In the late 1960's the vision of Encounter Ministries was conceived in the hearts of Paul Cecil and Tom Salter, then students at San Jose Bible College. They saw a need for an intimate, personal type of ministry which could more effectively minister to people who needed Christ but who would not come through the church doors, as well as to people who had accepted Christ but had fallen away because their needs were not met.
It was some time before that vision would begin to be realized, however. Both Paul and Tom graduated from Bible College. Tom went on to Lincoln Christian Seminary to work on a master's degree. Paul moved to Tahoe and founded Tahoe Christian Center while he also worked as a journeyman plumber to support his family and ministry.
Paul's heart continued to burn with a desire to reach out to the hundreds of young people caught up in the spiritual vacuum of the youth counter-culture. The drug scene was flourishing, and young people by the thousands were hitch-hiking to California in search of answers. Rejecting the values of middle class America, they came searching for anything that would give their lives meaning and purpose. Paul saw the time ripening, and in September of 1970, the Encounter vision was given birth.
A site was selected at the base of Wolf Mountain, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, near Grass Valley, California. It was hoped that the obscurity of the location and the natural beauty of the rural surroundings would provide a peaceful and protective environment in which lost or struggling young people would begin to face their problems head-on and find lasting direction for their lives. The Ranch would also be available to the Body of Christ at large as a family camping and retreat facility and as a training center for Christians preparing for practical ministry.
With God's help, a large parcel of land was secured in September 1970 under a one-year lease with an option to buy. Paul and Anita Cecil and their three children moved onto the property during that month. Having pitched a tent to protect their furniture and belongings from the dust and rain, the Cecils lived out of two sixteen-foot camping trailers borrowed from some friends. No electrical power or potable water was available. They bathed in the pond, brought drinking water from town in bottles, read by kerosene lamps, and generally just "roughed it." Paul continued to work full time as a plumber, often commuting to Marysville and Tahoe, since local jobs were scarce.
Having committed their housing needs to the Lord, the Cecils became acquainted with a man who was beginning a mobile home dealership. He offered to sell them two nice mobile homes at near cost. The Cecils readily accepted, and Encounter Ranch was graced with its first habitable structures. No sooner had the furniture, appliances and most of their belongings been moved from the tent to their new home, than the first serious winter storm hit. A tree fell, crushing the tent and the few remaining articles inside it. God had provided their new home just in the nick of time.
The new mobile home was roomier, but life at Encounter Ranch continued to be primitive. An old gas-powered army generator, acquired by the Cecils, provided limited electrical power, but it was too expensive to run often. Kerosene lamps still provided light, and a wood stove was used for warmth. Irrigation water was used for bathing and toilets.
1971 brought Tom and Barbara Salter and a fresh water well to Encounter Ranch. The first young people began to trickle in, seeking help and direction. As the Ranch staff and facilities increased, more and more troubled young people found Encounter a haven of acceptance and love. Those seeking help lived and worked with the staff families, often moving in a weekly rotation from one family to the next. Paul and Anita had been deeply impressed with L'Abri, a book by Edith Schaeffer, and had decided to make the Schaeffers' prayer their own: "Lord, send those you want here, and keep away those you don't." Because of this, people seeking help were not turned away. The only qualification was a sincere desire to change and an openness to God. Brian Beal was the first to come for help and the first to graduate from the Encounter program. He went on to serve in full-time ministry.
Those early years were filled with stories of dramatic transformation in hundreds of young lives. Drug-damaged minds and rebellion-hardened hearts were made new again by the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Encounter's prescription for change has remained the same through the years: Truth, discipline and love - resulting in growth.
1971 also brought the end of the one-year lease on the property. Paul, Tom, and the rest felt that God wanted them to purchase the land, but the September deadline was approaching, and the $8,000 down payment was nowhere to be had. The night before the due date for the down payment most of the money still had not come. Why had God not provided it? Surely He wanted this life-changing ministry to continue. The Ranch staff held a meeting that night. Some friends and a few visitors were present. The need was made known to all, and there was a time of prayer. Then those present each contributed as God directed. When the money was counted, there was $8,084.00! God had been faithful. Everyone was overjoyed, but the $84 extra was a puzzle -- that is, until the next day. When Anita went to make the down payment, she was charged a closing fee which had not been anticipated. The amount of the fee? You guessed it -- $84! God had seen the need and provided it before anyone else was even aware of it.
It soon became apparent that the ministry required a more permanent structure for offices and housing for those seeking help. A three-story lodge was constructed from almost 100% donated materials and volunteer labor. It contained office space, a girls' dorm, kitchen, family living and dining area, and restrooms. Since then many more offices have been added. The lodge continues to be the center of Ranch activity and stands as a testimony to the faithfulness of a God who cares.
From the beginning, God has seen to it that each need is met specifically and at just the right time. Once during the first year, the old army generator that provided the electricity ran out of gas. There was no money to buy any, so the need was placed in God's hands. The next day a truck pulled up into the driveway, and a man began filling the 500 gallon tank. Anita asked if there was some mistake and found that a friend had felt impressed by God to send the gas. (Incidentally, P.G.& E. electrical power didn't come to the Ranch until 1972 -- a welcomed convenience!)
Another time two guys at the Ranch had prayed for 43 2 x 4's needed for construction. Several days later a lumber truck loaded with 2 x 4's came up the drive. The driver was a Christian and lost. He asked about the religious convictions of the Ranch "family," then asked if they needed any 2 x 4's. They told him, "Yes!" and he gave them all he had -- exactly 43! Through countless other such "coincidences" God has graciously provided our requests for food, money, vehicles, buildings, clothing, machinery, school supplies, livestock, and much more.
Community acceptance was slow in coming for Encounter. The Ranch neighbors fought a legal battle against the Ranch at first. They expressed anxiety and concern over the fact that the Ranch would be bringing into their area "the very undesirable type of people," known to all of us of that era as "hippies" -- a neighborly quote. But God's hand was in it, and the Ranch remained. Today Encounter Ministries has a wide outreach to the community and a good reputation among its neighbors. Indeed, many of the neighbors have become involved in Encounter Ministries' work on a volunteer basis, and dozens of others have come into a relationship with God through this ministry.
From its inception, Encounter Ministries has been both a service to, and an arm of, the Church. Over the years, troubled young people have been referred to Encounter Ranch by churches. The churches have seen for themselves the evidence of transformed lives, and they have subsequently lent their wholehearted approval and support to the work.
The vision and scope of Encounter Ministries has expanded over the years. While young people continue to experience redirection through the 24-hour, live-in ministry of the Ranch, many other avenues of ministry have opened up. An internship program was initiated to train and equip qualified college students for contemporary ministry. Two graduates of that program joined the staff of Encounter Ministries in 1975. In 1976 Jim Parker joined the staff and assumed the directorship of Christian Encounter Ranch, Grass Valley. The following year, John Yates and Gary Colvin came to Encounter Ranch to found Discovery Expeditions, an intensive wilderness camping program offering learning and growth through wilderness stress experiences.
While qualified staff were being added, facilities were also being expanded. Bob Slayden, a Christian contractor from Oregon, sold his business there and moved to Grass Valley so he could donate his labor and expertise in building. Soon three new dormitories, a school house, a laundry-utility building and lovely duplex for staff housing were completed. All these projects were finished with a total outlay of less than $36,000! God had miraculously blessed again!
After ten years of faithful service, Paul and Anita Cecil left the ministry, and Jim Parker assumed the duties of Executive Director. Ministry continues. In 1981 God gave CEM the opportunity to minister to 1,179 people through the residential counseling and camping ministries. Christian Encounter Ministries was also privileged to train 16 interns in the area of counseling, teaching, discipleship and camping. In 1983 Gary Colvin began a new camping ministry in the mid-west after successfully operating one for Christian Encounter Ministries in that area for several years, and John Yates expanded the California-based Discovery Expeditions to include on-property camps, cross-country ski trips from a winter base at Lake Tahoe and marriage enrichment seminars. In 1981 a fourth area was added to CEM's programs: Christian Service Training to help equip those who desire to learn to serve on the mission field in support areas such as secretarial work, vehicle maintenance, animal husbandry and food service preparation. Christian Encounter Ministries has seen many lives changed and individuals served through its work in the past, and we look forward to seeing many more such miracles of God in the future! As you can see, this written account ends in 1981, but the work of CEM has continued to the present day! Watch this page for the continuation of this story.
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Contact: p: 530-268-0877 | f: 530-268-9077 email us PO Box 1022 Grass Valley, CA 95945