For many, the call of the west develops after one has traveled beyond the Mississippi. For others, it’s an innate pull that seems to have sprouted without any direct cause or correlation. Perhaps it was a combination of both, but for as long as I can remember my desire to travel west and work with horses has been one of my biggest dreams.
It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted (unfortunately that seems to be a trend I’ve fallen into lately). During the past few months of whirlwind ministry, I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined, faced new challenges and opportunities to grow, met the most incredible people, and receive more blessings than I could have ever asked for.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. My journey west did not start this past May, or even at the beginning of 2017. Since my senior year of high school, I have been on a course that has put me directly where I am today (even if I wasn’t always cognizant of it). Since my days at Camp Allegheny, through my education at Slippery Rock University, and my own personal experiences I have had an unwavering interest in serving at an outdoor ministry facility in the American West. When it came time to search for a post-senior year internship to complete my B.A. requirements at Slippery Rock I turned to my ever-growing bookmarked list of Christian camps and ranches with equestrian programs for inspiration. I knew that I wanted to be out west, preferably in the mountains (no matter as to which range). I knew it had to be faith-based, with the type of programming and hiring practices that would draw in passionate people with integrity. And I was confident that given these prerequisites, in addition to my desire to follow God’s calling on my life no matter what, He would lead me to the right ranch at the right time.
At the beginning of this journey, I imagined I would eventually find myself at Wind River Ranch in Estes Park, Colorado. I had discovered their website a number of years ago and always kept them in the back of my mind when dreaming and planning for life post-SRU. Through a carefully curated turn of events that could only be choreographed by the Good Lord, I would not end up signing on to work for Wind River, nor would I accept a head wrangler position at SpringHill in Indiana. God had a perfect ranch in mind when he placed me on this path…
Deer Valley Ranch was started in 1954 by the Woolmingtons and the next 60 years were spent becoming a constant place of respite for families from across the country. On April 1, 2016, Dave and Shannon Johnson continued on with the tradition of guest ranching by using their ministry, Project 24:11, to purchase the ranch. They are following a calling on their own lives by making Deer Valley Ranch a home for their family and incorporating stellar new elements of family-focused adventure expeditions to an existing western vacation experience. The ranch has moved forward in leaps and bounds since that day in 2016, all in the name of Christ and striving to create a space where guests can find Him in new ways – whether that be from the back of a good horse, on the banks of an alpine lake, or while sitting around a campfire under the crystal Colorado skies.
As the story goes, I would end up accepting a summer wrangling job at Deer Valley Ranch in February 2017, which set in motion the start of an adventure of a lifetime. While enjoying my last semester at Slippery Rock University, honing my horsemanship skills through my equestrian team, and spending late nights making last-minute memories with old friends, I began to prepare and plan for a summer in Colorado. And so three days after I graduated from The Rock I packed up my Chevy, pulled out my atlas, and set a course west on I-70 for 1,500 miles.
June, July, and August were stellar months filled with simple ideas: fellowship, horseback riding, ministering to guests, and enjoying the great Creation of the Arkansas River Valley. I had the pleasure of working and serving alongside some of the most spectacular people I have ever met. The summer staff was comprised of young people from across the country and from countless different work and educational backgrounds. Many of them will be lifelong friends; a pleasant byproduct of dedicating a summer to ministry is that you encounter people with the same passions and interests as yourself. And besides our evening spent square dancing and nights spent rappelling, the highlights of my summer were when I could share my love of horses and my love of the Lord with our guests. Horses have an interesting way of being the perfect analogy for many of the lessons and joys of that come from walking with Christ. Being able to relate this to people who had never experienced the freedom of an equine partnership or the freedom of a relationship with the Living God was one of my biggest pleasures and joys from the summer 2017 season.
Since I was completing my final internship at Deer Valley during the summer, I would end up officially graduating from Slippery Rock in August. While I was glad to be finished with that chapter of my life, it did come with a certain level of uncertainty. I never doubted that God would provide, however, I was concerned about how those provisions might manifest. I frequently wondered if I would return to Pennsylvania if grad school would be in the picture, or if an opportunity would arise out of my work at Deer Valley Ranch. By the grace of God, my prayers were answered in late July when the Johnsons offered me a full-time position in their ministry. It didn’t take more than 48 hours for me to prayerfully accept the offer, and the next step in my journey would begin.
Part II coming soon…