“I always wanted to be different. I wanted to stand out.” Upon her arrival at CEM, Kalah’s defining characteristics were her dramatically drawn-on eyebrows and her hair extensions. Kalah’s obsession with image began in the fourth grade, when her unmarred appearance drew unwanted attention from the other kids. From then on, each significant change in appearance would signify an outward response to suppressed inner turmoil.
In the fifth grade, when she changed her appearance, Kalah had just begun to respond to dysfunction in the home. In the sixth grade, Kalah experienced her first betrayal from her best friend, who effectively turned everyone at school against her. In need of friendship, Kalah began to converse with the opposite gender, eventually gaining the reputation unfoundedly as a slut. Kalah began to crumble inside, but rebounded, deciding that if this was the label that was thrust upon her, then she would live up to it in its entirety.
“I started secluding myself in my room a lot. I started buying [provocative clothing], black eyeliner, and had pencilthin eyebrows.” Continued rejection from her peers only reinforced her new behavior and online messaging apps only enabled it. By the eighth grade, Kalah began to slip into depression, immersing herself in the world of Kurt Cobain. Kalah started to self-medicate with prescription drugs and experiment with depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Meanwhile, she had lost herself in this label. “I was always the type to go ten steps beyond everyone else.”
In 1971, the vision of Christian Encounter Ministries burst forth from the Ranch near Grass Valley. Paul and Anita Cecil established the first residence here while Tom and Barbara Salter were in seminary in Lincoln, IL. The Salters volunteered with the college group at Springfield’s Westside Christian Church and shared with Tom Kern that vision of a ministry set apart for reaching the very, very lost, for widening the reach of the local church, and for training workers for Christ’s great harvest in the 1970’s. More than a dozen young men and women from that church would heed the call and be sent to serve at CEM.
During that decade, Tom Kern completed a Social Welfare degree at the University of Illinois, anticipating a call to ministry. The first call was to youth ministry while he pursued additional study at Lincoln Christian Seminary. He then embarked on further extreme training for CEM when he traveled to Liberia, West Africa, to teach history and Bible at Liberia Christian College. Following service in Liberia, Tom taught in a continuation school in Illinois. In 1977, he considered a career social work position with the State of Illinois. The offer was delayed. Tom was not. An internship opportunity at CEM became available, so in January of 1978 he headed west to Grass Valley to serve.
As an intern, Tom was privileged to work with Bob Van Schyndel, Bill Williamson, and Bob Slayden in developing the facilities and animal care programs of CEM. These responsibilities became centerpieces of Tom’s service at the Ranch. His attitudes toward work, his servant’s heart, and his ability to impart these qualities to the younger Christian students and interns distinguished him throughout these four decades.