“Young leaders tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in five years, and underestimate what they can accomplish in ten.” I was told this shortly after the Board appointed me to be Executive Director five years ago on Oct. 7, 2017. Perhaps this is because it’s difficult to see how much foundational work is needed, including establishing core components like culture, values, and mission.
We all know foundations are important; we rarely understand ahead of time how much work it takes to create a good foundation. For example, the bigger and more complex the building, the more work the foundation takes.
At the Ranch we’ve seen this in real time as we’ve rebuilt the duplex. Designing, planning, calculating, and lengthy consultations with the County Building Department finally turned to site prep, excavation, forming, gravel, and rebar. Only then could we pour concrete for the foundation. But once the foundation was done, walls went up quickly.
Five years does mark a good interval to zoom out and consider the big picture. We’ve had some difficult seasons over these five years, but I’m excited about how much has been done. This was possible because so much of the foundation was already established. As I wrote in my first Director’s View five years ago: “The four [previous Ranch directors] are humble, servant-hearted, sacrificial leaders, and they’ve built these values into the heritage of the Ranch. This is a beautiful thing, and unfortunately it is rare in our world.” A lot can be built on a foundation like that.
We have accomplished a great deal in five years, and there are many plans in the works. “We” includes staff, interns, volunteers, prayer partners, donors, Agony riders and saggers, and more.
Unfortunately, foundations never seem to be perfect. Problems always appear down the road, whether with a house, an organization, or our personal life foundations.
If I were an interior designer examining a house to renovate and re-style, I would try to identify all the flaws of the house and figure out how to conceal them. But the real master designers don’t just conceal; somehow they incorporate those imperfections into a new creation. The result is unique, partly due to those very imperfections.
Thanks be to God, this is what He is doing constantly. He is the redeemer. May He do this with the Ranch ministry, with our lives, and with every young person who comes here.
Nate Boyd, Executive Director
“He can create something new in us...”
A Ranch “pray out” symbolizes just this - that God has created something new in the life of a student.
Upon their departure, our prayer is that He will bring to completion the work He has begun.
My grandparents grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, when large numbers of Americans struggled to get enough to eat. Those experiences shaped how they thought about resources. A piece of furniture broke? Let’s keep it–it may be fixable, even though it’ll take a while. Old National Geographics? Keep them, they’re good references. Unidentifiable tool/hardware? We may need it someday. But time is limited, so the stuff multiplies. And the collection of broken and unused things sits and some things never even get touched, let alone fixed or needed.
My generation grew up during a time of general prosperity and great opportunity, and I tend to think a little differently. Often I optimize by the value of time and storage space. How much time will it take to fix that nightstand? How much does a new one cost? Not sure it’s worth keeping. Old magazines? If I need something, I can probably find it online–toss them. Unidentifiable hardware? Pretty sure I’ll never need it, even if I had the skill to use it. But the collection of things I’ve disposed of probably contained items of value too.
There are pros and cons to both approaches, of course. Stewardship is a challenge, and we each do the best we can to organize and strategize and optimize. We aren’t the only ones deciding what to do with broken things. God is, too. His world is full of broken and damaged people. But He does not experience the limitations we do.
"No matter how broken we are or how much help we need, we’re never so broken He tosses us away. He keeps working, and working, and never stops working on us."
My first job when I joined the Ranch staff in 2010 was to open a guys’ transitional ministry house. When young men graduated from the student program at the Ranch, they could come to the ministry house as a next life step. Living in the house was a wonderful experience, blending fellowship, fun, hard work, and discipleship. Through it all, iron sharpened iron daily. Not only was house life rich; we were also plugged into the Ranch community and able to draw on its tremendous resources, including pastors, counselors, mentors, and teachers who were all available to the guys in the house.
The ministry houses (the Girls’ House had started back in 1999) balanced independence with protection, and opportunity with accountability. If the Ranch is a greenhouse, a ministry house is a garden. The young trees are still carefully tended, and now they’re putting down deeper roots and bearing fruit.
The houses provided Ranch students with a visible, accessible next step. When home is unsafe and options after the Ranch program are limited, the houses fill the void and present an attainable goal. Young people could continue to develop health and strength in a known, safe community, and maintain continuity of counseling and discipleship. Sadly, due to ministry-wide financial challenges, the painful decision was made to close the houses in 2014. This was a great loss.
Then, at our November 2021 Board of Directors meeting, we began to discuss the idea of reopening a girls’ house. We decided our dream was to be able to re-launch in late summer or fall of 2022, as the timing would likely work well for the Ranch family. We discussed the significant challenges of the housing market, which include low inventory and high prices for both sales and rentals. Then we prayed.
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