Interview Published in The Old Schoolhouse:
The Magazine for Homeschool Families
Summer 2003 Edition
Little Bear Wheeler
Richard "Little Bear" Wheeler is a well-known name in the homeschool community. And for good reason. This soft-hearted man has been ministering to thousands of homeschooled children and their parents for years. I became increasingly interested in Little Bear as I read the constantly updated emails that circulated the web regarding his dear daughter, Noelle, her husband Joshua Goforth and their
sweet baby, William. These "net notices" were sometimes updated so frequently, due to ever-changing circumstances with the baby, it was difficult to keep up on the latest developments. In these, I saw a man whose heart cried out to the Lord day and night on behalf of his grandson. I saw a man who had unshakable faith in his Father. I saw a man, who, like too few men today, is devoted to his family
with a passion so fierce — so undying. This is the story of “Little Bear” Wheeler. Join us today as we esteem his work in this Assembly Hall platform at The Old Schoolhouse.
Little Bear: Originally, I started out with a vision to do my ministry with children. I did a lot of historical stories like Chief Joseph, John Colter, and Jedediah Smith with very little reference to God’s providential Christian history. I would use an historical story to teach a biblical principle like Chief Joseph running for his life, and then I would tie in the Scripture that we run our lives looking unto Jesus, the “Author and Finisher of our faith.” I made a correlation between a historical example in history and tied it into biblical principle. I did that for years.
Once I became filled with understanding towards the providential perspective of the Christian history of America, God led me to expand my ministry. With the influence of Peter Marshall, Jr. and David Manuel who wrote The Light and the Glory, Marshall Foster who wrote The American Covenant: The Untold Story, and others, I began to read, study, and learn about the Christian heritage of our nation. I was inspired to do costuming around the providential stories of God, just like I did my mountain men, Indians, soldiers, cowboys and gunfighters. My repertoire has expanded over the years, now encompassing everything from William Wallace in the 1300's to World War II.
In the early days, the ministry was children-oriented. I had a distinctive turning point in my ministry about ten to twelve years ago while ministering to children at a camp in California. I was warning of the dangers of television, movies, and music in one of my talks called Be On Guard: The Sergeant Driscoll Story. I made the correlation between a story in the Civil War and how we have to guard our life. I started asking questions of these children about what they were viewing, and I was appalled that they were viewing R-rated movies. These were children who were between third and sixth grade! I began to ask the Lord, "Lord, I feel like I am a failure; I'm not really able to influence these children." I would keep preaching to them year after year and sometimes to the same children over and over again. I felt like a failure, and I said, "Lord, why should I keep doing what I am doing as an evangelist at children's camps if it has no fruit?"
The Lord spoke to my heart and told me that it wasn't my fault; it was the parents' responsibility. I could preach my heart to the children, and it wouldn't have lasting fruit unless the parents reinforced what the children were hearing. I made the automatic conclusion that if the Lord would open the door for me to preach to the parents and warn the parents on how to raise children, then I would move in that direction. That is what He does now. Ninety percent of my ministry is with adults and ten percent children, where before it was ten percent adults and ninety percent children. That has been a real blessing—to see how God has done that.
TOS: What is it about Mantle Ministries that makes you different from other ministries?
Little Bear: All of us are fitly made, uniquely made according to Psalm 139. I have a book called The Little Bear Story: The Adventures of a Retarded Gopher Skinner. It is really the testimony of my inability of what I can't do, not what I can do. It's not a biography on how wonderful I am; it's a biography on how wonderful God is to use a stupid person like myself, and that's the beauty of what God does. I didn't learn to write, read, or spell until I was twelve, but I could sure skin gophers well. God took what I could do, not what I couldn't do. He created and fashioned a ministry around it with its costuming, drama, and excitement.
TOS: That is some book title. I did a double take when I saw it. In fact, Mantle Ministries has loads of great resources, I've noticed. We have a staff member who has known about your ministry and watched it grow for nine years and highly recommends what you provide. Where do you see Mantle Ministries going from here? Any plans in the works?
Little Bear: “The just shall live by faith,” so I live by faith. We made a covenant with the Lord when we started the ministry over twenty years ago that we would never solicit funds, we would never require a certain amount of money to come to a place, and we would just trust God for our provisions. My overriding motto was “Where God guides, He provides.” If He wanted me to be there, I would be there, and if He didn't, there would be no provision. He also shared with me that if I live that way, He would open and close doors that no man could open, and it would be He that would do it, not myself. I can't see where I am going too well; I just try to live one day at a time, and I work on little projects like what books I should republish.
Right now we are converting our cassette ministry to CDs and DVDs. I see that being the wave of the future, so I am making a transition now. I think the day is coming that cassettes will be more obsolete, and I want to stay on the cutting age and make materials available to families who will have different media sources to hear and respond to the teachings God has given to me.
TOS: Tell us about the good things that have happened on the road. Anything fun you can share?
Little Bear: There are so many. One of the rewarding experiences is getting to have my family travel with me. God has given me sweet precious daughters, Noelle and Aimee, as an example to the body to see that the preacher is not only preaching to repent and pursue God’s high call, but they are actually seeing the fruit of that. Not that they are perfect, as we are all sinners saved by grace, but God has been good to give me children that have been desiring to follow the Lord, and in public, exhibit themselves with gracious fruit that is befitting Christianity.
My son Joshua, now 17, at this time does all my video taping and editing. He is a gift to me, a real blessing that I've seen. He likes to do things behind the scenes, and where I am weak, he helps me to become strong just like my wife does.
One of the most influential people in my life, believe it or not, has been Fess Parker. When I was about seven or eight years old, I fell in love with Fess Parker from Davy Crockett fame. I was frustrated, because instead of being born on the mountaintops of Tennessee, I was born on the city streets of Los Angeles. It was very frustrating to me not to be able to trap and skin like I wanted to, and that is why I took up gopher trapping in the city. That was the closest thing I could find to a raccoon, so God is good.
A woman who heard me give the “Little Bear” story arranged for me to meet Fess Parker, and I was able to thank him for what he had done to influence people's lives and how he influenced my life. I sat with him for about thirty or forty minutes. He shared his life, and I shared mine. I asked him if he was a Christian, a born-again Christian, and he said, "You better believe it." I had that desire for probably about twenty-five to thirty years of my life, to meet Fess Parker. I left it in the Lord's hands, and he fulfilled that desire.
I was also greatly influenced by a singer and entertainer named Andy Williams. He was singing when I was in a very formidable time of my life. When I was in junior high and high school, my mother would buy his records, and I would sing to those records. While I was singing Andy Williams’ songs, most of my friends were listening to heavy-duty rock music. I wrote Andy Williams a letter about four years ago and said I would like to someday be able to meet him if I ever went to one of his shows in Branson, Missouri. I sent the letter thinking that nothing would come of it, and his secretary sent the letter back saying that I was welcome to come back stage to meet Andy Williams. That was an answer to prayer.
I got to go and meet Andy Williams with my wife Marilyn, and I gave him a book called Gaining Favor with God and Man that God had me republish. It was written in 1897 and it had to do with influence. I said, “I am giving you this book as an influence to you for you having been an influence to me.” The attendant told us that it was very uncommon for people to visit him. I felt it was very God-directed, and God had answered my prayer and given me the desires of my heart. The ministry has enabled me to be in some very special and unique situations, and I have been very thankful over the years as I have traveled and been on the road.
TOS: Tell us about your most disappointing experiences and how God has held you in his grip.
Little Bear: I will tell you that with another question you have asked in a little bit, but let me just say how I handle disappointment. I like the expression, “Disappointment is His appointment.” Because of my faith in Christ and my maturity in God, I don't get down very much. I am very optimistic by nature. I'm like the cat that falls off the roof and always lands on all four. There is no weapon formed against me that shall prosper, and I'm just always positive. Yes, I cry. Yes, I have emotions. I feel bad, but I always bounce back very quickly and things don't get me down. I've never known or experienced depression that people have, and I don't get depressed. I just trust the Lord and that has been a blessing to my life and how I can just walk with God and stay with His Word.
I would say the thing that I get the most is discouragement. Whenever I get down or discouraged, I just stay in the Word. I wonder sometimes if what I'm doing has any value. I sometimes go through what my wife calls the “Eeyore Party” or the pity party, but God brings me back and gives me those Scriptures exhorting us not to cease to labor for Him and His kingdom and that God will not forget our labor of love. That is an encouragement to me.
TOS: You have no idea ... the countless numbers who prayed and are still praying for William. I devoured the e-mail updates as they came in during those early days especially, lifting up prayers as the Lord laid you all on my heart. I am so stunned at the miracle of William's life thus far. God has a plan ... a purpose. This has been made evident to us all in this short, incredible time just since his birth. We'll continue to pray with and for your dear grandson.
Little Bear: I will never forget when Noelle called and said that she was pregnant; that made me very excited! I got choked up and teary-eyed and shot up a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Then, only twenty-four weeks along to the day, little William was born at 1 pound, 4 ounces. I have never cried so hard in my whole life. I just wept and wept, hours of weeping. I was like David who said he could collect a bottle full. Even now speaking to you after all these months, it is still fresh in my memory and difficult to speak on. God—by his goodness and thousands and thousands of people praying—has helped William, and he is improving daily. Every day my prayer is that the Lord will do a creative miracle in him, something that I can't see perhaps, but that God is doing internally through his mind. We are not sure what his brain will be like. Of course, you know he was supposed to be a vegetable, that he would never walk, sit, stand, eat, talk—that he would lay down on his back all his life, and have to have a respirator, wouldn't be able to breathe on his own, just an entity that would have to be fed intravenously, and that he would amount to nothing. That is what they suggested, just to pull the plug and let him die. But my brave son-in-law, Joshua Goforth, made the wise decision to trust God and to let William live—and God has miraculously done that. William is a miracle, and he is going to continue to be a miracle.
My prayer is that he will travel with me someday and walk up on the stage, and he will tell people that he was born on the day after [the anniversary of] the Roe vs. Wade decision. He is a testimony that abortion is dead wrong. My prayer is that he will speak—hallelujah— speak the name of Jesus to hardened hearts that want to insist that babies aren't viable! Who knows what God has in store for little William? It has been a real precious thing.
TOS: On a lighter (and somewhat weird) note, what is “Little Bear's” favorite food other than squirrels and gophers? I am cringing as I ask.
Little Bear: My favorite food is anything I can roll up in a tortilla. I love Mexican food. My Dad was born in Mexico, and my mother was raised in Mexico. I am three quarters Spanish and about one fourth Irish. I love the Mexican culture and the food, although I do eat other things. My motto is “I eat anything that walks, flies, or crawls—as long as it is cooked and there is a tortilla next to it.”
TOS: Mmmmm, yeah, sounds um, er, delicious. Remind me to bring my own grub when we all get together someday <grin>.
One ministry you have helped encourage along is Sequoia Ministries—Bruce Larson, a dear friend of ours out here in California. He speaks very highly of your friendship. Bruce was also of valuable assistance in the formatting of this interview.
Little Bear: I am thankful for Bruce Larson and his ministry; it is such a blessing to me to see how God inspired him to use his talents and his callings in a unique way to reach out, similar to what I have done.
TOS: What does Little Bear do to relax? Do you like to read?
Little Bear: I love to read. You will always see me anywhere I travel with a book in my hand, constantly trying to snatch reading here and there, or, watching a good quality movie that will teach some valuable lessons. I have all The Rifleman series with Chuck Connors. Everything we watch we analyze and talk about. Sometimes we teach Biblical principles to our children as a result of that so they can see the world as it really is and then make wise decisions based on what they are viewing. It's been a good tool, and we use it as a tool very cautiously and carefully. We have a box on our television that takes all profanity from movies. I can't stand profanity, and [the box] is helpful because sometimes even a good movie will have some in it. We are selective and careful. If I had to do everything all over again, now looking back over my years, I don't think I would have ever had a television in my home and just be content to live without one. That is probably pretty hard to do in our culture today, but I sometimes wonder if that would be the wisest thing to do for families.
TOS: Couldn't agree more. In fact, we boot-kicked our TV out the door five years ago and life is a lot more peaceful for it. I do sometimes miss the older shows, however. Of course, we do have a DVD player for all the educational flicks we own. And we can rent good shows from time to time, but it's nice now to be able to control what comes into our home. Did some of these old shows help influence the “Little Bear” character we have today?
Little Bear: Everything that we read, view, see, or hear through a pastor, a sermon, a tape, the radio, or music is an influence. Obviously, those early stories of Davy Crockett and The Rifleman were an influence to help me. I love the movie It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. We watch it once a year at Christmas because it teaches the importance of a man, George Bailey, who was really a nobody who ended up making his town a complimentary asset to the community instead of Mr. Potter. Bedford Falls was a beautiful place because of George Bailey, and my goal in life is to live a life that is so pleasing to the Lord, and be such an influence, that others can be spawned into fruitfulness as a result of what I do in labor and love. Recently, in Houston a father came up and said that me, “You are Fess Parker/Davy Crockett, to my son.” Influence is very important, and I trust I will live up to that.
TOS: You have influenced many adults and children with your ministry all across the U.S. Who does Little Bear listen to?
Little Bear: God has given me pastors from churches and ministries all over with messages and uplifting music to influence me. Dear friends—Pastor Mike Kiley in California, Doug Phillips of Vision Forum Ministries, Pastor Jim Brackett of North Carolina. And dear friend, composer and worship minister, John G. Elliott—to name a few. I have close friends to be accountable to here in this area where I live, and friends that have stood alongside of me in Mantle Ministries. Michael Bakke, Jim and Cecelia Leininger, Al Mendenhall, whom God has given me. Al moved from Oregon to Texas to be close to our family and stay accountable, so we have been like iron sharpens iron. I don't have a lot of friends, but I have a few good friends; that is what makes a difference. You can have a lot of acquaintances, and live a socialite life that is always on the surface, but not deep.
My daughter and son-in-law live about a half-mile away from us on the property of her in-laws. It is really unique when you have family members, in-laws, all living joyously near each other. We see each other daily, and all that makes for a strong family. I was very dysfunctional growing up, only to see that God has made me very functional in family relationships as I have gotten older. He has replaced what the canker worm has eaten. What the locust has eaten, the Lord has replaced.
I hope this article will be an asset to your homeschool magazine, to the Lord, and to other families that may read it. May God bless it. Let me pray with you.
Father in heaven, I trust that you will use these words that have been spoken in the lives of other people, that they will benefit from them, that you will inspire Paul and Gena and the staff to produce materials that will be a blessing to families across this nation through their magazine. We thank you for their magazine and ask you, Lord, to help all those that try to publish Christ-honoring magazines. I know there is so much competition nowadays, but I trust that we wouldn't be competing with one another, but that everyone will have their own gifts and callings and a special way of saying something that will bless certain people. It is not the numbers that we want to reach, Lord, or thousands, but the few that you have called us to minister to that matters, Lord. Now may we be obedient, Lord, in what you have asked us to do. I trust that they will be obedient in this work that you have given them to do, and that you will bless them and keep their family. In Jesus' name. Amen.
TOS: Richard, thank you so much. What a blessing. Paul and I stand in awe of your kindness towards us in praying the above prayer—it's our prayer as well. May the Lord continue to bless your beautiful family and Mantle Ministries. You are an inspiration.
(Edited and abridged from the original interview of the Summer 2003 edition.)