By Former Executive Director Mike Petrillo
Welcome to the Ranch! Those words were part of my introduction to CER long ago, and, 50 years later, they still convey the warmth and joy of acceptance and belonging that comes from God’s family. During that first visit, in 1971, I felt the Lord’s peace amongst the trees and meadows. The tranquil water of the Lodge pond was disturbed only by the fish nibbling near the surface, and the bullfrogs croaking along the shore. Two friends of mine had recently been baptized in those same waters, and they had conveyed to me the excitement of meeting with Jesus here at the Ranch. The murky waters have enveloped many more who sought God’s peace through repentance in Christ these past five decades—too many to count—and the angels have seemingly been on permanent choir duty above the pond ever since.
God brought the founding family, the Cecils, here for their first look in 1969. And by the time CER was incorporated in 1970, the “Welcome to the Ranch” phrase had become part of the daily lexicon of life. New Christians were born again, struggling brothers and sisters found peace and healing. Fellowship and worship and prayer and preaching took their place alongside the machinery of Ranch chores, work projects, and meal preparations. Those shared family experiences all fit in to make the “welcome” a unique and powerful experience.
I’m sure you, too, can remember, either fondly or with fear and trembling, what it felt like to become part of the Ranch family. It was a gradual warming up process for many of us; others were already filled with certainty and faith as they drove up Retrac Way. Those who preceded us, students, interns, staff and family members, paved the way with open hearts, with kind words, with understanding. We all felt their conviction that this was a place where God would work something deep and lasting into our souls.
When we gather for the 50th Reunion this month, we will all have stories about our first moments here. And we should share not just those moments, but what God has done for us in the intervening years. The Covid pandemic has kept us distant from fellowship and Christian support far longer than we all expected. So, the timing and impact of our Ranch reunion will have spiritual force greater than we imagined before 2020. You are welcome in the Ranch family—and welcomed home to Jesus’ family. Join us, if you can, and add your personal meaning to the purposes for which God instituted this place. Surely Jesus has been guiding and leading us all along the way, and it was He who spoke first, “Welcome to the Ranch!”