From Ducks to Destiny – A Conversation with Jep Robertson
[DA] Hey everybody. Before I begin, I wanted to let you all know that we have a very special free online concert coming up. AGCI’s national advancement officer, Jep Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, will be hosting a very special benefit concert featuring Grammy and Dove Award nominee Rhett Walker whose single Good to Me is playing on Christian radio across the country. Please join us for a time of music, stories, and an opportunity to change lives. You won’t want to miss it. Mark your calendar for Wednesday, September 30 at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00 Central, 7:00 mountain, 6:00 Pacific. By the way, nobody ever mentions mountain time. Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, the rest of you, we see you. Head on over to www.allgodschildren.org/rhett, that’s allgodschildren.org/rhett, for more information. Okay, back to our normal podcasty stuff.
[DA] You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Dayn Arnold.
It all started with PBS specials in the 80s, and now I’m here interviewing Jep Robertson for AGCI’s podcast. See if you can draw a straight line between those two things. I bet you can’t. I’ll see if I can. And I’ll explain why it matters to this episode of Together by AGCI.
Confession, I’ve been a film music nerd basically my entire life. As a child of the 80s without cable TV, I can remember many Saturday evenings watching PBS specials of John Williams conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra. For me the most exhilarating music he conducted was from the movies he scored himself. His pieces from Star Wars, ET, Superman, Jaws, produced in me an absolute obsession in film music. He was, and honestly still is, a hero of mine.
As a teen I was a band nerd. Or maybe I AM a band nerd? A recovering band nerd. Regardless, all my extracurricular activities revolved around music. Weekly private lessons, daily practice, jazz band before school, band class, music-festivals and competitions, youth symphony, concerts, and all of it was leading toward a career as a professional musician. But in the back of my mind the end goal was always really to become a film score composer like my childhood hero, John Williams.
Skip forward a decade, I had NOT become a composer, but I had begun to fall in love with video as a creative medium, and over the years that led to a calling to create my first documentary, which then led to living overseas for five years making films for mission work, which led to a new obsession with creative storytelling, which led me back to the States to start working for AGCI as a videographer, which then expanded to encompass other storytelling mediums like this podcast, and now I’m talking with Jep Robertson.
As I look back on my own life, there is no way I could have predicted being where I am right now. I bring this up because my guest today has had a similar experience. For Jep, growing up in a family of fishermen and duck hunters somehow lead to advocating for kids in need around the world. Truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways, and if we’re open to following His windy road, our lives can take turns we would have never… expected.
Quickly, before we get to Jep, I wanted to let you all know that we recorded this conversation back in late April, but with social unrest and national emergencies all around us, we shifted our subject matter for a while. Looking back on the conversation, there may be a couple little things that have changed in the last few months, so please forgive us if there are any inaccuracies.
Okay, let’s hear from Jep.
[DA] Today we’re going to be talking with Jep Robertson who is one of AGCI’s newest employees. He is the national advancement officer for AGCI and, um, Jep welcome to the podcast.
[JR] Thanks for having me, brother. Excited to be here.
[DA] For those people who maybe aren’t familiar with who you are, um, maybe haven’t seen any of the things that you have been a part of, can you maybe just give like a quick rundown of kind of your, your background?
[JR] Yeah. Um, so my dad kinda made a name for himself, in the duck hunting world, which is not a big, um, you know, thing all over, but definitely as far as, like, if people hunted ducks, they knew who my dad was. He just been making calls since the 70s. And, uh, he was a teacher and a coach and then kind of just wanted to do… You know, his dream was to make, um, you know, duck calls and duck hunting videos, which really blew up and got really popular. And, um, we, we were selling, uh, VHS back when that was a thing. And, um, they got real… I remember going to Memphis, there was a big Ducks Unlimited festival that was there every year. And, uh, and we went and, I mean, just for some reason that year just got really blown up. And like, people were just, we were just selling them like crazy. We were like, Whoa, this is like really catching on. And we noticed it was like, people who doesn’t even hunt, they just enjoy our family and, you know, laughing and all the shenanigans and that’s where it kinda… Then we got the, you know, looked at by, um, the outdoor channel and I was flown in like all the hunts and stuff. And uh, that was kinda my main job was like making these, by now we’re getting into DVDs and, uh, I was making the DVDs and um, you know, that’s when it really took off. And then we did a show on outdoor channel for three years, then a, a producer in, um, in LA saw it and he was like, You guys should be on a big network. And so it, it just took off from there. And then, you know, Duck Dynasty was, uh, we had the record for a while. Don’t know if we still do, it was like the most watched reality show ever, and as far as viewership. We, we beat the Kardashians, which I was like, yes, got em.
[DA] How many years did the show run for?
[JR] Uh, so we did 11 seasons, but we did, we would do, it was kind of weird how we had it laid out. We would do two seasons a year, so. Okay. Um, so it was basically about six years.
[DA] Do you feel like it was a good experience, like a positive experience for you guys?
[JR] Uh, no, it was awesome. I call it the blur because, I mean it was, we were, we were going off every weekend going to speak at different events and, um, or just, you know, go into like the Alaskan state fair and…
[DA] Oh yeah. I’m from Alaska. That’s, that’s my home territory there.
[JR] Oh yeah. My whole family went up there. It was, it was amazing. It was beautiful. I’d never been there. Um, but yeah, it was, it was just crazy. I mean, I got to meet a lot of interesting people. I mean, that was probably the coolest part about it. And, uh, yeah, it was, it was crazy. Good. It was good. But busy.
[DA] Yeah, I’m sure. So maybe you can tell me a little bit about your family, like tell me about your kids a little bit.
[JR] Yeah. Um, so I have five kids, um, which, you know, it’s loud at my house. Um, so my oldest, so I have a, a junior and a sophomore and a seventh grader. Um, all girls. Um, and then I have a 10 year old son River, and then my baby boy is adopted, Augustus. But we call him Gus.
[DA] So what was, uh, what was it that kind of led you guys into adopting? Like what, what was that experience like?
[JR] Well, it’s funny, my wife, when we were dating, she said, look, I want to have five kids. And I was like, Oh, okay. You know, I’m thinking like, I’m sure she’s not really meaning that. Like once she starts having kids, she’ll be like, okay, but no, sure enough… After three, I was like, Jess, I think we’re good. You know? And she was like, no, I want to have a boy. And she read this book, which I, I think it’s called, like how to choose the sex of your baby and we followed the rules. And we did have a boy, so. There’s something to be said about that. But, um, um, and then after him I was like, Babe, we’re good. You know? And she was like, no, I really want to adopt. My brother adopted, uh, Willie adopted his son Will, and we took care of him a lot when he was a baby. And, uh, Jess just babysitting a lot And she just loved the idea of adoption. But I was like, no. I mean, I was like, hard pass. I’m out. And then I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, uh, with my home church where my brother is the pastor. And, uh, you know, we built an orphanage there. Our church did. And, um, and man, I met these kids and I was like, just so enamored how sweet they were. They didn’t have nothing, but they were the happiest kids ever. And I got back from that trip and I told Jessica, I was like, all right, I was wrong. You know, I, I’m willing to adopt and we didn’t know really if it was internationally domestic, whatever. And uh, and just the way God led us, we, we did a domestic and it’s been amazing.
[DA] That’s awesome. Maybe you can tell me a bit about how you got involved with AGCI. Like how did you even hear about us?
[JR] Um, yeah, it was kind of a weird story. Uh, I was, I got a buddy here in Austin that, um, real last minute was like, Hey, um, I want you to come to this thing with me, The All God’s Children gala. And, uh, he said, uh, his wife was, couldn’t do it last minute. And so he’s like, man, I’m just gonna invite a few friends. Um, he’s, I got a table, and I was like, All right. I mean, it was like, it was like the day before. And so I went and, uh, and it was just so amazing. You know, I heard Hollen speak and, and um, Laura, um, girl from Colombia, and I was just, I mean, I was crying so hard with a with a table full of guys and, um… You know, and trying to hide it because Laura’s story was just so super amazing. And, um…
[DA] Yeah, what was it about her story that got you?
[JR] Well, it’s just, you know, it was like seeing a person who had absolutely nothing, had been through so much trauma in her life, like everything you can think of, bad happened to this girl and she now was in school and doing amazing, and she was just, just really thanking, you know, the people in that room who had made that possible for her. And I was just like, man, what a… This girl had no hope, but some people across the world, you know, or way up North where she’s from, um, you know, saw a need and was like, You know what, I’m going to help this girl. And, and, and now she’s doing amazing… I mean, you know, now I know the rest of the story, uh, that she’s supposed to graduate from law school. It’s just so incredible.
[DA] I mean, was it Laura story or was it something that like just the night in general that kind of prompted you to start talking to people?
[JR] So then I got, so from the gala, I got to meet, uh, you know, some of the leaders at All God’s Children. And Brad, um, who is my, my brother from another mother who does what I do. And, uh, he’s an advancement officer and, uh, advancement officer. And, um, and I went to dinner with him and Hollen, and, um, and it was just so amazing. And, and Jess and Hollen, my wife, Jessica and Hollen talked the whole time, just like… Everybody else was like trying to talk to each other, but they were just like centered up like… And I remember getting in the car Jess going, You know what? You, you need to, you need to do something with these guys. Like I love what they’re doing, I love the work. And, um, so then that led me to go to Ethiopia on a vision trip. And, um, I’ll never forget, I, I get back to the room. So we’re just, you know, seeing all the work, we went to a couple of orphanages that were, you know, bad shape and, um, the, the state run ones. And, um, and I remember getting back to my room one night, just calling Jess, just crying my eyes out, just being like… Jess, I want to be a part of this. And so had a talk and it all worked out and I was like, so happy to be a part of the team, man.
[DA] Yeah. And you got to go to Colombia not too far after that, right?
[JR] Yeah. So, uh, went to Colombia… Um, man it’s been a while back now, um, six, eight months ago. And, and uh, yeah, it’s just… It’s weird how, you know, different those places are, but how similar, you know, it is when you get down to it. You know, just the orphan crisis as it is. I went to Los Pisingos which was such a highlight because once I heard the story of it and the guy was telling me through a translator, just my Spanish is not great. I took French in high school. That was a mistake. Um, he’s telling me, um, you know, it means lost duckling. And how it all started with a, so crazy, a duck hunting um, like a group of guys that were in a duck club, basically, in Colombia, started that orphanages, orphanage. And, um, or like an orphan care place. And, uh, and I was just blown away. I’m crying again. I’m like, man, I can’t go on any of these, uh, uh, trips without, uh, crying my eyes out. But, uh, yeah, I absolutely love Colombia. It’s just the most beautiful place too. And uh, Northern like, you know, Tigray, is that, was that, that city up North? Yeah. Ethiopia. I just, you don’t realize how beautiful these places are until you go to them, it’s like, man, I mean it’s, it’s awesome.
[DA] Yeah. Ethiopia is such a crazy place, especially in Tigray, because it’s, it’s, uh, that… Like, it is the most beautiful place and the people are really amazing. Um, but it’s, it’s like the level of poverty is kind of unbelievable. Yeah. What do you think, like, what, what is, what were some of your impressions of, of the people in Ethiopia? Like when you were in Tigray, like what, what did you… Were you able to connect with folks there too?
[JR] Yeah, for sure. And I mean, what’s amazing is like, you know, these people were real proud of, you know, where they came from. That’s what I found kind of shocking was like how they carry themselves. I really, um, you know, well, being in such, you know, poverty. And uh, I mean just the sweetest… And I never felt like, I kind of thought going into it, I was like, man, I’m gonna, I was kind of scared about being there and like getting robbed or something, you know, it was something whatever. And, and once I got there and got to meet the people, I was like, no, these are the sweetest… I didn’t realize how like spiritual they are, and um, yeah, I was just surprised in a good way, I guess on… But also very heartbroken with, you know, these kids. I mean there’s just so many. I mean, it’s just so sad, like how many are just walking around, just don’t have anything.
[DA] Based on what you know about the work there, which is a pretty good amount, um… The approach that AGCI takes with working with those communities, um, would you be able to kind of walk us through like what that looks like?
[JR] I mean, what really got me the most was we were, uh, you know, we’re givin’ out money for the, you know, kids that, uh, are sponsored by All God’s Children. And, um, you know, it’s very individual. You know, they each come up, they actually put the money in their hand and they, they look… The caretaker shows like where the money’s been going and stuff. They have to keep track of it, which I thought was very cool and very transparent. And, um, and then you, like, this one family. I mean the man, uh, the dad, his feet were completely backwards and they had walked three miles. Um, and the mom was just kissing my hands, just so appreciative. And there was two kid, they had two kids, a boy and a girl, and um… I mean just to see their thankfulness cause we couldn’t really communicate and uh, but it was all there, you know? It was, I mean, she was kissing my hands and he kept smiling and nodding and I mean, that really choked me up. And I thought, man, what an amazing thing. These, these families have a chance now. I mean, we’re giving them food, school. Um, both kids were in school and doing well and pays for the books. Um, pretty, pretty amazing, the work there.
[DA] Yeah. I think one of the things that I like the most about that program in particular is that it’s, it’s not just like caring for a single child, it’s the, the sponsorship for that kid really does, you know, it, it benefits the entire family. And it also like, it sets them up for success later on, like teaches them how to, how to save money so that when we have, you know, challenging times, like coronavirus, hopefully they’ve got a little bit set aside so that they can kind of make it work even when times were, when times are tough. So, um, right now your role is the national advancement officer. So what, what does that look like?
[JR] So I pretty much, you know, talk to people from all over. Um, you know, the US, um, just about the work we’re doing and, uh, and I try to raise awareness and, you know, um, you know, funds for, for doing all the work that we do. And, um, it’s, it’s pretty awesome. And, I mean that’s what’s kind of cool was, is through a TV show, you know, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, you know, kind of all across the U S that, um, that are very giving and charitable and, and, and love the work we’re doing. And so I just nurture those relationships and um, you know, tell them about what we’re doing and put it in God’s hands, man.
[DA] Yeah. Do you feel like you can really kind of look back and see how everything’s just been aligned over your entire lifetime to kind of put you in this position now?
[JR] For sure. You know, it’s funny is I tell people all the time, cause you know, I’ll just run into somebody or somebody will call, I’ll be like, what are you doing now? I tell him like I’m actually working for this charity. It’s awesome. And they’re like, really? I never thought you would, you know… Even though, you know, I know, you’re giving guy and all that, like, I wouldn’t think you wouldn’t be doing that. And I’m like, man, I didn’t either to be honest with ya. And, um, but it’s just something, you know, yeah, God just kinda showed me the way, man. And, um, and I absolutely love it. I, I couldn’t imagine, um, doing anything else. I’m like, it’s the most rewarding, um, thing for me personally is to helping kids all over the world. I’m like, I mean, I don’t really know what can give you a better joy and help you, uh, you know, sleep better at night to know that, uh, that, you know, you’re helping the helpless. It’s pretty awesome. I love it.
[DA] Yeah. That’s so great. I, um, I, I mean, I feel the same way and it’s just such a privilege to be able to, you know, do work that is meaningful and that actually impacts other people. It’s, yeah. You just can’t ask for much more than that.
[JR] That’s what I tell everybody, like I’ve never worked with a better group of people. And it’s funny, like, and I, you know, I love my family, my blood relatives, and, and enjoyed that so much. Um, and they’re amazing, but this is the closest thing I could, I think be doing. And, uh, and by far the coolest thing is like, I was, I was on my dad’s podcast the other day and, um, my dad, I could tell he was just so, he’s so happy that I’m doing what I’m doing and he, and you know, and they’re a part of it and, uh, and absolutely love it. Um, so no, man, I’m just really happy and blessed and, um, I hope people hear this and, and will be moved and called to, uh, to, to give us a helping hand and help these kids.
[DA] Well, it’s gotta be, I mean, just thinking about your dad, like it’s gotta be so satisfying for him having known you your entire life and the ups and downs and to, to see you, you know, on this end of things and finding something that it feels like, you know, the Lord is really kind of moving in a significant way as, Oh man, that’s as a dad. I just can’t imagine anything better than that.
[JR] For sure. And that’s something that he always taught me growing up, which was weird. And I, I’m, I’m guessing that’s what kind of God set in motion for, for me to be doing what I’m doing now is, is he would always tell me, Son, true religion is taking care of orphans and widows. Like always told me that. And it was, um, it’s just so crazy to be actually doing that, um, as a job. You know, it’s just, I dunno, it’s just, pretty, pretty amazing.
[DA] Well, thanks so much for your time and, um, for just chatting with me a little bit about your work with, with AGCI. And, uh, we’re excited to see what comes up in the future.
[JR] Same brother. Enjoyed it.
[DA] All right. Take care Jep.
[JR] All right, see you Dayn.
[DA] That was AGCI’s national advancement officer, Jep Robertson. Don’t forget to join Jep and Rhett Walker September 30 at 9 Eastern, 6 Pacific, for a very special time of music, stories, and an opportunity to change lives. You can get more information at www.allgodschildren.org/rhett. Again, that’s allgodschildren.org/rhett.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future shows, please send us an email at email@example.com. And for more stories from All God’s Children, you can check out our YouTube channel, or our Facebook page. Just search for All God’s Children International.
We do hope that you keep walking with us as we continue on life’s windy road… together. We’ll talk to you soon.