The journey to start Bright Side Youth Ranch began about 10 years ago with a dream and a prayer. The dream was to combine our two passions and vocations for some type of ministry, and the prayer was that God would show us how that could work. Then, about 6 years ago, Tia was given a book written by Kim Meeder called Hope Rising. It was a beautifully written book filled with stories of kids and teens interacting on their ranch. Tia’s heart resonated with the powerful images of hope and redemption from the “Ranch of Rescued Dreams” in Oregon, and we believed God was showing us a picture of what a combined love of horses and children could look like as a ministry.
In May of 2010, we packed up our bags and went out to Bend, Oregon, to Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch for an informational clinic. While there, we met Troy and Kim Meeder, who founded that ranch, and gained a better understanding of starting and running such a ministry. Our hearts and minds were spinning with all of the overwhelming information, but we returned home believing in a vision God set before us. We just didn’t know when or how it would all become reality.
The next two years were filled with tears and prayers for God to reveal more. During that dry period, Tia often wrestle with whether this dream, this vision, was really from God or just a selfish desire to have horses in the backyard. But, we witnessed for years the anxiety and pressure and stress that so many teens carry, and we have spent countless hours helping students learn how to deal with heavy emotions in a healthy manner. So, we believed in having a safe place for kids to be heard, valued, and loved, and we knew a ranch could provide that kind of environment. We truly began to envision the ranch as a place to rebuild trust, confidence, and hope, with that hope being sourced in Jesus.
It was also during that two year period when the name, mission, and vision of the ranch developed. Because the idea of HOPE was the driving force behind it all, we wanted the name of the ranch to reflect that. So, Bright Side Youth Ranch came to be. The thought of “bright side” stems from meaning that even in the most difficult of times, there is hope. There is something to hold onto and believe in. We believe that something is actually a Someone: Jesus. We went back and forth as to use the word “farm” or “ranch” in the name, but we love the concept of a ranch being more than just a place where there are animals. A ranch, to us, is an interactive, lively place where there is a warm, welcoming feeling of family.
In creating the mission and vision statements, we longed to incorporate our desire for kids and teens to have fun and feel valued and for them to find purpose and meaning in taking care of something else that needs help. We completely believe in the power of family and knew that needed to be part of the ranch’s ministry too. We also value hope, redemption, and mentoring, so Bright Side Youth Ranch’s mission statement became: RESCUE the Horse, INSPIRE the Child, and HOPE for the Family. The vision statement expanded those foundational pillars by stating:
We seek to share the love of God with children through a relationship with horses and a connection with a mentor. Bright Side Youth Ranch is a safe place where the hurting and broken can find redemption, horses can find help, children can find hope, and families can find support. Through an environment of love and an interactive session, we desire for children to learn values of faith, family, and trust.
We had a name, a mission and vision statement, and a horse, but we weren’t really moving forward with anything else. We had beautiful dreams, but we were not stepping out to make them a reality.
Then, in the fall of 2012, a dear friend, who just so happened to be a business coach, approached us and offered to help us get started. She believed in our dream, but, most importantly, she believed in us. With her direction and encouragement, we started taking steps toward making Bright Side Youth Ranch more than just an idea. She also pushed us to confront the negative voices in our heads telling us things like:
“This is just too crazy!”
“You don’t have what it takes to make this happen.”
“No one will understand or want to get behind this.”
“We will never find the funding for such a big project.”
That year was full of emotional ups and downs as we wrestled and conquered those voices, talked through foundational ideas for the ranch, and learned how to work together as equal partners in a new venture. Rejection was also a part of the learning curve. We knew that eventually we would like for the ranch to be established in a warmer climate, but we did try to put some of the initial principles in place while in Wisconsin. Nothing we pursued locally panned out. One door after another closed. Looking back now, that was actually good. It enabled us to focus on moving forward and taught us the importance of explaining the heart of the ranch more clearly. We also learned how to accept the word “no” gracefully.
We eventually came to the place where we knew it was time to leave Wisconsin. That was hard to swallow. We had spent 8 years building a family, a community, and a ministry, and we felt the weight of losing all that and starting over. And, with two little children in tow, we saw that transition would we challenging. But, we had shared time and time again with others about God’s faithfulness and how risking everything to follow Him is so worth every effort. Who were we to say “no” to what God was calling us to do? We just needed to be faithful and follow where God was leading us.
We began to meet weekly, just the two of us, to plan out our next steps and pray over decisions. We made a list of parameters – ideal locations and things we’d like to see in the next community and church. There were many arguments, tears, and frustrations as we emotionally worked through letting go of what was familiar and safe and started to acknowledge the upcoming changes. We spent hours asking for God’s help and direction over the prayer lists we compiled each month.
Finally, we came to the point in the summer of 2013 where we were ready to take the big leap of leaving Racine, WI. Devin talked to the senior pastor and told him about the decision to start looking for a new ministry position. Devin also had the opportunity to share the news with the whole congregation one Sunday. He told them about how our 7 year old son faced a diving board for the first time that very summer and how our little boy was reluctant to take a leap until he knew his father was waiting for him in the deep end. Devin then connected that personal story with the larger one of trusting God and taking a leap to move and start something new, even when it feels safer to hold on to the side of the pool.
Shortly after all that, God brought Good Shepherd United Methodist Church into our lives, and we started the painful, but surprisingly encouraging, process of saying goodbye to our dear church family in Wisconsin.
That was a little over 2 months ago. We have since moved and are creating a new life and community. Starting over has had some rough patches, but there is joy and excitement in the journey too. We are continuing to take steps to make the dream of Bright Side Youth Ranch a reality, with just a few of those steps being purchasing property and establishing a non-profit status. It is such a big, crazy dream, but we serve a big, generous God. The worries, rejections, fears, and negative inside voices still creep in and threaten to waiver our confidence, but we’ve already learned that there is no way we can do this all on our own. We need people like you to support us in all sorts of ways, and we need to daily trust in God who can make the impossible, possible. HE is the source and author of the vision for the Ranch, and we are just following the call laid out before us.