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a history of the Rising Son Ranch/Jesus Movement

Rising Son Ranch

In 1971 Pat, one of the three early missionaries to Berkeley,
and Weldon, a friend of CVJLF who had been praying about a Jesus movement
within the counterculture, began discussing the need for a place "where
you can get kids off the streets, out into the woods, where they can be
free from distractions enough to really set their minds on the Lord
during their early days as Christians." They saw the need for an
isolated place which could be purchased cheaply and a brother or a


couple who would be the "parents" for such a family. They wanted someone
centered around a personal relationship to Christ, firm but gentle,
full of concern for people, not on a power trip, sympathetic to individual
differences, and committed to nourishing a whole family along. Weldon
decided there was nobody like that, Pat decided that was a good descrip-
tion of Weldon. Weldon protested, then prayed, then ended up taking his
wife and two children to an abandoned chicken ranch near Garberville
in Northern California which he and Pat were able to purchase cheaply.
Another couple also joined them.

At first Weldon and his family moved into a comfortable house
near the ranch, from where they hoped to minister to the people who
would come to live at the ranch. The owner of that house soon forced
them to leave when more and more hippies began to show up from the
ranch. Weldon and his wife were conservative, middle-class people.
The primitive ranch looked like a horror. In the dead of winter with
constant rain and snow, they told God that if a clear day came the day
they had to leave their present house they would move to the ranch.
It did. Fifteen trips in a small pickup to a small dirty house. Most
of their accumulated belongings were stored in an old garage with a
dirt floor. The whole family slept in one room, the children on
mattresses on the floor and two dogs also on the floor. Another couple
slept in another room of the house. They cried often and long. They
tried to hand over all their things, not to mention their lives, to the
Lord. Within two weeks nearby ranchers shot their two dogs. They felt
everything from the past was being torn away from them. Meanwhile they


were trying to get the water system to work and the wiring to be safe.
There were as many problems with the locals as there were with
those who came to stay at the ranch in the first few months. Ranchers
and townspeople were suspicious. When Weldon let his hair grow and wore
his ranch clothes everywhere, people became resentful. He spoke at the
high school graduation over the objections of many, and talked about
Jesus. The Rising Son Ranch sign was torn down several times and run
over, presumably by people who hated hippies.

Meanwhile, a small community was coming into being — people
crashing from the highway, people wandering in from nearby communes,
people up from Berkeley. One of the chief purposes of the Ranch has
been to implant a Christian witness in the middle of the rural hippie
commune country — Humboldt County of Northern California. There were
heavy drug scenes and burned-out radicals from Berkeley and occasional
violence and fires started accidentally by stoned ecology freaks. The
two couples and the small community which developed more or less around
them felt they were being used by God as a kind of witness. People who
stopped by thought they saw something different, some invisible factor
which made this commune more together than others they had visited or
been a part of. Some stayed to find out what it was. The missing
factor was Christ, these brothers and sisters told them.

There were serious water shortages the first summer. As the
number of people grew they knew they would need more buildings and a
work area. When the community joined in prayer for lumber Weldon got
a phone call from a friend in Los Gatos who asked if they needed


lumber. Amidst much rejoicing, astonishment, and praising the Lord,
Weldon related her offer of $800 to the whole community. Eventually
there was the house where the couples who were house parents for the
Ranch lived, an old two-story chicken house with bunks for fifteen men
upstairs and a shop downstairs, another house with living quarters for
women upstairs and the communal kitchen and dining area downstairs,
an old trailer, and a garage.

From 1972 to 1973 there were three couples serving as house
parents and from five to ten brothers and sisters living on the Ranch
with them. (Weldon and his family had moved back to the city.) There
was an insistence that all rise at about the same time every morning,
that all meals be eaten together, and that every morning be devoted to
the work that needed to be done. Lack of water, poor soil, and steep
terrain made any kind of farming impossible, and the small garden was not
enough to keep more than one person busy. Most of the financial support
for the Ranch came through support money sent to Billy, a CWLF elder
and the new leader on the Ranch. He had many Christian friends in
Texas who supported this ministry. Some who stayed at the Ranch could
contribute a few dollars a month, some a little more, and some nothing.
There were Bible studies three nights a week, and all were expected to

Occasionally there were "rice Christians" who went through the
motions they considered necessary to acquire a place to stay and food.
Discipline was present to the extent necessary to get people to work on
the tasks assigned, to get up together, and to eat together. A few were


asked to leave — because their life-style or beliefs were deemed a threat
to other young Christians on the Ranch. No one was asked to leave simply
because he had not yet accepted the Lord. Usually all three couples
had to agree before someone was asked to leave. This probably resulted
in some people staying too long and exercising an influence detrimental
to the community.

The continually changing community took a heavy toll on the
couples who guided the Ranch ministry. Besides implanting a Christian
witness in the heart of the commune country, the Ranch ministry also
existed to get people who needed it away from the Berkeley scene, to
allow people to work in nature and with their hands , and to let people
grow into and experience a Christian family. The very circumstances
guaranteed that all of these goals would rarely be furthered simultane-
ously. One brother who in the summer of 1973 returned to Berkeley
remarked: "There's a great strain on the staff members, the couples.
Often there is a need for a continual close relationship with a group
of total strangers. The effectiveness of the Christian family varies with
who is living at the Ranch. There were times when there were only three
Christians and perhaps several who were militantly non-Christian. Anyone
who came at that time would not have been overwhelmed by a sense of
Christian family. Yet we wanted to stay as open as possible to people
coming in off the road or referred to us by other communes."

For the stability of the Ranch and the nourishment and strength
that a Christian community needed from each other, it was felt that
three couples at the Ranch were ideal. They could strengthen one another


and better exercise a Christian influence on the affairs of the
whole Ranch community. The brother quoted above had been asked, with
his wife, in the svmuner of 1972 to go up to the Ranch for a year, to lend
moral support to the people already there. He was happy to get away from
Berkeley for awhile and thought he would have much time for reading and
writing. That did not happen. Yet he lists several personal benefits
to him for his year on the Ranch staff. "I learned to relate to kids in
Christian love. I received a real ongoing education as a Christian,
especially through the strains put on me. I also expanded my interest
in crafts and art to leather work. I learned I'm not called to a
pastoral ministry and I had wondered about that. Now I know. Mostly
my year allowed me to clear my head and get more settled on the direction
my life in the Lord is taking." He feels that the latter may be the
chief function of the Ranch ministry — for staff and anyone else who stays
long enough.

The Ranch's ministry to the surrounding area is informal and
casual. They do very little visiting or calling around, but they are
always meeting people in town and they always welcome all who drop by.
The fairly dramatic infliix of visitors who came to stay from other
communes early in the Ranch's history is no longer happening. Yet there
are people who stop by to work on their cars with the tools the Ranch
readily allows them to use. They see their ministry in terms of being
good neighbors and being together as a Christian community in ways that
make all visitors wonder and want to ask why. People nearby also know
that in cases of need they can coiont on the Ranch. At Christmas time


the members of Rising Son Ranch made many candles and took them around
as presents to people on communes in the area. Small niombers of
Christians have arisen around the area and have begun Bible studies,
discussion groups, and witnesses of various kinds. The staff at Rising
Son has been committed to encouraging such people to stay where they are
and carry on their own witness. There were times, especially in the
beginning, when such young Christians insisted it would be impossible
to stay where they were and continue in their Christian life.

Most of the "success stories" the Ranch has had have happened
with people who have stayed longer than a few weeks. Of course, there
were brothers and sisters who came for an evening and accepted Christ,
Sometimes they moved on immediately and no one knows where they are now.
"Probably the people who stayed longer were committed to finding an
answer to their search in life. That's very important for anyone
potentially coming to the Lord. Others were still into just wandering
around." Because of the transiency, the whole community on the Ranch
is rarely really together and strong. But often a majority of those
staying have a strong and integrated conanunity. The question is whether
those staying on the fringe looking in will become interested enough to
ask for more, including asking for a personal relationship with the
Father, before they decide to move on. There are some who leave before
the staff thinks anything has happened to them and say later that the
Ranch changed their lives.

By 1973 there were two couples at the Ranch. The one couple
had been very effective in campus ministry in Berkeley and there is some


encouragement for them to return. The future of the Ranch in the summer
of 1973 was quite uncertain. There was talk of closing it, selling it,
and investing the money in some other kind of Christian ministry,
perhaps another ranch elsewhere. The number of people on the Ranch
was much smaller than in the early days. Before the end of the year the
Ranch was sold and its ministry ended.

The Rising Son Ranch had been a Christian presence in commune
community and a Christian family to all kinds of people, some of whom came
to scoff and remained to pray. Like many other CWLF ministries it
reflected the energy and style of "do it," when some need is felt and
prayed over and some strategy is deemed appropriate. As other ministries
came to be more important and when the Ranch in its present location
seemed to have served its purpose, CWLF moved elsewhere. They believe
they have left behind in Hiamboldt County a few Christians committed to
carrying on that kind of ministry and many Christians, God knows where,
who came to Christ or grew in Christ while they stayed at the Ranch."

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