For over two decades, our 15-passenger van, affectionately dubbed the “Great White”, has not only shuttled our residents to countless group outings, but has served as a primary transport vehicle on our annual wilderness and igloo trips. Because this type of vehicle was not made to handle rough terrain, our desire is to replace it with an SUV that can meet this specific need.
One of my victories is I didn’t run out today. Just to smile is a victory to me. When I help people - that’s a victory to me…” Kelsey recounts victories gained during her nine months at CEM. “I’ve overcome the lie of not feeling loved... Even when I get really sad, I can’t say no one accepts me anymore. I can’t say that in front of certain people...It sounds stupid, because it’s not true.”
When Kelsey arrived at CEM for a tour, it was two days after what would have been her first day of senior year at the local high school. Her anxiety had become debilitating - she was unable to return to campus. That summer, Kelsey had hardly been home, spending her days and nights at the river, only coming home every few days for a change of clothes. Smoking had become a way of life, whether with friends or alone. Kelsey had gained a reputation as a stoner and a blackout drunk.
Kelsey’s anxiety had first begun to surface as she entered her freshman year of high school. She found herself staying away from social settings while her twin, Lylli, began to build other relationships. Kelsey was easily intimidated and struggled with her appearance and how others perceived her. As she withdrew, and as Lylli navigated the social scene with ease, Kelsey only grew more self-conscious. Previously a regular churchgoer, Kelsey stopped attending altogether and even going to school was a daily battle.
As high school continued, Kelsey would eventually return to church to find sanctuary, but the four walls began to feel more hollow as she was seduced by drugs and alcohol. She found acceptance in a deceptively carefree lifestyle that would only demand more of her. Over time, constant exposure to a new genre of music stoked a growing appetite for heavier drugs.
When Kelsey came to CEM, she barely had any time to settle in before she was catapulted into Tahoe National Forest for a 15-day backpacking trip. Kelsey was enthralled with the beauty of the outdoors, and she was also grateful for a two-week head start on sobriety. Climbing rock faces, swimming in lakes, and sleeping under the stars stirred her soul.
Reintegrating into the structure of daily life at the Ranch was difficult, but as Kelsey began to submit herself to the program and to daily spiritual disciplines, she began to discover a new rhythm. “Just praying when I’m hurting is a victory. I used to not pray at all…I love worshipping God [through song]...” Kelsey has enjoyed spontaneous worship sessions with intern Olivia and recently had an opportunity to co-lead worship at a local church.
Kelsey recognizes that engaging in worship is one of the only ways her mind can be completely freed from her anxious thoughts. Though it often feels like battling anxiety is an uphill battle, Kelsey can see visible progress as her mind is renewed and she puts on truth. She recounts a significant counseling session just a couple of months ago: “I couldn’t forgive myself for what I’ve done in the past. I was so rebellious to God. I was disrespectful to my parents; I didn’t even see that was a problem. That’s why I was so angry...Elise asked if I wanted to pray and ask for forgiveness. I asked for forgiveness and confessed my sins…”
Our prayer for Kelsey is that she would daily experience the forgiveness that was bought on the cross and that she would continue to step into greater wholeness as she beholds Christ. Kelsey is on track to graduate high school this month and will be surrounded by a small army of her biggest cheerleaders. “I’m achieving what I thought was impossible.”
We learn by reflecting on the past. God has given us incredible mental abilities to perceive patterns and logical consequences and to apply wisdom to situations. Our students engage in this reflection with great courage, revisiting their pasts and working through the traumas they’ve experienced, then sharing with others the profound truths that help them heal and choose new paths forward. Not only can we do this as individuals, but as groups too. At the Ranch, this is one way we strive to discern how God wants to work through this ministry.
In a recent period of reflection, we recently discussed the name “Christian Encounter Ministries.” When founded as a residential church for young people in California in 1970, it was officially “Christian Encounter.” But even in the earliest days, it was nicknamed “The Ranch.” After a few years, the name became “Christian Encounter Ministries,” an appropriate umbrella term for an organization that had quickly grown to include several different outreaches. Another residential facility was opened in Missouri, and then both were expanded to include large wilderness camping programs. LifeEnrich Christian Counseling Center was opened in a strip mall between Grass Valley and Auburn, and a network of homes for young people was operational in San Jose, Yuba City, and Livermore under the CEM banner. To help support all these endeavors, we owned and operated a gas station and mini-mart and also ran a labor-intensive bee business. All of these were overseen from the main hub, “Christian Encounter Ranch,” the residential refuge for young people in pain located at our current site on Retrac Way in Grass Valley.
Eventually, the leadership of CEM felt a clear call to return to its original vision: we were called to be a residential expression of the Body of Christ, focused on youth who were dealing with great pain. This prompted them, decades ago, to spin off the other programs and install other leaders. Despite these changes, however, the umbrella name “Christian Encounter Ministries” remained.
Since that name no longer matches what we do today, our Board of Directors recently voted unanimously to return to “Christian Encounter Ranch” as our operating name moving forward. Not only does this fit who we are, it also makes communicating with the outside world easier: we’ve always called it “The Ranch”! Just as we returned to our original call, we’ve also now returned to the name that accompanied it.
Through these nearly five decades, the grace of the Lord has been felt every single day of the Ranch’s existence, and it’s what we rely on as we look to continue working with these young people as well. I’m grateful for the legacy of leaders who were more concerned about hearts healing than organizations growing.
Nate Boyd, Executive Director