Former Student Testimonials
Dustin Berlin, CEM 2003 graduate, was cutting hair in a salon when he decided to go on a trip to Taiwan with YWAM. While there, his passion for serving others was ignited. He returned to the salon, but knew it was time for a change. One day, Dustin and his friend approached some homeless people on the street and began talking with them and cutting their hair. He went back again and before he knew it, he had 15 people assisting him. Dustin’s organization, You First Project, has already expanded to other cities, states, and countries. On seeing his dream take off, Dustin says, “When you experience something that makes your heart come alive, use that as your guide and live out the value that God set in your being.”
Of his time at the ranch Dustin says, “CEM and the vast family and staff that continually poured their positive affirmations and love into me at such a pivotal age helped me believe in myself and see my value.” The uncomfortable routine of the ranch helped shape Dustin’s rebellious heart. With the discipline the ranch provided he is now a vessel God can use. Dustin continues, “I am so thankful that situations led my life to the ranch at that age. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the ranch family. Thank God for loving discipline.”
“About two years ago I had no hope, nothing big enough to touch the hurts in my life. My parents divorced when I was ten, and then my mom’s sudden death when I was fourteen left me feeling so broken and empty. Pain pervaded my soul. It affected every aspect of my life; how I did in school, my relationship with my family, my self-image, and the way I felt about God.
I needed healing and I was searching for anything but God to take the pain away. I had a longing in my heart that needed to be filled, but I was looking in all the wrong places to find that fulfillment. Life was just getting worse and I felt completely hopeless.
But at the right time, God intervened and opened the doors for me to come to CEM. He saved me and brought me to the Ranch. I didn’t know why I was here, but God did. It was a part of His plan.
Over these two years I have allowed God to come into my life and heal the hurts within. I have been getting to know him on such a deeper level! I’m so thankful that He has given me another chance to succeed in school. Graduating wouldn’t have been possible without God. He has done an amazing work in my life. He has given me a hope for my future.
‘See, God has come to save me, I will trust in Him and not be afraid; the Lord God is my strength and my song, He has become my salvation.’ (Isaiah 12:2)”
“Ages 0-17 were all about the first birth; now age 18 is all about new life in Christ. I found out that Jesus can wash away the past so I can become who God wants me to be.”
“Coming to the ranch, I had a distorted perspective of what being in a relationship with God and with people could look like. However, being in such close quarters with the same seven people for fifteen…days has caused my view of relationships to change tremendously." (referring to CEM's 15-day backpacking trip)
“A little over a year ago, I described my life as simple ‘existence.’ I was not living; I was simply breathing. I had no job, no money, no degree. My family had been torn apart by divorce, and all of my friends had deserted me. Suicidal thoughts began; I felt that I would rather die than go through one more day. My heart was crying, screaming, for a reason to live. God heard my cry. He reached down…plucked me out of my darkness, and brought me to the Ranch. Philippians 2:13 states, For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
“God has taken this school year and has used it as a blank canvas to show me, ‘Look what I can do in your life!’ He has given me family, community, and fellowship. Not only has He brought me out of my old life, but He has worked with me so that I may live this new life to the fullest. I cannot express to you the thankfulness I feel."
“Before God brought me to Christian Encounter, my life was very different than it is today. I knew little about who I was, or what I wanted to be. I spent a lot of time running from my problems. I turned to parties and drugs, and eventually ended up with not much of a life at all. Thankfully, God got my attention and allowed me to see that the life I was living was not His plan for me. He gave me a desire to start over and pointed me in the direction of a place where I could.
Being a student at the Ranch has been the hardest and the most wonderful nineteen months of my life. I have faced problems, relived painful memories, asked for forgiveness, and learned the meaning of obedience before understanding—and I have seen the rewards that come with that hard work. I have been blessed with a family who loves me, and I have learned how to show that love to others. I have discovered so much about myself and my creator, and have formed a bond with Him that is unbreakable and undeniable. I can say with confidence that I know who I am, and that I stand on a solid foundation. I will leave here knowing that I am loved, taken care of, and known by the ruler of the universe, and that there’s really nothing more important I could learn."
“…A year-and-a-half ago I was very broken and hurt. But not many people would have guessed it. On the outside it looked like I had things pretty well together; I did okay in school, had lots of friends, and went to church. But I could not ignore the empty feeling I had inside. I was longing for a deeper meaning for my life and those in it. I was dying for change. I was living for myself and running after all the wrong things to satisfy the deep longing I had in my soul. My sins had me in chains and I could not escape. I felt hopeless, and life was hollow.
I had no understanding, conviction, or appreciation for what Jesus did for me on the cross. I had a superficial relationship with God. Many seeds had been planted by my mom and family, but I had no desire to give myself completely to Him.
However, God was after me, and He had other plans for my life. He snatched me up from where I was and brought me to the Ranch. He wanted to give me the fullness of life. The seeds were finally being watered. Over this past year and a half God has been pouring His love, wisdom, and discipline into me.
Life wasn’t always a walk in the park living at the Ranch. I had to learn many hard and painful lessons. I had no idea how to deal with conflict with others in a healthy way. I did not know how to keep healthy relationships with people. I was unable to forgive myself for past mistakes, or those who had hurt me. I had plenty of garbage to work through, but God has shown me what forgiveness really is through His Son, Christ Jesus."
“When I first came to CEM, I had never had the thought of graduating; I had very low expectations for myself. In school I was in special resources classes. I had learning disabilities, and frankly, I never thought school was going to happen for me. I had a lack of motivation. As time went on at CEM, I started wanting more for myself; I wanted real goals and I wanted to prove my old doubts wrong. I started to improve bit by bit. With the help and support of the staff, interns, and students I gained confidence in my abilities. I started to set goals and get ready for change.
…I want to thank God for opening up the door to CEM, to a new life and to his family. He has blessed me beyond anything I could have expected, and I hope that my life can be a testimony of his amazing works.”
“Before my arrival at Christian Encounter Ministries, I had no foundation for life. All that I had at most were a few random pieces of concrete rocks on the floor. It wasn’t until I came here that I started getting the help I needed to start the reconstruction of my life. Within a few months, I heard of this Great Contractor who wanted to oversee the rebuilding of my life. (I did know Him at one point in my life, but I was still not too sure.) Finally, I asked if He would come into my life and start to rebuild me. He did. This Contractor…is Jesus, the Son of God, the King who died on the cross for me. Being a Great Contractor, He has a fantastic crew. His crew is all the staff and interns here at CEM.
Before the Ranch and my renewed relationship with the Lord, I was a medicated, angry, bad-mouthed teenager. I could be described by the staff as easily angered, defiant, disrespectful, irritating, and over the top—showing poor self-control, argumentative, frustrated, frustrating, and impatient.
In the past seven months, I feel that I am a completely new person. I have a solid relationship with God, I am gaining more self-control, and I am starting to be open to receiving instruction. I am a new person.
Without the magnificent and glorious help of God, the never-ending support and love from my family, the fantastic encouragement from the ranch family, this past year of High School would have been much more difficult. You have all been part of the crew God used to help rebuild my life.”
“…I believe I’ve grown more in these past months than any other period of my life. My teachers taught me that my failure to achieve perfection was in no way justification to completely abandon a task, and that the measure of my grades was not a measure of my person.
…When I first arrived, I was…reluctant to change and …unable to do so of my own accord. Lazy, disrespectful, argumentative, these are to name just a few of the flaws…I have, in some small way, overcome while at CEM. The ranch provided a means for a different perspective on my life, a perspective from which I could sort through all the clutter and come out with something slightly resembling a sensible and rational individual. Which is what I would like to think I am today.”
“When I came to CEM a year and five months ago, my life was out of control. I was lying, stealing and using drugs. I knew that I wanted something different, but I did not know what it was. What I was looking for was right in front of me the whole time. It was Jesus Christ….”
“When I first came to the Ranch…my self-esteem could fit onto the head of a pin. My first experiences with academic struggles began in kindergarten. No matter how much I tried, it was never good enough…To be able to survive each day, I would remind myself of three things: Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, and Don’t Feel. Much of this changed during my time at the Ranch…Whenever I struggled or needed help in school, I got tons of encouragement. [My teachers] saw the potential in me that I was blind to. Through this year, with more confidence, I have been able to talk to my teachers and share my thoughts and feelings without the fear that they won’t care."
“I came to Christian Encounter High School two years ago…I found out that what I perceive as best is only half of what God wants for me. But when I stop and listen I can hear God’s whispers that I couldn’t hear before because the wind was too strong from running so fast. I ran from any thought that might become a dream. I never thought I was going to get my diploma before I got to this place…Here I had no escapes like there were in the world. I couldn’t make my problems disappear, because when I opened my eyes they were still standing right in front of me…
“Before I got here I hated the idea of Christianity and everything it stood for; I thought Christians were people who didn’t live in reality and were judgmental people who didn’t know up from down. This place has been a second chance to live and feel what I’m living…I want to thank God for never giving up and always showing His mercy.”
“…This day is not about a certificate or a title; it is about the path that was taken to get here and the things that I learned along the way. I have come to realize that there are people that truly care about me…
The Ranch is a place of growth, trials, and tribulations; without the help and support of the people around you, life can become very difficult. The interns, even though we give them grief every so often, have helped me get through the tough times…
The staff has been a huge part of my time here. The love and care they showed to not only me, but to all the students is amazing—how much they truly care for us and want us to succeed.”
“School here at the Ranch is different for a lot of reasons. The smaller classes, individual help, and scheduled work times helped me do what I couldn’t in public school…School isn’t the only thing that CEM helped me with. I learned how to enjoy life and learned how to better myself and strive to be a person with true morals and values. The work experiences I’ve had here have given me a whole new view of work…”