by Susan Andreone Posted Jul 2, 2019
leg * end : a famous or important person who is known for doing something extremely well.
His is a simple life in East Texas. Born in 1956, Jiggs Robert Gafney is the youngest of three boys born into a loving, tight-knit family of five. Living with an intellectual disability since birth, he was a blessing from the very beginning. Years later, Jiggs has become a living legend here at the Pine Cove Ranch. He has inspired a line of t-shirts donning his face as well as his own camp chant, “Jiggs, Jiggs… we love Jiggs!” You see, “the Ranch” and “Jiggs” go hand in hand. Jiggs has been coming to the Ranch for over 40 summers now, and through his endearing nature he continues to teach us all about the simplicity and beauty of the Gospel.
Jiggs experienced his fair share of tragedy at a young age. Blessed with two older brothers Mike and Pat, Jiggs lost Pat when he was killed by a drunk driver just before Christmas when he was just 14 years old. Talking about it today still stirs a deep sadness. He also lost his father to cancer and when Jiggs was 21 years-old, his mother, Carmella, received news that according to the law, Jiggs could no longer attend school. She was a single, working mom left to search for a safe place for her disabled son.
God had a better plan for Jiggs… and for Pine Cove. A friend referred Carmella to Pine Cove and after a trial week of performing odd jobs around camp, Jiggs captured everyone’s heart. That was over 40 summers ago and he’s been blessing the socks off campers and staffers at the Ranch ever since!
Jiggs is everywhere. And though he may be 63 years old, the college staff sometimes has trouble keeping up with him.
The activity was Commando and campers and counselors had been looking forward to it all week. Jiggs is large and in charge of this activity as well as “Espionage” at the Shores. In fact, he boasted to campers all week that Commando is his favorite activity and that he will “bust” them in their quest in the forest by sending them back to the very beginning. “Campers. Always. Lose.” It’s a long-time tradition and the campers love it that way. Proudly wearing a mustache inspired by his favorite actor Tom Selleck, Jiggs prepped the campers by explaining the rules and then systematically applied his gear consisting of a water gun and a helmet with a red light. One by one under cover of night in the East Texas forest, he picked them off with his water gun and collected their “life sticks.” Then, he dispatched them back to the beginning of the game, all the while reminding campers that he told them he would “bust” them… and that he did. They loved every minute of it!
Over the past forty-one summers, Jiggs has been a huge part of camp life and has a lot of duties, including…
Taylor “Fish Face” Jervis, who is now the Shores director but started as a Ranch summer staffer, has also come to know Jiggs over the last twelve years. Fish Face shared that he was drawn to Jiggs because it’s evident that he follows Christ whole-heartedly and unashamedly. He took time to teach Jiggs Scripture and the remarkable upshot is that Jiggs could not only recite it back, but also explains what it means to him personally. Jiggs gets it. His disability removes all pretenses of religion. In fact, Jiggs does not even know how to pretend to love Jesus. He is a beautiful example of relationship over religion. We love how he models that to both our campers and our college summer staff.
Pine Cove may have set out to assist a family and bless a disabled young man all those years ago, but all who encounter Jiggs understand that God is really using him to teach all of us.
Mario “King Koopa” Sosa, once a summer staffer who served in the media department at the Ranch for five summers, was one such college student.
“Since 2006, Jiggs has been a great example to me of what it looks like to serve Christ wholeheartedly, no matter what. As a first year staffer, all those years ago, I felt inadequate at times, and wondered what real purpose I served, constantly comparing myself to counselors. That summer changed my perspective on so many things. One was how God uses everyone, no matter their talent, or in Jiggs’ case, their “disability.” I would often look to Jiggs and remember that we are all here to serve God and each other as well, and what a refreshing reminder that was.”
He was so impacted by getting to know Jiggs that he felt compelled to share Jiggs with the rest of the world. When he was a graduate film student, Mario produded a 30-minute documentary film about Jiggs for his thesis project in 2012. “I felt that everyone should know Jiggs’ story, not just those who pass through Pine Cove’s gates.”
During the film, Shawn “El Guopo” Welch reflects, “We get so bound by our weaknesses and we can use those as excuses or cop-outs for not taking risks. Too many times, we are so scared about what people might think of us if they knew who we really were. What would they think of me? And Jiggs doesn’t care. Jiggs is so comfortable with who he is and I think because of that, people are drawn to him.”
The film garnered rave reviews at film festivals around the world, touching the souls of many believers and non-believers alike.
In truth, we all have disabilities, but most of us learn how to hide our challenges. Jiggs has been at Pine Cove for 41 summers and continues to teach us all about the true meaning of life. Living in perfect trust, he is a most radical witness of God’s love through his friendly, forgiving, and joyful nature and unconditional love. Jiggs, Jiggs… we love Jiggs! The legend continues and how thankful we are for his example!