- by Devin Tharp
August 18th was a powerful and emotional night for me. It was our final night together with a team of volunteers who have been working at the ranch all week from First UMC in Carrollton, Ohio. Carrollton is a small town in northeast Ohio populated mostly by farmers, blue collar hard workers and people who cherish the simple things in life. It’s a special place in my heart because it is the place I called home for the first 18 years of my life, and the place where my values were formed and my heart was shaped. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to host them for the week at the place I now call home—Bright Side Youth Ranch.
The team worked tirelessly all week in the blazing August heat to construct a 60’ round pen. "What’s a round pen?” you ask. It’s a round enclosure that provides a safe and focussed space where horses can receive training. For us as the ranch, it also will serve as a place where horses and kids will connect and powerful conversations will be had. While the round pen was a structure that we dreamed of having one day at the ranch, it wasn’t in our plan as a part of this year’s budget or building projects. But, sometimes our plans are not God’s plans. You see, First UMC contacted us about sending a team to volunteer for a mission trip. Then, they told us they wanted to come and “build something.” Since we didn’t have the funds or materials for another building project, we opted for a more unorthodox approach. We asked them to raise the funds needed to build the round pen and then offer their time and talents to do the work of constructing it. And, they did just that. Not only did they build and construct the most beautiful round pen we’ve ever seen, but they also completed several other projects around the property that needed completion. Did I mention that they know how to work? We are absolutely thrilled with all the work they did and amazed at how much they accomplished in such a short amount of time.
On our final night together, to close out our time, we met on the front porch of our home (which has served as a gathering place for many events at the ranch) to read some passages of scripture, pray and take holy communion together. While we’ve done many things on our front porch with volunteers at the ranch, communion was certainly not one of them. How sweet it was to remember that our bond together as individuals from different places, cultures and even churches was our connection to Jesus through his blood shed on the cross for each of us. Due to his life, death and resurrection, we have all crossed over from death to life. Through him, we were not strangers but family. And because of him, we have all been set free.
After taking communion together, we walked into the center of the new round pen, circled together and held hands as we dedicated the round pen to the Lord. “How do we dedicate a round pen to the Lord?” you might wonder. Well, we simply pray and tell the Lord he is free to use the space that’s been built for his purposes and not our own. The prayer of dedication is more of a reminder for us than it is permission for the Lord. Everything we have is his and all the we posses already belongs to him. So, when we gathered to pray, we were simply reminding each of the Lord’s ownership of the new space.
I loved having the team pray to dedicate the new space to the Lord. Listening to their prayers for the work that God would do in the hearts of kids there, was encouraging to my heart. It’s a reminder to Tia and myself that the cause that we are upholding is larger than ourselves and others want to partner with us as we share hope with the next generation.
As I looked around the circle of team members, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I made the connections with the people standing with me. One couple attended a church that I had preached in when I was just 18 years old. Now, over 20 years later, they were here at Bright Side working to make our ranch a place where the good news of Jesus could be shared. Standing next to them were two people who served as my Sunday school teachers in 3 & 4th grade. I had grown up with some of their kids and they even hosted youth group events at their house when I was a teenager. They had heard of what Tia and I were doing at the ranch and took the initiative to gather a team to come support us with their time and skills. And now, I was hosting them as we built together a place where teens can come to share their hurts and successes. Next to them was the leader of the group and the pastor of the church who sent the team. It was also the church where I grew up, went to Sunday school, heard about Jesus for the first time and even preached my very first sermon. And now, the leadership of the congregation was partnering with me to help accomplish the same thing that happened in my life through that church. Even though a lot of time has passed since I was a vital part of this small community in Ohio, God had enabled these long-term relationships to be the bridge that would connect them to Bright Side. And I am grateful.