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
When Christian Encounter Ranch was only an idea, the desire was to create a place that was quarantined. Or, to use a friendlier word, a refuge. The founders saw young people drowning in a culture of rebellion and casual destruction of self, and felt an urgent calling to offer a place of safety.
They picked this physical location to establish the Ranch because it was removed from society. The dirt road leading to the Ranch was so bad that during heavy rains it was all but impassable. Separation and distance were key requirements, because the Ranch was to be an escape from many forms of danger.
Young people could get away from drug dealers, from abusers, and also from the countless distractions life brings. Today, this list has grown to include social media and addictive online worlds.
The purpose of a medical quarantine is to keep a deadly contagion from spreading. The results include physically healthier people, but at the cost of community. The Ranch quarantine also results in healthier people, but instead by means of community. The redemptive power of the community is strengthened because the contagions removed by the Ranch quarantine are also things that sicken communities.
Neuroscientists have been learning recently that brains are hardwired -- designed-- for love. Specifically, to express and to receive love in community. When community love is disrupted, the results are neurotoxicity and anxiety. This is not a surprise. As God said at the beginning, "It is not good for man to be alone."
At the end of the day, the Ranch is very simply. a community of love. Our mission is "Overcoming the cycles of brokenness, one story at a time." This happens through the immense power of a community of love. A team that includes counselors, pastors, teachers, and interns anchors the community in the love of Christ, creating an environment that can nurture growth and healing for a time, with the goal of sending out stronger young people more immune from the invisible contagions of the world.
While medical quarantines today have caused many people to feel alone and hopeless, the Lord's love is undiminished and unchanged. May He remind you of His great love for you, and may you pass that along to others.
- Nate Boyd, Executive Director
There is a truth in the world that changes everything. It changes our motivations, our desires. It changes our very nature: the core of who we are. The gospel changes everything. Without it, I would have no purpose in life - no hope. Without it, our students would have no hope. But because of Jesus, the gospel is real. And it is alive.
The gospel is this: God redeems souls. Life overcomes death, and it lasts forever. But the gospel is not merely a new destination for souls--God’s redemption is so much bigger. For those who follow God, it is all-encompassing (Rom. 8:28). It includes the wounds we’ve caused and the wounds we’ve received. It includes the worst things we’ve ever done. It includes the lingering consequences from sins committed long ago. God’s redemption covers all of these. Amazingly, God’s redemption is so big it also includes the tiniest things, like the mistakes I make today that may cause me to give a sigh of regret as I lie in bed tonight.
These are not easy things to believe. But they are true. They’re true, because Jesus Christ paid the full, complete price. It covers everything! Therefore, every single one of us can be a living story of God’s ongoing work of redemption, no matter what has happened in our lives.
God’s redemption is also the theme of the Ranch. Since the very beginning, redemption testimonies have been formed here, one life at a time. The other day an early Ranch staff member told me of two young women who had been sexually traumatized. When they arrived at the Ranch, they heard the staff speaking of the freedom Christ gives, and of being washed clean. They believed God had indeed redeemed them, and they proceeded to live and speak as perfectly restored, new creations. From those earliest days through this moment, God continues to
The Ranch as an institution is a concrete testament to God’s redemption. As we celebrate our 50th year of existence, we are grateful for all He has done and that His work of redemption continues. Whatever the next 50 years hold, the Ranch is dedicated to displaying the power of the gospel every day of its existence.
Nate Boyd, Executive Director
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
Somehow, it’s almost Christmas. Here at the Ranch, this means we’ll soon be prepping to go caroling, planning the grand Christmas banquet, and scouring closets and cupboards for good--maybe “suitable” is a better word than “good”-- white elephant gifts.
While Christmas brings many gifts, one of the best gifts is not an actual object: it’s the opportunity to thank God for all He has given us. Every single good gift finds its true origin in Him, and as the greatest gift of all, He gave us Himself. We have much to celebrate indeed.
As we draw to the close of another year, we also pause to celebrate God’s provision for the Ranch Family. A great deal was accomplished this year, and God’s good gifts were evident throughout. Every day our young people achieved victories, choosing healing, truth, and love, and overcoming brokenness one moment at a time. Alongside this, many items from the Master Plan were completed, and organizational growth steadily occurred. Here are a few highlights:
The year began with a large donation on January 1st for the recreation room remodel project, and our maintenance crew and volunteers promptly began the job. A couple of weeks later, the Ranch family completed an excellent trip to the forest to build igloos, character, and teamwork.
The maintenance team finished remodeling all the girls’ dorm interiors, making them more comfortable, pleasant, and modern.
A team of donors from the paving industry led by Agony rider Paul McClain laid fresh road base and asphalt over some Ranch roads. Around the same time the Board of Directors completed a comprehensive review with an attorney of foundational documents and policies, strengthening the ministry.