STUDENT FEATURE: MELANIE
Melanie describes the weeks leading up to arriving at Christian Encounter, “I was really disconnected from the world. I would spend all day at the house… A lot of the time I would have panic attacks at home when I was by myself. I got a service dog and that helped a lot. But the panic attacks didn’t fully stop, they just slowed down.”
Melanie had been attending court hearings and meetings with CPS. In this process, it was recommended that Melanie seek therapy in a residential type setting. She had completed her sophomore year at Forest Lake Christian School, but upon this recommendation, decided to transfer to Christian Encounter where she could continue to work toward her high school diploma.
Melanie arrived at the Ranch with the sole intent of finishing her junior year. Melanie had been exposed to different types of spirituality throughout her life and was leery of a Christian program offering her any kind of actual help. In fact, she was intent on proving that the Christian lifestyle “didn’t work.”
Each new student is paired with a discipler upon arrival, and for the first time, Melanie met someone who had walked through similar life experiences, someone who could empathize with her. In those first few months, Melanie wrote a song and started learning the guitar. When her Bible class introduced her to the book of Ecclesiastes, Melanie resonated deeply with the writer’s cry, “Everything is meaningless!” Although Melanie had walked in Christian circles, she had never actually read the Bible until now. Naturally inquisitive, Melanie began engaging more deeply with scripture.
“Growing up with the religious experiences I had, I felt that God was out to get me…. In a lot of my experiences, I just barely skimmed death…. I watched a lot of people in my life deteriorate.”
As the year progressed, Melanie began experiencing God in deeply personal ways, reckoning with His intimate knowledge and care for her interests and desires.
At the Agony Ride in July, Melanie saw an entire community of people come together to help teens they had never met. On the wilderness backpacking trip in August, when Melanie had sustained an ankle injury, she witnessed her own community sacrifice on her behalf.
“Is He a God of love or a God of punishment?” The evidence for the former was growing.
Melanie stayed at Christian Encounter beyond her initially projected timeline, completing her senior year of high school, earning straight A’s in her final quarter. Melanie is the first to graduate high school in her family. She finished the program in December and plans to pursue a path in forensic biology.
STUDENT PROFILE: Paige
It’s been a long time coming to get where I am today. Everyone says high school is supposed to be the best four years of your life. I think we have this idea in our heads that our high school experience is supposed to look like this wild exciting adventure. My high school experience was not at all what I pictured it would be. In the spring of my sophomore year Covid hit, so we had an early summer that year. In my junior year we only had online classes. Personally, school became more difficult. I ended up dropping out of high school. I was so far behind on credits even before Covid that there was no way I was going to graduate. I honestly didn’t see myself capable of getting a GED.
If it weren’t for the Ranch, I would not be up here today. I want to thank the teachers as well as the interns for loving me, supporting me, and not giving up on me. The Ranch has not only helped me school-wise, but it’s helped me grow closer to Christ as well as learn to love, what a genuine friendship looks like, and how to speak up for myself. Thank you for pushing me.
STUDENT PROFILE: TIMMY
When he finished his service with the fire department at 16, he felt lost. “I felt like I had no control over anything I wanted in life. I gave up hope in those things and that caused a lot of pain. My family wasn’t in the most stable condition, and it was hard to look around and see others who had more stable families.” Timmy closed himself off to those around him, and his mother felt like she had lost her son. When Timmy arrived at Christian Encounter, he kept to himself. One of the interns reminded him of one of his cousins, which helped Timmy want to stay. The next several months were tumultuous as he struggled internally. Timmy was at war with himself.
“I felt like I had no control over anything I wanted in life.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) The verses in Romans 7 encapsulated his thought processes perfectly. But he couldn’t see the way out. Seven months into his stay, he was faced with a decision. The previous night his thoughts came closing in on him again, and this time, he gave in to his natural instinct - he ran. Once he was located, he was brought back to the Ranch. The next day he was given a choice: to stay or to leave prematurely. He made his decision, and a one-way ticket was purchased. Even as seeds of hope and truth were bearing fruit over the past months, anger still lingered. “I blamed Him for a lot of stuff. I felt abandoned by everyone, including God.” But as these painful memories resurfaced this time, God spoke to his child: “I didn’t leave you. I was still there.”
Student Profile: Wes
Wes grew up in a large family. After having two kids of their own, Wes’ parents had adopted four children, including his half-brother. When Wes was born, he joined their family at thirteen months. In the coming years, his parents would adopt three more children and foster several more. Wes didn’t have a shortage of playmates, but the challenge was their lack of permanency. Wes’ parents stopped taking foster kids into their home as Wes neared his pre-teen years, but his parents’ divorce threatened the ongoing stability of the family.
The shared custody agreement thrusted Wes back and forth between homes week after week. Wes’ father continued to abuse alcohol and began to take it out on his children after the separation. As his parents began to independently take disciplinary measures in response to Wes’ behavior, he discovered he could avoid consequences by switching households. Although Wes’ mother would eventually take sole custody of the children, Wes had already learned how to slip under the radar, and once he entered the public school system, Wes was just another kid in a sea of faces.
Wes arrived at the Ranch after exhausting all local schooling options, with a plummeting GPA of .3. He had donned a state of indifference towards life, adopting it as a sort of life motto. Being indifferent meant you couldn’t get hurt. It meant you didn’t have expectations or hopes of anyone or anything, so you could never be disappointed. Being in-different was wearing a protective sleeve over his heart.
student profile: Savannah
Savannah’s family moved when she was about to enter high school, giving her a fresh start. She got involved in a myriad of extracurriculars and was grateful for teachers who were personally invested in her. Savannah attended every football game she could, almost never missed a school dance, and went all out for spirit week.
Though she dove head first into her new school, the depression she experienced as a child had lingered all these years and was only worsening with each poor decision that was made. Savannah moved through a string of relationships, resulting in more pain and confusion, which eventually led her parents to pull her out of school while they searched for a safer alternative.
When Savannah’s parents dropped her off at Christian Encounter, Savannah read their actions as rejection. “I thought I couldn’t be cared about." Savannah’s arrival coincided with Family Camp, which couldn’t have been better timing. Savannah was immediately received into a new, more extensive family unit than her own. The wealth of connection pulled her in and began to fill her heart.
A couple of months later, Savannah was on the side of a rock face, more than halfway through the 15-day backpacking trip in Tahoe National Forest. Tears streaming down her face, Savannah’s cries echoed through the trees as she beat her fists against the rock. Staff member Caryn Galeckas lowered herself down over the ledge to join Savannah. “Why is this such a big deal for you? Why do you feel like you need to come up this? What happens if you don’t?” Moments later another staff member appeared above her. They proceeded to share the gospel of grace with Savannah, awakening truth she had heard many times before. It was half an hour before Savannah would proceed up the ledge, propelled by a new reality. Once on solid ground, she fell into the embrace of her teammates.
Moving forward from that day, Savannah began to see differently. As she wrote her reflection paper on the 15-day trip, she recognized the rejection she had perceived from her family wasn’t rejection at all. She realized that love was not something to be earned or won, that her personal worth was separate from the challenges she faced in life. “I have tried to replace my family in the past, but I don’t need to do that anymore. I care for my family more than anything…”
As Savannah began learning how to walk out these truths, her desire to be baptized resurfaced and seemed like a logical next step. Surrounded by her family and friends, Savannah made a public profession of faith this past winter.
When prompted for personally significant scriptures, Savannah recites Proverbs 27:5 among a few: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Savannah now recognizes the courage it took for family members and church members to confront her when they did. The consequences could have been irreversible had they waited much longer.
“When I came to the Ranch I made a goal to experience and understand the true meaning of God’s love before I finished my stay...The community and fellowship at the Ranch is so welcoming and accepting that I was able to experience a love that I had never comprehended: agape, an unconditional enduring love. 1 John 4:12 states, ‘No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.’ His disciples at the Ranch took me in with arms wide open and loved me even when I made it painfully obvious I was not perfect...The Ranch has become many things to me: a family, a home, an enduring sense of hope, and most of all a titanium reminder that God’s love will never fail and never end.”
This content is featured in our June newsletter.