God’s Ministry or Ours? #88

The Sky Ranch Board of Directors was to meet on March 18, at which time they would put together the necessary funds, not only to solve the immediate crisis, but to help prevent this from happening again. The Board members realized solving the problem was essential for them as they had joint and several liability for bank loans totaling $500,000. If the ranch declared bankruptcy, the loans would be “called.”

Every member of the Board of Directors was present for the meeting. I was asked a few questions, and then the Board members entered into a very intense, very personal discussion. After two hours with no progress, I said to the Board that the office of the CEO of an international bakery had called to set up an appointment for me to meet with him. The meeting was in 30 minutes. Nobody on the Sky Ranch Board knew the man. As I stood to leave I said: “Sky Ranch is either God’s ministry or our ministry. If it is not the Lord’s, we might just as well find out now.”

When I arrived, I was taken to the CEO’s office by his administrative assistant. He invited me to take a seat, and asked me to tell him about Sky Ranch. He then asked, “How can I help?” Suddenly I felt like Nehemiah before the King and quickly prayed “Help!” I had not expected the question, but responded that perhaps he could help in three ways. I explained that Sky Ranch needed $30,000, and told him why. He picked up his telephone, dialed a number, and said, “Please draw up a check payable to Sky Ranch for $30,000 and bring it to my office. Thanks.” Without a smile the CEO asked me, “How else can I help?” I said I thought a company this big might have things they are not using that would be a great help to Sky Ranch. If there was, I would find a truck to pick them up. The CEO dialed a number, “In a few minutes I will send to you Chuck Gieser, Director of Sky Ranch. Please take him through these specific warehouses. Let’s make available to Sky Ranch anything we will not use in the next six months. Have what is chosen delivered to Sky Ranch.” He then asked, “Chuck, how else can I help?” I asked if he could become a member of the Sky Ranch Board of Directors, and gave a specific reason which had nothing to do with money or things. He responded with his first smile: “Chuck, I would like to, but my time simply does not permit it.”

I stood up to thank him and he asked “What is your hurry? Please sit down.” He went on to say, “Chuck, another cabin would provide additional income to Sky Ranch. What does a cabin cost?” I told him they cost about $25,000 and explained the cabins are duplexes with central air conditioning and heat so they could be used by campers in the summer, retreat groups at other times. Each side was fully furnished for twelve people. He responded with, “Build one, and send me the bill.”

In fifteen minutes I was out of the CEO’s office with a check for $30,000, his promise to pay for the building of another cabin, and being taken to four warehouses where I identified a tractor trailer load of equipment that would be put to immediate use at the ranch including an ice maker, office desks, and huge steel bins the bakery used for the raising of dough, great for storing horse feed!

The Board meeting provided no solution to the financial crisis, but God did. Sky Ranch was God’s ministry.

When we live In Partnership With God, let us remember:

  • “How great are God’s riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways?” — Romans 11:33
  • “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” — Ephesians 3:20-21

God’s Guidance and Provision! Provision? #87

As we entered our second year at Sky Ranch, we looked back at our first year with hearts filled with thanksgiving. Yes, it was an intense year, but God had confirmed over and over again that we were where He wanted us to be:

  • Our wonderful home was affordable and in a great location.
  • Our three children had settled into their new schools.
  • Sally Jo had located everything from the grocery store to new doctors
  • My relationship with the Sky Ranch Board of Directors was good
  • Sky Ranch had excellent first year “permanent” and summer staff able to deal with changes and challenges
  • Rain had stopped construction, but filled the lake. We prayed, God stopped the rain, construction continued
  • An increasing number of campers each session filled each new cabin as it was completed
  • Though we shared the camp with copperheads and scorpions, only one (disobedient) camper had been bitten.
  • God provided Gladys Lankford and Walter Hodges whose example, counsel, and generosity lifted our spirits.

Our family had enjoyed a continual flow of visitors who helped and encouraged us. When summer camp closed, we had time to breathe, and to go to The Spaghetti Factory, Ola Podrida and other fun places in the Dallas area.

In the fall we hired Ricky and Alice, a young couple who wanted to be in Christian ministry. Ricky’s dream was to become a pastor. They both were willing to do whatever needed to be done. Our daughter remembers that Ricky could ride a horse at full gallop, swing down from his saddle and pick up a cowboy hat on the ground.

Contributions, camper fees and Sky Ranch Board member-secured loans carried us through to the end of the year, and the Board was confident that year-end contributions would be good. But the economy in Dallas was sputtering: empty office and apartment space practically stopped commercial construction. People were uneasy. Year end contributions were poor. The Board reminded me that funding was their responsibility, and though they were stopping further camper/retreat cabin construction, I should continue to work on preparation for the coming summer. Contributions stopped, and further borrowing secured by Board of Director members was impossible as several worked in commercial real estate development. Soon Sky Ranch was unable to pay bills, and vendors required cash on delivery. All retreat income had to go toward essentials.

After meeting with the Dallas office staff, Sally Jo and I met with the five ranch staff. I explained that I was no longer receiving a pay check, and asked them to tell me before the end of the day how much money each of them needed to keep going. I saw Ricky and Alice talking intensely. Then Ricky said “Chuck, since we live here at camp and can eat dining hall leftovers, if someone will let us use their washer and dryer, we do not need any money.”

As days moved into weeks, and still no paychecks, no financial relief, I often thought about the Israelite people: After 430 years, they were finally leaving Egypt. God had provided them Moses, and then the miracles of the plagues, ending with the Passover. God had led His people into the desert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. When they were caught between Pharaoh’s pursuing army and the Red Sea, they had seen God part the waters for them to pass, and then bring the water back to drown the army that was very close behind them. These people had experienced God’s care and provision, yet within three days after experiencing the parting of the sea, they were grumbling at Moses and God, for they had no water to drink. Did they really think God was unaware of this fact?

We did not want to be like the Israelite people. If God had provided, we should be thankful that He would continue to do so. But after six weeks, personal reserves were gone and we were changing our thinking from “Lord, we await your provision” to “Lord, have you forgotten us?” Would the ranch have to close, and we find new work? Was this what it meant to Live In Partnership With God?

Walter and Bonnie – Small Gifts, Great Impact #86

Walter and Bonnie Hodges retired to a small house on a few acres three miles from Sky Ranch. Walter had been an insurance agent in the Dallas area and had some knowledge of the ministry. When they bought their “homestead” it already had a root cellar, garden plot, blackberry patch, and persimmon, pecan and holly trees. To this they added beds of iris, daffodils and a cow named Trilby. Their life was simple, yet rich in many ways.

A couple weeks before camp was to open the first summer, Walter drove up in his cream colored 1965 Chevy pick-up. With his warm smile, he asked if he could look around. About an hour later Walter returned to report that the wire mesh under the mattresses on the old army bunk beds was sagging because the side springs were stretched out. He suggested the side springs could be replaced with wire to help solve the problem. He then offered to do the work. When I pointed out that there were over 200 bunks, each with four springs, he said he thought he could do it over time. Six days a week he worked for a couple hours, eat the lunch he had brought, and work a couple more hours. Each session more campers came, and Walter had the bunks ready.

When he learned that Sally Jo wanted to plant a five acre garden to teach gardening to the staff and campers and provide fresh vegetables for the kitchen, Walter was there to coach her. Every morning he came to help in the garden and work on the bunks, always wearing a smile and an old white shirt, dark pants, and a straw hat. Throughout the long growing season the garden produced more tomatoes than the campers could eat, plus potatoes, carrots, beans, squash, corn, cucumbers and okra,

Walter invited us to come by his house to meet Bonnie. Repeatedly through our seven years at Sky Ranch our family would stop by their house for a brief visit, and every time we stopped by, they gave us something: “go pick yourselves as many berries as you like”, “please pick yourselves some flowers”,” here is a bottle of jam”, “please enjoy a gallon of Trilby’s milk”, “the persimmons are ripe – take a few”, “Christmas is coming, enjoy this beautiful holly”.

Our three children always wanted to go to visit them – and to see what surprise they had for us. These visits were full of kidding and laughter and our family became very close to Walter and Bonnie. This relationship lifted our spirits!!

When Bonnie had a stroke, Walter placed a hospital bed in their living room, and focused all of his attention on caring for Bonnie, necessarily neglecting their little “estate”. We stepped up the regularity of our visits. The laughter and sharing continued.

Over several months Bonnie’s condition worsened, and we watched Walter’s health and strength gradually decline as he worked long hours caring for the wife he had loved for over 50 years. When Bonnie died, Walter was completely worn out. He assured us he would be like his neglected tomato plants: with care, sunshine and time he would be fine.

Seven years after we left Sky Ranch, our family was able to travel around the country in a borrowed RV. We were all looking forward to seeing Walter, particularly daughter Jenna who had been corresponding with him while in college. Two weeks before we were to visit Walter, he died. His son told us his father wanted us to have his 1965 Chevy pickup. We pulled the rust free truck behind the 43 foot RV from Mineola, Texas to our home in New York where son Dirk rebuilt the truck to original condition – except for replacing the oak bed with one made of bird?s eye maple and cherry. We continue to enjoy the truck and remember Walter and Bonnie with happy hearts.

Living In Partnership With God requires only that we give ourselves to God. What would God have us do with our lives? Use what He has entrusted to us. When we do, this will bring God joy, and God will use us to enrich the lives of others.

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16