. It would still take him some years to figure out what God wanted from him.
Heidi moved around a lot in her early years—even spent six years in Belgium. She ended up in Colorado. Her senior year in college, she began a serious relationship with a guy. Strangely, it was his mother who introduced her to Christ, at a time when they’d broken up: “She told me about Jesus and how I could have a personal relationship with him. And that I didn’t need anything else. It was like night and day for me.”
After college, Heidi found herself in Atlanta where she got involved with a Christian Worship Band and did some major outreaches.
Later on, she got a clue about what the future held. “About five years before I met Randy, I feel I had a vision from God,” Heidi says. “That someday I’d have a band, and we would be doing community outreaches, and there’d be someone preaching the Word, and we would have dance, fine arts and drama. Then I met Randy and he told me what he did and what he felt God wanted him to do. It was so similar to what God was telling me I was supposed to be doing.”
Of course, God brought them together. They met at Michael Martin Murphy’s WestFest in 2000. She was supposed to be there with a date; he didn’t come. Randy wasn’t supposed to be there at all, but he came. The two hooked up…a year or so later they got married…and the rest, as they say is history.