Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 3:00 pm
An Ontario pastor who is riding horseback 6,700 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Guadalajara, Mexico, passed through Choteau last week, seeking pledges and donations to help fund orphanages in five countries.
Len Crow, the founder of the Canadian Pony Express, has dedicated much of his time and energy since 1996 to his “Ride for Missions” programs. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Orillia, Ontario, where he has pastored the North Country Baptist Church since 1999.
Crow, who was a masonry contractor by trade before retiring several years ago, went on a mission trip to the Philippines in 1993 with a group from his church. The squalid conditions, poverty and malnutrition shocked and touched Crow. “When I saw the conditions of the folks there, particularly the children, my heart was burdened to do more,” he said during an interview on Dec. 10 in his horse trailer with living quarters, parked outside the Weatherbeater Arena.
This ride — which will take a year and will span three different countries — is the sixth long ride his Ride for Missions program has undertaken and is raising money for children’s homes in Mexico, Cambodia, the Philippines, Guatemala and India.
He and Nancy started the trip on June 6 at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, with two scrappy, hard-working Arabian horses, General, a 23-year-old gelding veteran of long rides, and Music, a mare, that had become nearly unflappable from her experiences on the road. They hope to finish the trek in May in Guadalajara.
While he has undertaken other rides, this one is the longest and will require him to be away from his church for a year. He had to bring in two other assistant pastors to help keep operations at the church running while he and Nancy are on the road. He says he stays in contact with them weekly and has even preached one sermon via speaker phone.
In addition to his wife, he is also receiving help on this trip from Richard and Debbie Howell of Dillon, who are traveling with the Crows.
Crow says he is committed to helping raise public awareness of poverty, starvation, deprivation and child sexual slavery that plague under-developed nations around the world.
His first mission ride in 1996 was from Fairbanks, Alaska, to El Paso, Texas, and raised money for a new children’s home in the Philippines. Then in 1998, he challenged an 1860 speed and distance record set by a Pony Express rider on a 151-mile route in Utah and Nevada and completed the trip in 24 hours, using 21 different horses, again raising funds for the children’s home in the Philippines.
In 2002, he returned to the Salt Lake Desert and rode 308 miles in 46 hours, using 15 horses and raising funds for a new orphanage in Guadalajara.
His fourth long ride in 2005 was a relay race with multiple participants from Emerson, Manitoba, to the Calgary Stampede. Crow finished the final leg of the journey. “I took the saddle bags, rode up the stairs of City Hall in Calgary and delivered a letter to the mayor of Calgary,” he said, adding that the letter was from the Canadian Prime Minister to the citizens of Calgary in congratulations on their centennial celebration. This event again raised funds for the children’s home in the Philippines.
In 2008, his last Ride for Missions ride was a 50-mile race that raised money for the North Country Baptist Children’s Orphanage and School in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.
Now in his sixth month in the saddle, Crow says he has been amazed and overwhelmed by people’s generosity and their support for him and for the children’s homes.
On Nov. 30, he brought his mission story to a church in Great Falls, and was welcomed there with open arms and donations. He does this in towns along the way, finding a church to speak at or talking to the local newspaper, television or radio station. “I’ve had people stop and give us hay for the horses,” he said, or make a cash donation, or donate grain, etc.
If he reaches his fundraising goal of $1 million, each of the five orphanages will receive $250,000 in funding for different needs. The North Country Baptist orphanage in Cambodia will renovate a new facility and buy computers for the children to use.
The orphanage in the Philippines will use the funding to construct an on-site school while the one in Mexico will expand into a new building that needs to be completed.
The orphanage in Guatemala is now housed in a rented building, but with this additional funding it could purchase a 40-acre ranch property and build a new facility while in India the funding would be start-up to establish a church-run orphanage.
“The catalyist that really drives us for these rides is the children that we know and we meet,” Crow said. “I believe God loves those children as much as any others.”
He and Nancy both remember rescuing three children from a squalid camp in Cambodia, where people lived on top of a landfill. The children were malnourished, and covered with lice and parasites when they came to the orphanage, but they are happy and healthy now.
The North Country Baptist Children’s Home has 11 full-time staff including teachers, kitchen help, cleaners and an administrator. Children there receive an education and everyone learns to play a musical instrument. Two little girls, who have been there seven years, would have been sold by their father as sex slaves for the equivalent of 30 U.S. dollars if their grandmother hadn’t reported the proposed sale to law officers who intervened and brought the children to the orphanage, Crow said.
Crow was inspired to open the children’s home in Cambodia after a mission trip through Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand. In Cambodia, he met a little girl who weighed only 35 pounds and was begging for food. “She broke my heart,” he said, adding that the orphanage there opened in 2007.
Crow said this trip, so far, has been challenging. His beloved gelding, General, was injured in a fall in the Yukon that also left Crow with a dislocated shoulder and a torn rotator cuff.
Crow is still healing from the wreck, and General had to quit the ride and is being pastured now with friends in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, while he recovers.
In Alberta, Crow purchased a replacement for General, a 14-year-old mare that he named Masica (a combination of his grandchildren’s names, Mason and Erica).
With his resources dwindling and months of the journey still ahead, Crow said he and his wife prayed for relief, and in Longview, Alberta, when he stopped at a coffee shop, a woman there fell in love with Music, rode her, and offered Crow $20,000 on the spot for the horse.
Knowing that the $20,000 would be put to good use on the trail, Crow sold Music, and was able to replace her with a 14-year-old Arabian gelding he calls Buddy.
While he could put in 30 to 35 miles a day on the seasoned Music and General, he has dropped his daily mileage to 10 to 15 miles as he eases Masica and Buddy into shape, building their stamina up gradually.
“My heroes are my horses,” he said, adding that they have pulled him through some pretty nasty scrapes, and he continues to miss General “big time.”
He feeds the horses premium hay and grain rations plus mineral and salt supplements and protects their feet with rubber-soled booties, that can last 450 to 500 miles before wearing out. If the terrain is kind to the horses’ feet, he takes the booties off and carries them in his saddle bags, letting the horses go “bare foot.”
They follow highways, county roads, trails, and sometimes create their own paths, when going through public lands along the spine of the Rockies. When they left Choteau last week, they were heading south on U.S. Highway 89 to Great Falls and then east to Billings and south into Wyoming.
In Cody, Wyoming, Crow said, they will rest for a few days with horse trainer Ken McNabb, who has a horse training program on RFD-TV and they will do some filming with him for a Christmas special.
Their next stop will be in Doug Creek, Colorado, where they will also stay for a few days with friends. From there, they’ll head for Nogales, Arizona, and then will have 1,000 more miles to reach Guadalajara.
“We’ve seen some beautiful country,” Crow said of his trip so far, saying that the Western United States and Canada have some of the most beautiful scenery he has ever seen.
“I’ve been within 30 feet of a beautiful, pristine bull moose,” he said, and he and General stopped and watched a 700-pound grizzly bear graze on a mountain trail for a few minutes.
He found a 3,000-pound bull buffalo standing in his horses’ electric fenced corral at 6 a.m. one day and was fervently glad that he had put the horses in the trailer the night before.
In the Yukon, he and General couldn’t quite resist chasing a small herd of wild buffalo.
And the people he’s met on the trail have been friendly as well. “We have really been blessed with the kindness of people,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges so far has been the brutal winter weather of Canada and the northern United States. When he was in Alberta, he and the horses weathered a week of -28 weather with a wind chill dropping to -40.
He had to buy winter riding boots and lined a pair of Tapederos with sheep skin to further protect his feet. He says he doesn’t intend to ride if the temperature is at or below -40.
To learn more about Crow and his Ride for Mission or to make a donation, go online to www.canadianponyexpress.com. Savvy social media users can also follow him on Twitter @ncbc99 or on Facebook at “Ride for Missions VI — Pony Express for Orphans.”