Dumb Ox Ministries wisely using its evangelizing tools
Spreading the Gospel through authentic relationships is how the nonprofit Dumb Ox Ministries builds new communities of the Catholic faith among youth.
With a staff of six young adults and many more volunteers led by executive director Brian Butler, Dumb Ox is not afraid to teach the Gospel in creative ways to challenge youth, young adults and families to grow in faith.
“It’s a dynamic process of trial and error,” Butler said. “As a ministry of the new evangelization, we have to be OK to do a lot of things for the first time. We have to be humble to the church and her direction and authority while also being bold in our mission to do evangelization in a new way.”
Demonstrating true bonds
Butler said he first encountered a dynamic and relevant relational teen ministry while in college as a mentor in the Life Teen program. God’s message came alive for youth with engaging homilies and music at Mass and a better understanding of Christ in the Eucharist.
His verve to further reach youth led him to co-found Dumb Ox Productions with college buddy Randy Hernandez. (It was named after St. Thomas Aquinas, who was nicknamed Dumb Ox.)
At first, the duo sought to publish a book that explained the Gospels to teenagers. While that project was never completed, he and Hernandez were gaining success conducting youth retreats and talks.
“There was conversion happening. We were facilitating a place of conversion,” Butler said. “We don’t convert hearts – Christ does; the Holy Spirit does, and we were doing it in authentic relationships, in ways that were relevant to young people. We were unapologetic about what the church was telling them – I am going to meet you where you are.”
He yearned to expand that concept and discovered the perfect tool in “Theology of the Body” – a compilation of 135 addresses written by now St. John Paul between 1979-84 on human sexuality, marriage and family life. Butler studied the teachings while at Notre Dame Seminary earning a master’s in theology.
Butler recognized Theology of the Body (TOB) as a beautiful expression of authentic relationships for young adults. When he started adapting portions for his religion class at Archbishop Rummel High School, where he taught from 1999-2004, he saw “light bulbs going off in the eyes and minds of students faster than any other way that I had presented the Gospel before.”
“It started impacting my own life, my understanding of my marriage with Lisa and our own kids, and it set me on a journey,” Butler said. “I started wanting to share the Gospel this way with young people.”
Expanded TOB for Teens
Butler, who had also worked in the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education overseeing high school religious education, collaborated with Ascension Press to expand a book idea he had for Theology of the Body for young people into “Theology of the Body for Teens” with co-authors and well-known chastity teachers Crystalina and Jason Evert in 2006. The book caught on like wildfire.
Dumb Ox then produced a DVD series for Ascension Press, the publisher of the entire Theology of the Body program, which includes guides for parents, leaders and student workbooks.
A middle-school edition was then co-authored by Butler, Jason Evert and local theology teachers Aimee and Colin MacIver. Colin MacIver also works with Dumb Ox.
Representatives of Dumb Ox travel throughout the country sharing a youth-oriented version of “Theology of the Body” with school religion teachers and parish directors of religious education. They are advancing St. John Paul’s idea in “Theology of the Body that God created man in his image, and, like the Trinity, man makes more sense when connected to others.
“We are not just created in the image of one God but in the image of three divine persons in one relationship,” Butler said. “Since we are created in the image of a loving relationship, we image God more when we are in communion – in authentic relationships – than we do when we are alone.”
Butler also shares St. John Paul’s confidence in young people, whom he called “the new morning watchmen of the dawn of the new Millennium.” Through Dumb Ox’s chastity and vocations ministries, Butler wants to meet youth where they are in faith and challenge them to a deeper friendship with Christ. He said that’s what Christ does with each of us – he invites us “to a great love – to be a greater version of yourself. To be who you are created to be.”
Young people desire to hear the Gospel as it is “even with all their ambiguities and confusions,” Butler said. “When Christ is presented to them as he really is, even when he demands the mark of the cross, they can accept it.”
One ministry, many methods
Dumb Ox Ministries reaches many with this teaching through varied ministries, including “Echo: A Theology of the Body Camp for Teens”; Vianney Priesthood Discernment; AMP formation, a mentor-based program helping college-aged men discern their life’s calling from God (in the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese); IGNITE formation, a mentor-based program doing the same with high school-aged guys; Abbey Youth Festival; Human Person and Beauty series; Mystery Trip film; a VOCARE fund-raising gala; Menard Days; parish missions; and one of its newest endeavors – promoting Greg and Lizzy concerts, a Catholic married couple who spread their message about authentic loving relationships through music. (Greg Boudreaux is a Dumb Ox staff member.)
“Our ministry is meeting a real need in our church and in the world,” Butler said. “We are cultivating authentic relationships between male and female in an age where the lines have become blurred and sexual promiscuity is constantly being offered to our young people as the way to ‘love.’
“In reality, St. John Paul II helped us to see that living our sexuality according to God’s original design is not only ‘right,’ but it brings us the joy and freedom our hearts can never attain from using and being used by others.”
For more information, visit www.dumboxministries.com or call 304-1280.