On a gray Saturday afternoon in February, the Proctors’ home was just messy enough to be perfectly comfortable. It was warm, the windows fogging up against the chill winter air. Carie Proctor, wearing a baseball cap and sweatshirt, from under which peeked a large, bedazzled belt buckle, moved deftly about the small kitchen, chopping, sprinkling, stirring, and occasionally tasting what looked like a meat lover’s paradise. The Proctors’ 11-year-old son, Strand, sat on the couch, indifferently watching Saturday morning cartoons while fiddling with a craft.
Earl Proctor came in from the cold, careful to take off his shoes at the door. His gray sweatshirt, workingman’s jeans, and heavy wool gloves indicated a brief sojourn from weekend yard work, perhaps shoveling snow. Taking off his gloves, he leaned on the countertop and watched his wife sail from stove to spice cabinet, and back again.
The scene savored of a typical working class family, engrossed in household chores, happy to be in each other’s company.
Except the Proctors aren’t typical.
Carie was not only cooking for her husband and son, but also for the 25 hungry cowboys who would descend upon their property within the next five hours. Earl was not coming in to warm up from shoveling, he was coming in to rest after wrangling 30 bulls into their respective pens. And most important, Strand was not merely crafting, but was, in fact, a self-proclaimed “survivalist” whittling a spear to do battle with an enemy snapping turtle that had overtaken his creek.
The Proctors live above the ProEdge Arena Rodeo in Osseo, Michigan, which houses 30 bulls. A peek through their kitchen windows reveals a bullring in startling proximity to their front step, and a glance up reveals, not the light of the sun, but fierce fluorescents illuminating the deserted battleground below. Every Saturday night the pack of cowboys buck, rock and counterbalance in an attempt to stay atop their bull for the eight full seconds required to qualify.
However, ProEdge Arena’s weekly shows feature not just a physical battle but also a spiritual one. In between the eight second rides, and sometimes during, announcers praise the Lord Jesus, thank him for his protection, and glorify his name. The Proctors’ rodeo is, in fact, a ministry.
Both Carie and Earl grew up on small farms within 15 minutes of each other, but it was a rodeo in Harrison that first brought them together.
Earl was a bull rider, and Carie a barrel racer.
Their romance started the from the moment a 12-year-old Earl saw 15-year-old Carie.
“I liked her from day one,” said Earl, “But she looked at me as a little brother.”
Carie confirmed the sentiment, but eventually gave in when Earl, at fifteen, could no longer hide his feelings, and bravely confessed his enduring love for this rodeo princess.
She agreed to give him a chance.
“Obviously, I was a mature 12-year-old,” Earl said with a laugh.
The Proctors’ initial vision for the arena was a “giant party.” Earl and Carie planned to contact local alcohol vendors, and create a boozy beer-fest-meets-bulls environment for his riders and customers.
Around this same time, the Carie got pregnant with their son, Strand, and decided that they wanted to raise him to be Christian, as both were raised culturally Christian.
“I went to vacation bible school because they had really good snacks,” Carie said.
But now that the stakes had been raised, and they were responsible for more than their own souls, they intended to genuinely pursue Christianity.
“We just knew there was a little something more to life than what we had been conquering over the last few years,” Carie said. “So, we decided to find a church.”
By happenstance, an old high school friend reached out at that same time, inviting them to an outdoor service that, as Carie put it, “set [their] souls on fire.”
The Proctors afterward felt it was their duty to share their light with others.
“I remember telling Carie that I’d be embarrassed if some of the people from the church showed up at the bull riding with the plans we had,” Earl said. “God just kept working on us, and eventually it turned into, ‘We need to do this to glorify God,’ and so that’s when things began to come together.”
Today, the couple runs ProEdge as a ministry. The show begins and ends with a prayer and a testimony, and maintains spiritual vivacity throughout with christian rock, interrupted only occasionally by Nelly’s “Here Comes the Boom” when a particularly feisty bull makes an appearance.
“The reason why I love what we are doing here is the ministry itself,” Carie said. “I love getting to hear testimonies, and those absolutely help with the hard times that we have when there are bulls breaking fences and bones getting broken. Just hearing God’s testimony being shared, that gets me excited about the event.”
Peering into the prep area for the contestants reveals a great many bowed heads and laced fingers as the cowboys prepare to embark on a battle with their leviathans.
Just a few weeks ago, one of their regular riders got baptized.
And at least once a week the Proctors receive some kind of testimony about one of their riders or supporters coming to God with the help of the ProEdge faith community.
“That is part of the goal behind the rodeo,” Carie said. “To sow into the guys’ lives and try to guide them to getting away from cultural Christianity. We wanted them to understand there is a much deeper meaning to what Christ is about.”
One ProEdge regular, Neal Borntrager, second in the season standings, hails from Middlebury, Indiana. He picked up bull riding much like many of his compatriots. He witnessed bull riding for the first time at a county fair, and from then on, he couldn’t stay away from it, saying he loves the unique atmosphere Earl and Carie cultivate.
“I love this rodeo, its outstanding,” Borntrager said. “There are other rodeos I could go to, but I always pick this one over the others.”