Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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Dumb Ox Productions hits the right notes for teenage ears
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
Dumb Ox Production?” asks one teen eyeing the bold logo across another teen’s
T-shirt. Emblazoned on clothing or tripping off the tongue, Dumb Ox Productions
is a name that’s one cool conversation starter for the New Evangelization.
The 2001 brainchild of co-founders
and life-long friends Brian Butler and Randy Hernandez, both 30 years old and
married, Dumb Ox is proving so successful in reaching youth through its own
ongoing retreats that it’s now also part of the vocation office in the
Louisiana Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.
Through Dumb Ox Productions, which
is endorsed by the likes of EWTN News Director Raymond Arroyo and David Sloan
of the God of Desire singles ministry, Butler coordinates a diocesan
vocation-formation program for teens.
The what, why and wherefore are
firmly planted in John Paul II’s call for new evangelization and his theology
of the body. In fact, Butler recently co-authored Theology of
the Body for Teens: Discovering God’s Plan for Love & Life
(Ascension Press, 2006) with Jason and Crystalina Evert. The how is through a
big focus on the “411” retreat.
Butler describes 411 (four-one-one)
as “a full weekend helping young persons to discover the true purpose of their
lives and to come before God starting to search and really listen.”
The catchy name is meaningful. “We
play on 411,” explains Hernandez. “You call 4-1-1 for information. Youth are
looking for information. More importantly, we believe we’re created for one
Teens learn that purpose is love,
the union is with Christ and, by living out their vocation, they’re achieving
the purpose God has for them: They’re in union with Christ, whether through the
married life or the religious life.
Bigger Than Chastity
Last April, when Father Mark Toups,
director of vocations and seminarians for the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese, met
Butler and learned his dream was to develop this new comprehensive vocation
program for teens, the priest also knew his own office wanted to help teens
learn how to listen to God.
“It was a match made in heaven,”
says Father Toups of Dumb Ox paired with the vocations office. “What I like
about 411 is it’s not necessarily a recruitment tool. It’s really trying to
help teenagers across the board learn how to listen to God.”
“The core of 411 ministry is just
solidifying teenagers’ commitment to holiness, upon which their listening to
God will be based. The vision is to raise up a radical generation of holy
The vision is already taking hold.
Co-founder Hernandez vividly remembers after one of the 411 talks a young girl
asked if they could speak to her entire girls’ high school in New Orleans about
“What I found so flattering about
that is the 411 retreat is all about God’s love and your purpose,” says
Hernandez. “It’s not specifically about chastity. Yet when we talk about God’s
love, they realize that means chastity — whether to save themselves for married
life or religious life.”
When Dumb Ox followed up with a talk
on theology of the body to the girls, they also immediately related it to
“As we present this information the
way John Paul put it, they are realizing this is the truth, the way God set us
up, the way love is supposed to be, the way we’re to respect our bodies,”
Hernandez explains. “It’s blowing out the ideas society is feeding them.”
What do teens at St. Peter Catholic
Church in Covington, La., think of Dumb Ox and 411?
It “taught me how to share in a
personal relationship with Christ,” says Jenny Bravo, 15. “It showed me a new
way to worship with great love.”
“The love God has for us and extends
to us through others was more deeply revealed to me through the Discovery 411
retreat,” says Chantelle Ferrari, 16. “Falling in love with Christ took on a
whole new meaning.”
St. Peter’s High School Youth
Coordinator Julie McKnight finds the Dumb Ox crew has a unique gift for
becoming one with their audience and, because of their knowledge of the
Catholic faith and their sincerity, they quickly earn the trust and respect of
the young people.
“They seem to be able enter into
where they are in life spiritually and emotionally, and have a real
appreciation and respect for where they are,” she says. “The kids really sense
The Dumb Ox crew also uses means and
methods teens understand, again inspired by John Paul’s call to utilize the
media. There’s praise and worship music and a multimedia trivia game where kids
have fun while learning about the faith. Talks begin with a story, usually
personal, that kids can relate to.
Butler describes 411 as drawing the
bridge for teens to walk across from the world they live in to Christ and the
Church. He has discovered one powerful step to the conversions in that walk is
reflected in John’s Gospel (1:35-41) in the way Andrew brings Peter to see and
“We can talk to them and play games,
but whenever we can, we offer them adoration — we bring them to Jesus,” Butler
says, adding that words can fall short, but Jesus doesn’t. “Those are the times
we see the most change: when they trust us and follow us into that moment with
Christ. They see who they are, who their Father is, and they’re ready to listen
to how he’s asking them to live.”
What of the apostolate’s name? It
comes from the nickname of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Church’s greatest
theologians. He was called “dumb ox” because of his quietness and his lumbering
size, but he was one of the brainiest people the world has ever known. And he
had an unparalleled gift for using reason to explain the Catholic faith.
In a way, Dumb Ox Productions is
following his example.
As Father Toups sees it, the group
“paves the way for a new generation of teenagers who will listen to God.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from
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