In the fall, we had two residential volunteers join the Maintenance department, both of whom are former interns. Holly McClain came on as a part-time work program assistant upon completion of her internship, while Joseph Snyder’s (‘18) duties primarily consist of landscaping.
In the Food Service department, we welcomed Kim Gilliland, long-time Grass Valley resident and local AWANA Club Director, as assistant to Food Service Manager Chris Unitt. Olivia Crissman finishes up her one-year internship this month and will transition into the Food Service department as a residential volunteer early next year.
In August and September, Salena Berger and Austin Sather stepped into staff positions upon finishing their two-year and one-year internships, respectively. Salena came on as a full-time receptionist, a position formerly shared by two people. Austin joined Dave LaRash in the Maintenance Department as the Maintenance Coordinator.
With the waning of one passion came the resurfacing of another – discipleship. This passion had developed in Jensen during his high school years when spiritual mentorship had played a key role in his life after his parents’ divorce. Jensen naturally transitioned into the role of Resident Director at PHC for three years and two more years at William Jessup University after he returned to the west coast. Upon leaving WJU, Jensen landed what he refers to as his “dream job” as a young adults’ pastor at his home church in Morgan Hill. At the same time, Jensen was completing his master’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary. Jensen felt that he had found his life’s calling and was preparing for the long haul when, after three years, he was encouraged to look for work elsewhere due to differing church staffing needs. Around that time, Jensen received the invitation to join the staff team at CEM.
Though Jensen would have never thought to seek out this position, when he glanced at the job description, he realized that through all of his experiences, God had been preparing him for this role all along.
In 1971, the vision of Christian Encounter Ministries burst forth from the Ranch near Grass Valley. Paul and Anita Cecil established the first residence here while Tom and Barbara Salter were in seminary in Lincoln, IL. The Salters volunteered with the college group at Springfield’s Westside Christian Church and shared with Tom Kern that vision of a ministry set apart for reaching the very, very lost, for widening the reach of the local church, and for training workers for Christ’s great harvest in the 1970’s. More than a dozen young men and women from that church would heed the call and be sent to serve at CEM.
During that decade, Tom Kern completed a Social Welfare degree at the University of Illinois, anticipating a call to ministry. The first call was to youth ministry while he pursued additional study at Lincoln Christian Seminary. He then embarked on further extreme training for CEM when he traveled to Liberia, West Africa, to teach history and Bible at Liberia Christian College. Following service in Liberia, Tom taught in a continuation school in Illinois. In 1977, he considered a career social work position with the State of Illinois. The offer was delayed. Tom was not. An internship opportunity at CEM became available, so in January of 1978 he headed west to Grass Valley to serve.
As an intern, Tom was privileged to work with Bob Van Schyndel, Bill Williamson, and Bob Slayden in developing the facilities and animal care programs of CEM. These responsibilities became centerpieces of Tom’s service at the Ranch. His attitudes toward work, his servant’s heart, and his ability to impart these qualities to the younger Christian students and interns distinguished him throughout these four decades.
We’re excited to welcome Tom Griffith this month as our new Director of Counseling as John Cox transitions out.
Tom has been a resident of Nevada County for over 25 years, serving youth and adolescents in the mental health field in Sacramento and Nevada counties since 2001. Tom worked at a secular counseling agency for 14 years, often with children in CPS cases and in the foster care system. During this time, he also opened his own private practice in Grass Valley, enabling him to integrate his faith with his therapy for individuals and families.
On landing at CEM, Tom says, “My preferred population is who we have right here. The population God has prepared me for is right here.”
About 23 years ago, John and Gigi Cox sat in the CEM Director’s office discussing the opportunity to join the staff of the ministry. John and I reminisced about our growing up years in Humboldt County. We attended sister churches in Arcata and Eureka, played in the same church basketball league, attended Humboldt State, and shared friendships and fellowship with many other Christians in the community. Later, as a young married couple, John and Gigi visited CEM and expressed their interest in serving here. We remained in contact and by the mid-90s, John had become a licensed contractor and was in the midst of a Marriage and Family Therapist Master’s program. When the door to serve at CEM finally opened, we talked about the practical difficulties of changing careers and moving with three young boys into a very small two-bedroom cabin. I asked Gigi about this, and she leaned across the table and proclaimed confidently, “This is an adventure from God!” And so it was!
After almost a year of searching and sifting through resumes, we’re excited to welcome Chris Unitt aboard as our new Food Service Manager. Chris’s resume was exactly what we were looking for, and we’re grateful to the Lord for answering our prayers and leading her to join our ministry team.
“I’ve been around cooking all my life. My family was into big family gatherings. Every year we did a tamale dinner and we invited everybody we knew; it was this big one-day open house. It started before I was born - I came into cooking that way. It’s always been a passion of mine.” When Chris and her family bought a camp in Grass Valley in 2004, tamale dinners turned into pancake breakfasts and ice cream socials. After ten years, they sold the camp and, by then, Chris was well immersed in the commercial kitchen. Since then, Chris has volunteered extensively with Hospitality House and worked for Summer Thyme’s Bakery and Deli, Valentina’s Organic Bistro and Bakery, and most recently, Caroline’s Coffee Roasters. “I was ready for a change. The Lord was tugging at my heart to be doing more mentorship and training.”
We’re thankful to Larissa for capably filling this role this year and for her flexibility and servant-heart, which gave us the time to do a thorough search process. Moving forward, Larissa plans to work with High Sierra Outdoor Institute and apply for graduate schools to pursue a Master’s degree in Education.
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.
Chairman, CEM Board of Directors
While we, the Board, prepared for Chuck and Barbara’s venture off into the anticipated future of retirement, we spent much time, corporately and individually, prayerfully seeking God’s desire for the anticipated future of CEM’s leadership. We have taken into consideration both near-term and long-term ministry needs. We have attempted to be good stewards of the resources and opportunities which God has provided. With those considerations, it seemed prudent to us to ask Nate Boyd (pictured) to step into the Executive Director’s position for the near term. Please join us in congratulating Nate on this new venture of trust and pray for him in this new role.