Levi’s first day at Christian Encounter was the last day of a family trip with his parents and sister, Lily. They had flown from Georgia and had some time to explore the area together before dropping Levi off. Just the day before, Levi and Lily had the opportunity to meet their paternal grandparents for the first time. Their biological father had passed away in 2013. Making this connection would hopefully give Levi and Lily an opportunity to ask hard questions.
As a child, Levi struggled to integrate into the social and academic environment of public school. A heavier kid, he was often targeted on the playground. As he moved into middle school, things didn’t get easier, and he began to take an offensive stance, initiating fights on the blacktop. To gain acceptance, he would starve himself to try to lose weight.
As he transitioned into high school, Levi was introduced to vaping and began dabbling in other forms of drugs and alcohol. Levi would meet up with friends to skate near a vape and smoke shop where things quickly escalated.
Levi’s choices began to impact his siblings, as much as he tried to hide his addictions from his family. He had dropped out of school and had been asked to keep his distance from his church community for a time. He had broken trust with his own family and his spiritual family. He was in counseling, but he needed more support. Levi had been living with his maternal grandparents when his dad set up a time for Levi to meet near his home in Atlanta with two former students from Christian Encounter. They shared about the opportunity the Ranch had given them.
When Levi arrived, he felt the weight and sadness of the separation from his family. He felt like the bad apple that was being thrown out. But this time he was hundreds of miles away from home, where he couldn’t cause any more damage.
Levi had an initial honeymoon phase at the Ranch that ended quickly when he started to feel walled in by the rules and structure. He saw the interns as rulekeepers and gatekeepers, and everywhere he turned he was boxed in. Consequently, Levi’s behavior resulted in him being suspended from the program twice in his first five months.
In between these disciplinary measures Levi experienced the Agony Ride. He got to serve with the staff and interns and help those who were there to help him. He was able to give back, to serve. He felt alive that weekend. At the end of the summer, he embarked on the annual 15-day backpacking trip. Upon his return, there was a noticeable shift in his attitude and demeanor. Out on the trails and on top of mountains, Levi’s heart and mind roamed free. His relationships deepened, and for the first time he realized that the interns weren’t the bad guys.
James and interns David and Alec with Levi on the backpacking trip.
“I’ve been given this chance to fix the things I’ve done. I’ve grown in ways I wouldn’t have been able to outside of here because of the environment I was in.
“When I got here I didn’t want anything to do with God because I was mad at Him. (Interns) Alec and David were great examples of God’s love and showed me a lot of who God is.”
As Levi began to bring things to God in prayer, he began witnessing little things that were undeniably the work of His hand. He saw the Lord provide for him through a Ranch church member buying flights for his sister Lily to come visit him for Thanksgiving - something he had longed for but thought was impossible.
Levi has continued to build on the newfound relationship with his paternal grandparents, grateful to have the support of family nearby. He is on track to graduate high school here in June and complete the program.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9