News from the Ranch


Igniting Hope

At The Ranch, our work brings us into the lives of children when they are most desperate, alone, sad, afraid, wounded and hopeless. It is at this point we seek to ignite a spark of hope, healing, love and triumph. Amazingly, as we wander through the carnage of the broken lives of our children, we find the very best of Christian love, acceptance and care.

It is truly an honor to stand beside caregivers, who have accepted the challenge of igniting hope.  From the first good morning that awakens our children to a day filled with potential, until the good nights that reflect a day of progress; our caregivers are on the frontlines of providing for our children.

Recently Johnnie, a teen-age boy sat in our office completely despondent. He began to recount all of his losses: his father’s death from cancer (along with the lingering fear that he would die of cancer as well), his mother’s abandonment, and then the loss of any and everything that would make your life “normal.” Tears formed in his eyes as he silently mouthed the words, “I am alone, I have no one . . . ” 

What will it take to ignite hope and healing in Johnnie? What will it take to see love and triumph instead of anger and sadness?  It will take a valid relationship of love, acceptance and considerable encouragement. It will take time for the wounds to heal as he grows to be all that God created them to be.  So glad we can be here for him. Thank you for allowing us to say “yes” to children like Johnnie. Your help makes a difference.


Just Before I Sleep

He is almost in a rage when seventeen year-old Jared says, “It happens every night.” Just as he lays down on his bed, the video trailer in his mind begins the vignettes of all that he has been through: all the abuse, all the loss . . . over a decade of trauma.  He is in tears of anger and sorrow as he continues.  “I think about those things and I get angry. The more I think the angrier I get.”  After a long pause he adds, “And, I get depressed.”  It was an unforgettable moment for me as I watched this young man so articulately and accurately express his pain.  He was trapped in the world of his own experiences and thoughts.  On the outside he is healthy and robust, but on the inside there are unspeakable wounds, brokenness and loss of hope. He was too frustrated to sleep and hopeless that tomorrow could be different.  At The Heart of Florida Youth Ranch “Hope Begins Here” is more than a cliché or slogan.   It is our mission and purpose. 

Everyday our goal is to chip away at the walls of solitude that children often place around themselves as a defense from the pain they have suffered.  Every child must know, “We believe in them.”  We believe they are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is no such thing as a bad kid. We refuse to accept hopelessness. We constantly ask ourselves, “How can we change the images that flash through their mind just before they go to sleep?” How can we change those moments from memories of past abuse and loss to images of hope and a future?  Letting go of the past to embrace the future. Hope begins deep in our hearts.  First they must know that we believe in them, they are worth something to us and to God.

Not only are they valuable, but they have great potential.  The declaration “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” is more than words; it is truth. Those words unleash hope and potential to become all that God created them to be. It is a scary time to Jared as he looks toward his eighteenth birthday.  So many decisions, so many places for mistakes, so many opportunities for failure . . . . but also, so much potential for hope, so many opportunities for growth, so many places for success. There will be challenges . . . there will be mistakes . . . but there is hope and there is a future of potential.

It happens everyday at The Ranch, we guide children through the fog of pain and uncertainty into the reality of God’s love and purpose for their life.  Thank You, for allowing us to open our arms and hearts to hurting children. This spring and summer saw record numbers of children in our care. We need your prayers and support more than ever. You gift makes a difference!

Ministering to Parents of Special Needs Children

Ministry to Families with Special Needs Children

No doubt caregivers in our residential centers deal with the extreme. For over 20 years Jo Ann and I have dealt with children who have faced the traumatic impact of the loss of parents because of death, abandonment, abuse and neglect. We have seen first hand the horrendous effect that this has on the emotional development of a child. This breakdown along with the degradation of family, community, and educational systems has created a horribly dysfunctional environment. These children come from a lonely, frightening world where their valued as a commodity. They are for sale.

Whatever a child should get in those first formative years, most of the children we work with are desperately missing. However, there are lessons we have learned from working with children that can provide help for parents and children’s ministry workers as they care for children who may not fit into the standard environment of a church youth or children’s group. One family with a child diagnosed with ADHD stated regarding church attendance, “People in the church feel they can judge when disability ends and bad parenting begins.” The families of children with emotional and/or behavioral problems often simply stop going to church. How can pastors and youth workers more effectively minister and care for these hurting families?

There are two vital aspects in dealing with a troubled child:

  1. Relationship – there will be no quick-fix. It will take someone who is unconditionally committed to the child and family for as long as it takes.
  2. The right Attitude — There are several elements to the attitude:
  • First, you must be able to communicate that you believe the child is God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made; and the child can accomplish all that God created him/her to be.
  • Secondly, the child and family need to believe that you are genuinely excited about being in his/her life. Without reservation you must celebrate their presence.

TWO TIMELINE APPROACHES (Crisis Interventions and General Discipleship):

  1. When a child is in a crisis? How do you as a pastor, youth or children’s worker or parent care for a child that is in crisis? What should you consider?
  2. Ministry to the family a long-term model for seeing a hurting child develop and grow emotionally and spiritually?

Here are some basic things to consider anytime you are working with a troubled child:

  • Be nonthreatening, receptive, respecting the child and their space.
  • Facial expression – smiling, pleasant, relaxed.
  • Body language – relaxed (not tense), non threatening;
  • Tone, Voice, Cadence – How you say what you say!! (A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1)

From your facial expression, body language, the tone and intensity of your voice you are all sending a message. How you say what you say is as important as what you say!!

Ministers can begin to understand the child by examining the factors that may precipitate behavior episodes. (Things like crowds, being single out in a group, a certain subject). THE BEHAVIOR MAKES SENSE WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND THE STORY!!

You can learn how to deal with a child who is escalating verbally. The above things are skills that can be learned and practiced.

We should also consider the overarching theme of General Discipleship. The caregivers relationship and attitude should send a message of HOPE to a child/youth who may feel hopeless!! Imagine a troubled child who does not truly understand the things going on around them. They know something is not right. When they lay down at night just before they go to sleep the memories of yesterday and fear of tomorrow play a rolodex of anxiety and uncertainty.

Here are the 5 steps we have used successfully for several years to minister to troubled youth and their families.

  1. Identify the ROOT CAUSES of the behavior. Every behavior has a purpose and a root cause. Every behavior is telling something. There are two very real enemies of humanity and especially children:
    1. FEAR – From that first moment Adam hid from the presence of God in the Garden, FEAR has been humanities greatest enemy. Fear of the unknown, the future, failure, death, illness, and many other issues cause children and youth to lock-up emotionally.
    2. ANGER – Many children have experienced some type of developmental insult. There has been some kind of wound to their soul/mind area. The injury has blocked normal emotional development (abuse, neglect, abandonment, death, serious illness, family issues, generational issues).
  2. Respond according to the scriptures:
    1. FEAR – The child will need loving parental instruction and guidance. Reproof in the original language was concerned as much as about providing the right direction as it was about pointing out the wrong. Too many adults only respond with pointing out the wrong.
    2. ANGER – For the wounded child the first response must always be comfort and encouragement. “Parakaleo” is the original word for exhort or encourage. It is a miracle word. It speaks of brining into existence something that was previously not there. It calls something from another world into this present world inside the child. You can literally see courage rise in in their eyes (en-courage).
  3. Teach and disciple the child in the principles of the scripture. Look for those precious teachable moments. We are teaching them a better way to live in everything we say and do. Teach them how to release things in their past that may have traumatized them. It will be a new way of thinking and behaving. Teach them how to forgive those who have hurt them. Amazingly, there is a great deal of instruction that deals with forgiveness, but precious little that will provide a model or formula for forgiveness.
  4. Practice — give the child a chance to be successful. Look for and create ways for the child to succeed. Give them a chance to try out their new behaviors and skills in an environment where there is a high probability of success. Look for easy wins and then repeat the process. Encourage, assist, and become the child’s biggest cheerleader. Remember, it will take multiple opportunities for good habits to be established. Just like a HOUSE with a shifting foundation; these kids lack a solid foundation. With each repetition of a new skill or principle you are laying bricks in their foundation. Every word of encouragement is a seed sown. From the moment a child gets up until they go to bed, they need multiple opportunities for success.
  5. Praise –– REMEMBER, we are attacking hopelessness. Hope is the fuel that drives success. We need to celebrate the very fact they walked into the room. Plan a celebration for goals accomplished. When the child sees that you believe in them it will change them dramatically. Create the moments for trophies, pictures, great moments, get that scrapbook of success started. God has new mercies for every morning! Today does not have to be like yesterday.

We can change the Rolodex that a child plays in their mind at night. From fear and hurt to a future filled with hope. At the end of the day we must believe that God can use our words and actions to heal a child. It is a spiritual decision.

John Sweet


A Night with the Boys . . .

Thought you might like to read an excerpt from a shift report from our Clinical Director Josh Sarmiento:

Also  spoke to group for about 30 minutes.  Those kids need a father figure mentor, and role model. I am up for the challenge and that calling!   I will be trying to go and see them at least 2 times weekly before bed and give them some family time and meetings in the future.    XXXX talked to me for about 30 minutes.  He is afraid of the future and ask me ” will you be leaving me? I have had many workers that I open up to, and they leave me”  I told  him the only way I would leave him, if  if the Good man took me to be with Him, and that he should continue to make choices to enhance his relationship with staff and everyone here that is wanting to work with him. He wants to work, I think we need to see if he can get a job that will allow him to work more hours. ( “idle  mind & hands is/are the devils workshop”)   Hopefully he can pass his GED!

Spoke to XXXX for about 20  minutes and he gave me a hug on way out.

Spoke to XXXX as well they are excited about “wrastling”  ( : 

XXXXXX had a bit of a bump on the road tonight.  I came out of the room and he said Mr. Josh ” you want me to go into my room, I said ” yes”  He ask me to walk him into his room as he starts picking up clothes from floor.  I spoke to him and his brother, and then they asked me to pray for them in their room… tear!!  So I prayed that the peace that surpasses all understanding would fill that room. 

I would like to know where their game is on Saturday I would like to go. ( :  They invited me and I would like to cheer them on.

XXXX and XXXXX gave me forms  for wrestling that need filled out and they need 70 dollars each I believe to wrastle’ ( :

Hopefully it goes well. I think with more consistent counseling and groups along with prayer we can getter done!

Zach stated XXXXX was a bit scared tonight and he said he went by and  checked cottage to make sure coast was clear etc and all was well. 

Good night and God Bless! Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the team!

I leave you with a poem that inspires me whenever I have an opportunity to teach a child even in failure and mess ups; as I remember God can take my “mess-terdays and give me better tomorrows”.  I think when we answer this question in our own lives daily then we can be better able to answer the question and help  the little boy/little girl answer that question as well.   

Who will cry for the little boy?
By Antwone Fisher

who will cry for the little boy?
Lost and all alone.
Who will cry for the little boy?
Abandoned without his own?

Who will cry for the little boy?
He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy?
He never had for keeps.

Who will cry for the little boy?
He walked the burning sand
Who will cry for the little boy?
The boy inside the man.

Who will cry for the little boy?
Who knows well hurt and pain
Who will cry for the little boy?
He died again and again.

Who will cry for the little boy?
A good boy he tried to be
Who will cry for the little boy?
Who cries inside of me?

Hope Begins Here . . .

It has been a challenging and exciting transition.  The new administrative team at HOFYR has come together in a remarkable way. I have heard COGWM Director Tim Hill reiterate the potential of an Amos 9:13 Season, Living Life at the Speed of Favor. I believe we are experiencing such a season at HOFYR.  The bringing together of such an experienced and passionate team within only a few weeks has been truly amazing. We are blessed. 
We invite you to follow our continuing development of a ministry that is at the very heart of God and in the DNA of the Church of God. From the very beginning displaced and hurting children were taken in by ministry leaders.  They are mentioned in the earliest history and I have a diary from A.J. Tomlinson from 1906 that notes at least 12 orphans living in his home.  At the HOFYR we continue that tradition with excellence.  We invite you to partner with us as we continue to serve the children that are referred for our care.