On February 28, 2022, the last 41 sheep left the Rowan farm. I received three photos of Dennis Rowan watching them be loaded up with the message: "End of an era..."
At the age of five I moved to Gap Mills, WV with my father, mother and Dusty our dog. Not long afterwards my father began his journey as a shepherd in the Appalachian mountains. My arrival there meant that I was the fifth generation on my father's side to live on the property.
Three years later my parents founded Psalm 23 Camp which began as a free three day youth camp. The summer of 1985 on the mountainside "campground" overlooking the sheep pastures I made a decision to follow Jesus.
As the years passed, I had the privilege to work and serve alongside my parents on the farm and the camp. I dug post holes, gathered firewood, trained sheep dogs, caught lambs and stuffed wool bags. I managed the camp store, led work projects, conducted Farm Olympics (another story for another time) and chaperoned whitewater raft trips.
Invaluably, I heard firsthand as Dad relayed Biblical lessons that he observed while tending the sheep. He took those real life parables and authored the newsletter SheepTracks. Most importantly I witnessed my father and mother model "the greatest of these will be your servant" as they sought to provide practical and necessary help to those in need.
To say that my time on the sheep farm was formative is an understatement. Despite being tucked away from much of culture of the day, I experienced a unique life that I would not trade for anyone else's. I also see my time in the mountainous farmland as a pivotal part of my story that I am only now able to see some of it's purpose.
A shepherd and his sheep - Dennis Rowan
Five days before the last sheep left the farm SheepFeast officially launched. I'm a Biblical numbers guy and five representing grace has not been lost on me. I see that there is a grace to carry what was instilled in me many years ago and to pass it on to the next generation through SheepFeast. As a good friend of mine stated, this business is a culmination of my life experiences.
"Feed my sheep," has many layers to this West Virginia farm boy who grew up at the base of Peter's Mountain. Jesus making that statement to Peter in John 21 is one of the inspirations for what SheepFeast is meant to do: take care of and love His people.
Farm life is difficult. As my parents have aged the reality of keeping a sheep farm running was not feasible. My dad faces some significant health challenges, as well. Last year as SheepFeast began to take form I had the opportunity to share the idea with Dad and Mom. I explained that I felt this represented one way that the legacy of the Rowan farm and Psalm 23 Camp will live on.
Returning to significant numbers ... I felt I should read Psalm 41 after seeing that's how many sheep left that day. I found the following quite poignant and relevant considering my Dad's health and his legacy of assisting the less fortunate.
Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed.
This verse will be a "go to" promise that I will be standing on for my Dad. While I did not know when the last sheep would leave the farm or that it would be so close to the founding of SheepFeast, I believe it to be no coincidence. The 23rd day of the month being the official start date aligned with the staple that is Psalm 23 in my life and the business.
Additionally, I looked up Psalm 28 due to the date of the sheep exodus from the farm. Once again, a profound and eternal promise is evident.
Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Psalm 28:6-9 (emphasis mine)
Upon seeing the photos of my Dad that my mother, Glenda, sent me that morning, I witnessed a thousand memories etched on his face. I forwarded them on to my wife and children asking them to remember to pray for Pappy. I wept in that moment. A full circle experience that in some sense encapsulates the last verses of Psalm 28.
"Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever."
Father, you are the Shepherd over my family and all that I put my hands to! Bless and carry us so that we may glorify You in it all!
Mark Rowan is the Founder of SheepFeast, a discipleship training SaaS. He has been created to help others communicate and has done that in different capacities through his life. Mark is happily married to the love of his life, Jenny Rowan, and is the proud father of four outstanding children: Elena Kay, Cassia, Josiah, and Addie.