Recently a friend needed to find a residential program with a different scope than Christian Encounter. In his search he found two programs whose descriptions matched what he was seeking.
The first charged $80,000 per month. I wish this was a typo. On top of a cost so high it tests belief, the timetable for program acceptance is not affected by desperate need; it’s driven by how fast money changes hands or insurers do paperwork. This means a family’s crisis matters as much as they’re willing to pay, and a teen is valued as much as the money they bring. This is simply standard business practice. It also devastates families.
The second program declined admittance because of fear their all-important success metric would be compromised. Come to find out, some diagnoses trigger an automatic rejection by many programs because it’s too risky the teenager won’t turn into a success story.
The contrast with Christian Encounter is stark. For decades, Ranch leaders have refused to be driven by these numbers.
While program success metrics are useful tools for PR departments and can gain entry to high-dollar insurance networks, the danger of the tail beginning to wag the dog is far too evident. The metric displaces the mission. Our mission is hearts healed by the sacrificial love of Christ, not just behavior modification that looks good in the metrics. True and lasting lifestyle changes grow out of hearts shaped by the Gospel.
When Kayla arrived, she was an older student at 20. She was profusely grateful simply for somewhere to stay. She was agreeable and compliant, willing to do what was asked of her. Kayla had graduated high school at 19 having worked hard to catch up after missing four years of school in her pre-teen years. A year later, she had hoped to be farther along on her way to asserting her own independence. She had worked different jobs, including management at a chain restaurant.
However, outside of work, Kayla’s life was vastly unpredictable. She felt the most in control when she was at work. She knew what to expect and what was expected of her. She could maintain a sense of order and cleanliness and check off the boxes. Outside of those double doors, chaos reigned.
Kayla was introduced to a guy a couple years ago by someone she trusted. As time passed, his lifestyle became her lifestyle, and the choices she was making were unrecognizable to herself. The relationship eventually became abusive. Kayla was stuck and she didn’t know where to turn.
When Kayla was at a pregnancy care center in town, the woman at the desk recognized her. She saw her need for support and presented her with options to get help. The application process went quickly, and in July 2020 Kayla set foot at Christian Encounter.
Kayla had bounced around from place to place so often in the past year that it seemed this may also only be a temporary situation. The people seemed genuinely kind and caring, but Kayla kept her guard up. Her aloof demeanor caused division between her and the other students. Then came time for everyone to don their backpacks and head into the wilderness for two weeks.
As told by Jim Parker
Marion and I had taken a trip to visit churches and donors. We were on our way back to the Ranch, coming north through Modesto.
I called an old friend, Earl Voiles, to see if we could take him to lunch. He was an interesting "strange" bachelor. Earl was our very first houseguest when we were newlyweds living in San Jose. He made silly little jokes like, "I just hate the Devil! She is so mean!" He was also very poor. He lived in a little three-room shack of a house on a large plot of land where he grew carrots to sell at growers’ markets. He existed on a small social security check and the money he earned from the carrots.
After lunch we took him home. I went with him to an old out-building filled with boxes and yard tools. There was a small suitcase all covered with dirt. "This has money I have been saving for the Ranch from my carrot sales. I think I might have $600.00 in there! I’ve been putting it away for quite awhile." "Let’s take it inside and count it," I told him gratefully. "Naw, count it on the way to the Ranch and let me know how much it was." We said our goodbyes and started home.
As I drove, Marion opened the tattered little suitcase and started saying, "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!" She said that over and over. She counted more than $10,000.00 in that little suitcase!
When we got to the Ranch we had the business department count it, and then I called Tim Salter – a Christian lawyer living in Modesto. He knew old, eccentric Earl Voiles. I told him Earl had no idea how much money he had given. I asked Tim to go see Earl and explain what he did and tell him we will happily give it back or share it with other ministries, or do whatever he wants. Tim called back later that day. "Know what Earl did when I told him how much he had given? He jumped up in the air and said, ‘Praise The Lord! Hallelujah!’ I asked him what he wanted done with it, and he said, ‘Well, I want it to go to the Ranch, of course!"
Several years later Earl died and left his property to the Ranch. We sold it to his next-door neighbor. They tore the cabin and outbuildings down and built a new house. The Ranch still has that little suitcase (pictured).
In the early 1980’s, John Yates was eating lunch with Jim Parker at Angels’ Meadow and sketched out on a napkin his idea of having camping cabins.
Blessing #1: The vision is made known and a family in Oregon responds wanting to donate all the lumber for the project.
Blessing #2: A man in Yuba City volunteers to use his big truck to transport the lumber.
Blessing #3: At the weigh-station, the attendant said they needed to reload the lumber to continue. The inspector caught wind of the project, took pity on them and connected them with a friend nearby who had a forklift.
Blessing #4: The owner of a local lumber yard hears about the donation and offers to bring a forklift out to help unload the lumber.
Blessing #5: Senior-citizen volunteers build the cabins in three weeks’ time.
Blessing #6: The cabins still need windows, roofs, doors, beds, and carpets. A man calls and wants to donate $12,500 in memory of his wife for the project. (This couple knew of a family whose son’s life was turned around at the Ranch.) The money covers everything except the windows.
Blessing #7: At the final stage in the project, we learn the windows needed are not a standard size and thus need to be custom made - a considerable expense. Jim attends a prayer breakfast in town where he is connected with a board member at a local Christian camp. He is invited to look at the spare windows they have available at which Jim politely declined because of the size needed. At this man’s insistence, “Now, Jim..., you never know what the Lord can do...”, Jim went, and there they were - our exact need - twelve 2’x10’ windows!
Our 12 cabins are still in use today. Along with an amphitheater, outdoor kitchen, and campfire pit, our Meadow venue is available for retreats and church gatherings free of charge.
By Former Executive Director Mike Petrillo
Welcome to the Ranch! Those words were part of my introduction to CER long ago, and, 50 years later, they still convey the warmth and joy of acceptance and belonging that comes from God’s family. During that first visit, in 1971, I felt the Lord’s peace amongst the trees and meadows. The tranquil water of the Lodge pond was disturbed only by the fish nibbling near the surface, and the bullfrogs croaking along the shore. Two friends of mine had recently been baptized in those same waters, and they had conveyed to me the excitement of meeting with Jesus here at the Ranch. The murky waters have enveloped many more who sought God’s peace through repentance in Christ these past five decades—too many to count—and the angels have seemingly been on permanent choir duty above the pond ever since.
God brought the founding family, the Cecils, here for their first look in 1969. And by the time CER was incorporated in 1970, the “Welcome to the Ranch” phrase had become part of the daily lexicon of life. New Christians were born again, struggling brothers and sisters found peace and healing. Fellowship and worship and prayer and preaching took their place alongside the machinery of Ranch chores, work projects, and meal preparations. Those shared family experiences all fit in to make the “welcome” a unique and powerful experience.