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