OAKHURST – You’ve probably seen him on one of his horses, the lone man riding carefully down Road 426 towards town in the early dusk, or walking slowly around the perimeter of the high school campus, down School Road, around Fresno Flats.
His name is Anthony Francis Monroe, and he goes by the name of Tony. He and four horses are on the streets around town and in Fresno as part of a ministry that began over two decades ago.
“This ministry is called Cross and Horse Ministry and has now been on the streets for 23 years,” explains Monroe.
“It is not related to any organization or ministry. It started in Fresno, then I ministered in Oakhurst and North Fork for two years and then back to Fresno, seventeen years ago. Now my main ministry is in Oakhurst.”
Monroe’s efforts to help individuals stay on a righteous path began back in the 1980s. Long before horses came into the picture, Monroe was a man who ministered on foot.
“I began working with Hmong refugees in Fresno in 1982,” Monroe says. “They came from a hard background escaping the Communists in Laos to refugee camps in Thailand.”
By the later part of the 1980s, Monroe noticed an increasing number of youth joining gangs.
“I had to participate in funerals for three different gang members who had been shot to death,” recalls the devout equestrian. “As a Christian I encouraged the youth that once a person asked Jesus into their life and ask Him to forgive for sins done in the past, that he would never leave them. I also told them that God answers prayer.”
Then, one day while Monroe was driving to work, he experienced what seems to have been a visionary breakthrough.
“I had a picture in my mind of being on horseback ministering to the different gangs on the streets of Fresno. After a year it became a reality. During the course of a few years the ministry grew to where I used three horses on the streets of Fresno. One worked north side and the other two worked south east and south west. I would ride each for four days then switch to the next horse.”
By special request, Monroe returned to riding through the foothills nearly five years ago, this time on his oldest horse, Gumby.
“A couple of families living in Oakhurst told me that I need to come back because youth were getting into drugs with the growing homeless population. Because of the serious problem of drugs and drug related crimes, after considerable prayer I moved two more horses, Lilly and Grace, to Oakhurst.”
One horse named Rex was left in Fresno, while the other three can be seen around town on a pretty regular basis when the weather is right.
“Gumby is a 23-year-old Thoroughbred and has worked the streets for nineteen years,” Monroe says. “Lilly, the newest, is a 14-year-old Paint/Quarter Horse and has worked Fresno for two years and Oakhurst for a year.”
Clydesdale Grace is the same age as Lilly and has worked mostly Fresno for almost ten years. Rex is a 15-year-old Belgium working south/west Fresno for six years. So, why horses?
“The horses serve different purposes, particularly in Fresno,” according to Monroe. “The horses get into the faces of and sometimes chase gang members.”
Though not everyone is receptive to his particular message, Monroe says he sees how the horses’ presences can often change the environment where gangs and drug dealers are known to hang out.
“Many times families only see the crime-infested neighborhood. When I ride a horse into that neighborhood, kids and family members come outdoors to pet the horse or an individual may come up for prayer. There are times when the horses have been a proven help to law enforcement. However, some who are homeless and/or who have issues with drugs do not like me because I’ve had to call the Sheriff’s Department when they have been observed committing a crime.”
Riding the streets on horseback, Monroe is witness to some of the worst and best aspects of foothill living.
“Four homeless people in Oakhurst who were once Christians, and even went through drug rehab, turned back to drugs and crime. The hardest part is when the person refuses to listen. One homeless couple forfeited their children to Child Protective Services, for drugs,” Monroe asserts.
Fortunately for the mounted minister, there are rewards for his passion patrol.
“The best part of all this is when someone turns his life around and gets out of the life of drugs and crime because they gave their life to Christ.” Overall, says Monroe, “the people in Oakhurst are very kind.”