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
Believe it or not, Agony training season has already begun. I’m thrilled to be one of the staff members riding as part of Team CEM again. This is already my fourth time riding, but compared to the many people who have faithfully participated ten, twenty, even thirty times, I’m still a beginner. But I’ve learned that even though each year’s Agony experience is different, when those 24 hours are over, I leave the Sierra Valley thinking the same thing: giving, especially as a community, fills the heart with such joy. It is indeed better to give than to receive.
The mission of the Agony is to establish a community, give us a compelling purpose and vision, and then bless us with the joy of giving. Everyone involved is giving: the donors are supporting the riders, who are giving of themselves for the youth, who are taking care of the riders. And, as everyone who’s been to an Agony knows, over the course of the ride you begin to accumulate little mental pictures of these acts of giving: like Craig, praying through lists of names taped to his handlebars, and the student who can barely speak because she’s hoarse from cheering, and the hungry helper who hands his sandwich to a rider who’s in a hurry. The Agony is 24 hours of these moments of joyous, contagious giving.
"The Agony is 24 hours of these moments of joyous, contagious giving."
It isn’t all pretty, though: there’s also the sweat, the vomit, and sometimes even blood. There’s the struggle with exhaustion, and the pressing forward despite intensifying and spreading pain. It isn’t pretty—and that’s partly why it’s so beautiful. This pattern of beautiful, painful giving and the joy that comes with it is one we learn from Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 is an unofficial theme verse for the Agony Ride: “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, [who] for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” As He gave Himself for us, He taught us about the joy we can have as we give for others.
Jesus’ example teaches us another essential truth that applies to the Agony and the work of Christian Encounter: it would be worth it all just for one life. The immense value of each precious soul is so great that it’s worth dying for. What a joy it is to come together as a group to portray this love--both to these students and each other!
Nate Boyd, Executive Director
Nearly everyone struggles with the question, “Do I measure up?” We wrestle with this as long as we live. What is the standard for our lives and work, and do we measure up? We are all stewards: of time, money, energy, responsibilities, and even our minds and hearts. This is not just a question for individuals--I think constantly about the stewardship of CEM. After all, the stakes are high. It is not an exaggeration to say, as we have heard from a multitude of students, that the stewardship of Christian Encounter is a matter of physical and spiritual life and death.
People and organizations are measured in many ways, but the greatest standard is given to us by Jesus. It is summarized in what He described as the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The standard is love! Love of God, and, as Jesus says next, love of neighbor as oneself. Love, therefore, must be the foundation, the motivation, and the result of Christian Encounter’s existence.
The longer you’re involved with Christian Encounter, the more you see the lasting results of the Ranch ministry: lives changed and hope restored. Student stories fill our minds and impact our hearts, and each one affirms that what happens here yields eternal and incalculable benefits.
Now it’s time to reinvest in how we do this great work. Over the past year we’ve been gearing up for a significant push to overhaul the CEM property and facilities. Our goals include lowering overheads, displaying exceptional stewardship, and of course enhancing the experience of every young person who comes on property.
...we’ve broken down a number of the projects in the Master Plan that we’re currently working toward. This is a time of important and strategic investment--and it’s fun, too! It’s fun to see the small army of volunteers and donors that have already come together to accomplish big jobs. It’s also fun to anticipate the ways these projects can benefit the Ranch many years into the future.
Each project takes multiple pieces coming together, including planning, finances, and manpower. Our prayer is God would put the puzzle together in the way He knows will best accomplish His plans for the CEM community.
Nate Boyd, Executive Director
Will you consider joining this endeavor?
Whether or not I can believe it, it’s already been a year since Chuck Boatman retired as CEM’s Executive Director and the baton was handed to me. The completion of the year has felt like a significant personal milestone, so I took some time to reflect on the lessons, victories, and hard times the Lord led us through over the course of this year. One particular theme of memories and thoughts has sifted out: overwhelming gratitude.
It starts with the simple reality that there’s something so very special about the Ranch. I still have a hard time describing the depth of this place, but I do know for certain it’s an honor to be part of it, and especially to know the people here. Each different group involved in this community contributes so much.
Over the past few months I’ve mentioned a number of ways we’re working to update CEM, from policies to procedures to facilities. Today I’m happy to announce another step forward and introduce our new mission and vision statements! The format is new, but the content is not: you’ll immediately recognize the same heart and focus behind our new formulations.
For over a year we’ve recognized the need to do this. Organizations have moved toward succinct mission and vision statements, with the benchmark being 3-22 words. This is a widely-held standard for a number of reasons, including ease in communicating these crucial ideas with external constituencies, as well as helping to maintain a precise, crystalized internal focus.
For decades the Ranch has had a purpose document that has underpinned what we do as a ministry and why, and we’ve also had a motto. The purpose statement is useful for internal discussions and guiding the Board of Directors in making decisions, but it’s not suited for communicating the heart of CEM to the outside world.
In March, we shared about the completion of the first phase of the strategic plan, which entailed reallocating resources to best meet the current needs of the ministry. We paid off our debt, began increasing our web presence, and reassessed our recruitment strategy. Our next step is beginning the long-term project of renovating our facilities
“There are three stages to every great work of God; first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” This quote by the hero of faith Hudson Taylor sits at the top of CEM’s Strategic Plan. It is an encouragement but also an exhortation: inasmuch as we’re confident in God’s leading, we must not back away from a single challenge that comes our way.
After a season with several transitions, we’ve completed a phase of hiring and have a full, strong staff team lined up. It’s fun to see evidence that the Lord knows what gifts and abilities are needed for the unique work of CEM, and we’re grateful He’s brought us the people we need. Over the coming months we’ll introduce our new team members to you.
Last month I discussed our need to step into the next phase of growth as a ministry and our excitement to do so. I’m happy to say that since then the first two steps forward are completed!
Step one: dealing with debt. We’re thrilled to announce the Ranch is now 100% debt-free! Ten years ago CEM purchased the house and property of our closest neighbor on a 15-year loan. This purchase has provided crucial staff housing, enabling another family to live on property and provide community, safety, and support for our students. Housing is often essential for staff to afford to serve here, so this investment will be a key longterm benefit to CEM. Thanks to the last two record-breaking Agony rides covering much more of the burden of student sponsorships than usual, we were able to use general fund money to pay off the house five years early! This is a tremendous victory and a crucial first step in our plans. Please join us in thanking God! Now we can use those resources to tackle other hurdles we face.
In 2014 CEM entered a time of great change. Several long-term Ranch leaders began to reach retirement age and transition out, beginning with Jim and Marion Parker. Mike Petrillo followed shortly after, and a couple of staff changes have happened each year since. Late last year, our beloved Counseling Director, John Cox, announced his imminent retirement in June of this year. Mike Petrillo has written a beautiful and spot-on article about John and his impact on the Ranch family featured in this issue.
Personally, back in 2014 I wondered how CEM as an organization would handle the retirements of these key leaders. Losing them was a huge blow to the ministry! But the Lord has clearly not withdrawn His blessing and provision from CEM: He has been calling talented, committed, high-integrity, and creative new people to come join our ministry team.
Sordid scandals of leaders who abuse their power saturate the news these days. Some use power to manipulate, take advantage of, or abuse people they are responsible to care for; some even use it to criminal ends. Money, sex, and power all entice, and leaders who hunger for these can sabotage their souls, organizations, and even countries. Salacious misdeeds are not the only danger, though: leadership is often isolating and treacherous in much more subtle and ordinary ways as well. Leadership transitions are often particularly difficult—those involved seem extra prone to missteps and damaging relationships, and the tenor can quickly become hostile, either visibly or beneath the surface.
I am deeply grateful to God that the story of CEM has been so remarkably different. The accompanying photo represents 38 years of Ranch directorship and several leadership transitions. It also represents five friends from five different decades.