Chaplain Provides Unique "Kids" Ministry
For anyone who’s ever met Kathi and Jerry Gregoire’s kids, it’s a memorable experience they’ll likely never forget. There’s Luna, Trimbo, Astro, and the ever-so-loving Ziggy. And don’t forget Cashew, Lullaby, Duchess or Spot — and about two dozen or so more!
The Gregoires, Kathi in particular, is a goat herder, shepherding up to three dozen goats, including their kids (baby goats) in a unique dual-purpose ministry that has made an impact on many lives in the Bozeman, Montana, area.
Kathi is an ordained AG minister and a chaplain for the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, which includes the city of Bozeman in south central Montana. A former college campus pastor serving with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, USA, who experienced an incredible miracle in her live, she is recognized through the Montana Ministry Network and Summit Church (AG) as an official law enforcement chaplain. Jerry, who serves on Summit Church’s Connect Team with Kathi, is an electrical engineer.
The Gregoires started raising goats on their “micro-farm” of about 6 ½ acres five years ago.
FROM HOBBY TO MINISTRY
“We met Jonathon and Audra (workers for AG World Missions),” Kathi says, “and talked with them about their experiences with Muslims. They told us how goat meat is something Muslims often eat, but is hard to find in the U.S.”
With hundreds of international students attending Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Kathi’s background in Chi Alpha college student ministry, and Jerry’s experience as an instructor in North Africa for two years, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for the couple to establish relationships with Muslim students — especially graduate students with families.
Through a lot of investigation, questions, and online help, they started their herd out with a few boer goats — known to be calmer and quieter than most. They also purchased some bucklings (male kids) that first year in order to have some goats to sell in the fall.
Kathi connected with MSU and received permission to put up an announcement concerning having goats for sale. However, she and Jerry agreed that they didn’t want this to be a “bait-and-switch” type experience for Muslim students. They identified themselves as Christian goat herders and were determined to let God direct conversations to Him in His timing.
“While I was teaching in North Africa, I found out what it felt like to be evangelized by another faith,” Jerry says. “Kathi and my approach is far more relational . . . you don’t have to talk about the Cross every time you meet somebody in relational evangelism, you just let things come out and share your life . . . we realized we’re not the ‘end-all’ of these people’s exposure to Jesus, we’re just a piece of the puzzle that the Holy Spirit is using.”
The Gregoires have been able to establish several relationships with Muslim students in providing meat through their goat herd. And although the herd is mostly Kathi’s responsibility, Jerry’s help is vital when medicating goats and especially during transactions. Depending on the person, some Muslim men won’t make eye contact with or talk to Kathi, it’s strictly male-on-male communication.
“So, as I’m the one who knows the most about each goat, Jerry acts like an interpreter between us, even though the entire conversation is in English,” Kathi says with a laugh.
The Gregoires are confident that what they’re doing through the goats and the resulting interactions with Muslim students is all part of God’s bigger plan. However, what they weren’t expecting is how God has used the goats to help make Kathi an even more effective chaplain.
“When I first got the goats, after a particularly difficult day, I would just come home and go out and spend time with them,” Kathi says. “It helped me detox from the ‘yuck’ of whatever difficult situation I encountered that day.”
This form of destressing became especially effective for Kathi after her goats started having kids that she could easily hold, pet, and be comforted by. And it doesn’t hurt that boer goats have softer fur than most goats. Jerry describes them as teddy bears on pogo sticks.
“One day, I was reminded of a sermon that spoke about using what you have in your hands for God, and applying that to my work as a chaplain,” Kathi says. “And what did I have in my hands? Goats.”
Kathi realized that perhaps the ability to detox and be comforted by her goats wasn’t just something for her, but other first responders might benefit from it as well.
“Three years ago I held my first ‘Goat Day’ open house and advertised it to first responders to bring their kids to play with kids,” Kathi says. “They loved it.”
Kathi explains that first responders deal with the maddest, baddest, and saddest in society — both people and situations. However, first responders are just as human as anyone and the “yuck” can get overwhelming. The goats, much like therapy dogs at hospitals, bring a sense of “good” and comfort to people.
Since then, the Gregoires have held regular open houses, but Kathi has also given first responders the freedom to call, come out, and just be with the goats any time they need to — several have taken her up on it.
Deputy Jackie Stewart from Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office has been serving in law enforcement for eight years. She says she immediately connected with Kathi during their first ride along — as they’re both animal lovers. She’s also visited the farm numerous times with her young son, Sawyer, who’s now 2, and her husband, Devin.
“The goats are probably why we are as close as we are,” Stewart says. “When she first told me about them, I was very excited to go meet them . . . and it’s also been a lot of fun guessing when the goats will give birth and to see people from all the different agencies from the area at her house, meet each other’s families, and interact outside of work.”
“As a chaplain, I’m constantly praying for them (first responders),” Kathi says, “but I’ve found that when someone is talking to me while petting a goat, the walls come down in a manner that they wouldn’t if we were standing face-to-face in my office.”
Kathi has also, with permission, surprised first responders by walking into the office with a kid following behind her. At that moment, tension immediately breaks and officers and staff flood in, hoping for an opportunity to hold or pet the cute-beyond-measure baby goat. The first time she did this, the 911 center learned about it and invited her over, with firefighters then also wanting a visit.
“When she has brought the baby goats into the office, everybody loves it,” Stewart says. “It just brightens everyone’s days and just shows you something positive and cute. Even if you’re having a bad day, nothing is going to keep you from smiling over a baby goat.”
“The goats have become a huge tool in improving morale,” Kathi agrees, “and they have also opened the doors to many deeper and spiritual conversations with first responders.”
Another popular move the Gregoires made was when Jerry hooked up a security camera that could see into the barn and farm so Kathi could periodically remotely monitor the goats from work. That decision has proved very popular among first responders.
“I’ll have someone who may have just interviewed a suspect of rape or child abuse come up and say, ‘Chappy, just need to watch your goats for a little bit,’” Kathi says. “This also helps me know when someone is having a more difficult day.”
Even though the goats have proven to be wonderful way to engage first responders and lift their spirits, Stewart is quick to point out that Kathi has proven herself an excellent chaplain, with or without the goats.
“She’s a wonderful human being — she’s easy to talk to and always there,” Stewart says. “But it is nice how she uses her passion to bring us all together in a way that does not revolve around law enforcement . . . it’s so nice to get together over something different and positive.”
THORNS WITH ROSES
Whenever beloved animals are part of ministry, the one thing that can be counted on is having to face loss. Aside from the finances involved, Jerry says that when it comes to animal husbandry, it’s not all roses.
“There have been some really difficult times where we’ve had to put down or lost a goat,” he says. “It has another side to it (goats for meat), it has [an emotional] cost too, but you pay it because you see the advantage and fruit elsewhere.”
Kathi agrees, but says through this all she has come to see the true-to-life illustration of how goats know their herder’s voice. When she calls them, they come running as she’s seen as their provider and protector. They do not come when others call for them.
“I see myself in them, how the Lord cares for me and wants to do what’s best for me,” she says. “I want to know His voice as well as my goats recognize my voice . . . and know that I can just relax and know everything is going to be okay if my Shepherd is here.”