When Tom Griffith (left) announced his retirement plans last year, we began praying for the Lord to lead us to the next person to receive the baton in this crucial area of the Ranch ministry. We are very pleased to announce the hiring of Kevin Phillips as the next Director of Counseling. Kevin has lived in the Greater Sacramento region his whole life and currently resides in Roseville with his wife Vicki. Kevin has most recently worked with Koinonia’s Homes for Teens both in administrative roles and as a counselor.
As Kevin completes hours towards licensure, Tom will continue to be involved, serving as his counseling supervisor. Tom has faithfully applied his counseling gifts and testimony during his years at the Ranch, and we celebrate with him as he begins to enjoy retirement with his wife Marilyn.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with a friend about what it looks like to live faithfully in the midst of pandemics and lockdowns and civil unrest. We talked about caring for the people in our lives and about being receptive to the Spirit’s prompting as we interact with friends, family, and strangers, but it felt like there must be something more we could be doing. How do we love others well when we’re surrounded by uncertainty and fear? With many of our institutions shuttered and people isolated in their homes, with so much suffering caused or exacerbated by the events of 2020, what can we do to share the hope that we have?
He thought for a moment, then replied, “We all have our missions. Ours is Living Well [the local crisis pregnancy center]. You guys have the Ranch. We invest more in our local missions. We partner with them in the good work they’re already doing in people’s lives.”
When surrounded by a world desperate for hope, choosing to focus on and invest in the image-bearing individuals around us can sometimes feel like lighting a candle when what’s wanted is a bonfire.
We’d been talking about broad societal issues, about suffering that spans the nation and the globe. Sickness and death. Economic ruin. Isolation. Political unrest. Drug abuse and suicide. Such large-scale problems would seem to require large-scale solutions, but instead, he recommended we keep doing the work we’d already been doing. He said we should go small, dig deep, and give more of our time, energy, and money to local organizations that see the great worth and dignity of each person who walks through their doors. He suggested we start not with targeting broad campaigns toward large swaths of people, but with loving the individuals in front of us, and loving them well.
What does the seashore look like when you subtract 20 grains of sand?
Almost every day, I feel like I am unable to do what’s put in front of me. There’s too much to do. There are too many needs, and they are too deep. I don’t know what to do.
Jonathan, son of King Saul, was in the same position, and the story unfolds in 1 Samuel 14. Israel was facing extinction, as a Philistine army “as great in number as the sand on the seashore” swept through and occupied the Promised Land. All that was left was a band of 600 Israelites in hiding.
Jonathan knew the Philistine army was uncountably large. He also knew God had promised the land to Israel, not to the Philistines. He determined the fulfillment of this promise was worth risking his life for, so he recruited his armor bearer to attack a garrison of 20 Philistines. He went up against them with a courage made possible because of his faith in God’s promise, and he defeated them.
But this victory was hardly worth speaking of. What does the seashore look like when you subtract 20 grains of sand? Jonathan had done all he could, but it wasn’t enough. Nothing had really changed.
Except God saw what His child had done, and in response to Jonathan’s faith, He did what no one else was able to do and miraculously drove the Philistines from the land.
When I feel insufficient, it’s because I am. But that’s irrelevant. Anchored to faith in God’s promises, all I need to do is take the one small step I can, and then trust Him with the rest. In the words of Jonathan, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
Nate Boyd, Executive Director
As I write this, I’m about to drive down to Sacramento, the nearest large city with an airport.
Not every student finishes the course at the Ranch. Not everyone makes it to our signature “Pray Out” program completion ceremony. Sometimes, a behavior threatens the safety of the Ranch. Eventually, if no interventions prompt a change, that behavior means someone needs to be dismissed. Then there’s an abrupt, heart-breaking departure, and many tears.
The more time we’ve had with each other, the harder these days are. Each student’s story is powerful, and it impels you to fight for that soul, to yearn for freedom and hope. For 50 years, Ranch staff have developed the program to help students face this fight and overcome instead of succumb. But it’s impossible to guarantee this, and it’s impossible to prevent dismissals, because no one can make choices for someone else. Only God has the power to change hearts, and only God can heal the deep parts of us.
This also means dismissal does not mark the end of the story. A famous poem describes God as the Hound of Heaven. Hounds have been known to follow their quarry until they catch them or until they run themselves to death. It is not in their nature to give up. God never, ever stops pursuing us. He doesn’t give up if we run far or if we run fast. He will never give up on our students, He’ll never give up on me, on you, or on the loved one you pray for so frequently. So keep praying.
The cause for this trip to Sacramento today is not terribly uncommon. But it isn’t to take away a student who was dismissed: I’m picking up someone I had to dismiss four years ago. I remember clearly the tears when he left, both mine and others. But today, like many others who left too soon, he’s being welcomed back to visit.
This young man would quickly tell you life has not been easy. In fact, he’s visiting because he’s seeking counsel and support. He’ll also tell you the Hound of Heaven never stopped pursuing him until he was found.
A few days ago, a pastor asked: “Why does what you do work?” Perhaps the simplest answer is: here, people encounter the Hound of Heaven.
Nate Boyd, Executive Director
In June, according to the CDC, one out of every four young people seriously considered suicide. This is a 25x increase from the monthly average just two years ago. Health fears, isolation and loneliness, disrupted lives, and loss of purpose are among the many likely causes for this recent spike. The situation surrounding the pandemic has affected everyone, and the statistics reveal young people are impacted the most.
The Ranch exists for these very young people. This includes victims of racism. And youth who’ve been trained to be racists, and youth who’ve been trafficked, and who’ve been trapped in the opioid crisis, and on and on. Each of these horrible crises spotlighted in society this year reminds me of Ranch students I’ve known, people who have lived through each of these.
In this broken world, the Ranch is terribly, awfully relevant. I dream of a world where the Ranch is not needed, where there are no stories of trauma, abuse, and evil. But I know this will not be the case until the advent of the New Heavens and the New Earth, which is surely coming, when God will make all things right.
And so, we will keep our doors wide open, and we will tell of the healing power of the love of Jesus.
I hear people say, ”We need a place like Christian Encounter in every city in America.” Yes, we do. But there are far too few safe places for struggling youth, and even fewer that teach of Jesus’ love, offer professional counseling, personalized education, and thoughtful structure. Still, in every city, there are people who love Jesus and whose hearts have in turn been filled with His love.
And so, I turn to you. Be involved! God wants to use you. Pray. Find someone to listen to and to mentor. Volunteer at a good organization near you. Give to the Ranch! As you touch your neighbor with kindness and love, hearts will change.
“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” -Ephesians 4:16, NLT
Nate Boyd, Executive Director