Cowboy Pastor, Live Animals Spice Up Christmas Scenes in Texas

Nativity presentations in a city in Texas are livelier than elsewhere with a 6-foot-5-inch cowboy Pastor Jim VonSchounmacher, a distant relative of Billy Graham, and his llamas and donkeys as the actors.

Amos the llama and donkeys named Jericho, Cain and Abel are among the animals that go with 67-year-old Pastor VonSchounmacher to churches across San Antonio as actors in live Nativity presentations in December each year.

“People can feel the essence of what it must have been like,” San Antonio Express-News quoted VonSchounmacher, the founder of MorningStar Ministries, as saying. “We try to be supportive of other ministries trying to make an impact. We’re helping to bring the real meaning of Christmas back.”

Thanks to VonSchounmacher, who dresses up as a Roman soldier apart from providing his animals, hundreds of residents turn up for a 20-minute walk-through of a rebuilt Bethlehem at Gateway Church in San Antonio. “He just fits in and doesn’t make any demands,” the church’s pastor Charley Houston was quoted as saying. “He just asks for reimbursement for travel expenses. They are a blessing to us. It’s quite a deal.”

VonSchounmacher’s grandmother Irma Graham, a third cousin to evangelist Graham, led him to Jesus when he was 13. But he did not take his relationship with Christ seriously until 1994, when he and his wife, Catherine, started the 42-acre ranch ministry that seeks to reach out to men by teaching lessons of faith through his expertise in handling horses. He runs a church at the ranch.

Though born in Pennsylvania, the pastor comes from a proud Texas family. “In my youth my Grandfather told me, ‘Never ask a man where he is from… if he’s from Texas he’ll tell you and if he’s not… why embarrass him?’” he says in a short autobiographical note on his ministry’s website.

VonSchounmacher’s resume includes accomplished equestrian, teacher, preacher, singer, songwriter, author, athlete, skydiver, scuba diver, Vietnam Era Vet, marketing director, public relations director, aquatics director, and so on. But, “my life was full of fluff… and no substance” until he got serious about his faith.

“We have grown from just our own personal horses to a pasture full of everything from Arabians, Percherons, Quarter Horses, American Saddlebreds, Hackney Ponies, Welsh Ponies, Caspians and even a few donkeys sprinkled in,” he says, recalling how God helped his family ever since he started the ministry.

God, the pastor adds, “has taken me down a road that has brought me to a biblical understanding of who we as men were designed to be.”

Through the horses, he points out, God taught him His principles of submission to master, an experience that became part of his book, Submission to Master.