Changing the way America saves at-risk youth

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Letter dated October 31, 2021

One of the life principles we teach the boys is to treat others the way you want to be treated. One of our boys twisted that principle and continually argued that he should treat others the way they treat him because that must be how they want to be treated. He recently came into my office and shared with me that he had made a major discovery – when he treats others better, they tend to treat him better. Sometimes life principles don't become meaningful until you experience them first-hand working in your own life.

We had the opportunity to attend the Route 66 Tour with Franklin Graham in Springfield. On the way to the service, the boys enjoyed eating at a pizza buffet and seeing who could create the tallest ice cream cone without it falling over. We joined over 9,000 people at the service and were reminded that even though the world has changed a lot, God's love for each person is still the same. We were encouraged to take a stand for what is right and not worry about what others think. One of the boys accepted that challenge and recommitted his life to Christ. The night ended with the Newsboys singing one of the boys' favorite songs, "God's Not Dead." It was a great time celebrating the awesome God we serve.

One of our recent graduates called to check in and see how things were going at LUC. He began to share about his current circumstances, and it was good to hear that he was doing well. As he continued to talk, he admitted that he was struggling spiritually and was searching for answers. We talked some more and I attempted to answer his questions. At the end of the conversation, I asked him why he called me to ask his questions. He commented that while he may not have enjoyed all the experiences of the Ranch life, he knew the Ranch was a place where he could find spiritual truth and knew people cared about him. Our prayer is that every boy at LUC will discover spiritual truth in a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The calls from people in our community needing our boys' help keep flooding in. We already are scheduling into December and January, and regrettably we have to turn down many requests to rake leaves, build rock retaining walls, clear brush, help people move, etc. While doing some weed eating and yard cleaning, the guys came across a wild bush with small berries. They quickly learned that if the berries hit an object (like a body), the berry would explode in a 4" circle of purple powder. It was pretty obvious who had been hit the most, or who did the poorest job cleaning up for dinner.

At the end of each month, to practice their public speaking skills, our guys give a report on what they learned in the trade they were in that month. It could be cooking, welding, mechanics, horticulture, etc. Housekeeping vo-tech is least appreciated, so Brody decided to do some research to make his report more interesting. He found out that women spend twice as much time cleaning as men do. That may account for the reason why men aren't quite as good at cleaning as women. He also learned that the towel is the dirtiest place in the bathroom. I've decided to "shake dry" my hands now, but I get some strange looks.

A former staff sent us a letter to congratulate us on our forthcoming 39th anniversary of LUC's existence. He wrote, "Wow, what amazing things the Lord has done at LUC over these many years. It is quite incomprehensible from living in the old well house to the wonderful facilities there now. After impacting hundreds of lives, you've been blessed to witness countless miracles in the lives of your boys, staff, and in the community." None of that would have been possible without your help. Thank you for sharing in God's work here. We are indebted to you for your kindness to us. We're praying for God's richest blessing on you each day.
Letter dated September 30, 2021

It's been a busy month at LUC! The month started with a graduation. We had a great turnout to celebrate what God has accomplished in Andrew's life while at LUC. Part of the graduation ceremony includes a speech given by the graduate. One of the comments Andrew made in his speech was, "Out of all the lessons I've learned at the ranch, the one that sticks out to me the most is learning. Learning from both wins and fails. I also learned you have consequences in every decision. What you learn from a negative consequence is better than not having a consequence at all." We are praying Andrew continues to learn in every situation and discovers all God has planned for him. Andrew returned home to his family and is doing well making the transition back into his life there.

One of the favorite weekend activities is swimming in the creek and fishing at Lake Bachman. The boys really enjoy jumping in the creek on hot summer nights, especially after gathering hay. They love to catch crawdads and float with the current of the creek. Recently, the boys had a fishing tournament complete with designated fishing areas and prizes for the top three catches. Our newest boy Jesse caught the biggest fish weighing 8.5 pounds and Zeke won the tournament with a total weight of 14.5 pounds.

The annual camping trip to Eureka Springs was a success even with several rainstorms. Several boys learned the hard way about the importance of bringing a tarp to protect your tent and belongings from the rain. In spite of the rain, the boys had a fun time fishing, swimming, biking, and relaxing in God's creation. The boys enjoy the opportunity to be off Ranch without working and taking a break before school starts.

School began August 16 and the teachers worked hard to prepare the classrooms and lessons for the boys to have a learning environment that will challenge and motivate them to do well. The boys are off to a great start and anticipating a good year. At the end of class or if they have extra time, the boys are working together to complete puzzles that will be displayed around the school. They are cooperating well and are close to completing their second puzzle already.

Colin, a former Ranch boy, called to report on what he's been doing since graduating from high school. He's been working at a convenience store gas station within biking distance of his home. With few expenses, he is saving his money to pay for his college expenses starting next semester. Colin is active in his church and has a passion for witnessing to youth who are caught up in some radical movements. "I'm black," Colin commented, "but the color of anyone's skin didn't matter at LUC or in my family, so why should it matter at other places?"

We are blessed to have staff, volunteers, and donors helping us from different geographic areas, with different philosophical and religious beliefs, and from many different walks of life. Despite the differences, we all share a passion to train our guys to be responsible, committed Christian citizens in each of their communities. Thank you for your faith in God's work here. You have encouraged us. We are praying that God will encourage you for your kindness to us.
Letter dated August 23, 2021

Throughout the summer, the boys have the opportunity for special weekend outings. One of the highlights this month was connecting with a local youth group during the church's Vacation Bible School. The boys were able to build some friendships while eating dinner, playing games, hearing about God, and helping in various ways at Bible School. July 4 was a big day of celebration as we went to church, attended a fundraiser for the Ranch, and ended the day swimming at the lake, roasting hot dogs, and shooting fireworks. The other highlight was the annual float trip on the James River where the boys had a great time kayaking and swimming. There was one attempt to tip someone else's kayak, but it stopped when he was told the snacks were in his kayak.

Two of the boys have been showing negative attitudes so it was suggested that throughout their day that they identify three positive things going on in their life. As they were being asked about what they had discovered during the day, another boy overheard the conversation and replied, "Can I get in on this positive thing? I'm a negative guy." Romans 12:2 says to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. We are praying that simple exercises of identifying some positive blessings in the lives of the boys will allow God to begin transforming not only their minds but their hearts as well.

The Ranch recently received a call from one of the ladies whom we had worked for. She reported, "It was hot and your guys were weed eating, trimming bushes, pulling weeds, and cleaning up some dead branches. They worked hard, communicated with each other, and never complained. When they finished, I handed out some lemonade and I was amazed at how respectful, cheerful, and thankful they all were. I wish my grandkids had even half of the values your guys have learned." One of our graduates called the same day asking for advice as he is raising a strong willed 16-year-old son. "It's harder to discipline than to be disciplined," he commented.

The summer has brought more volunteers back to the Ranch. We are so grateful for the time, energy, encouragement, and skills they bring with them. Each group of volunteers worked through the heat to fix a lot of maintenance issues we just didn't have time to get to. They also spent much of the "off" time interacting with all of us which built relationships. As I've interacted with them over the past few months, I'm reminded of how God blesses individuals with unique talents and skills, so they might work together as the body of Christ to make an impact for His kingdom. Their example of what it means to love God and others through a servant's heart speaks volumes into the lives of the boys and staff.

We have been through a lot of challenging transitions over the past few months, but God has been faithful and guided us every step of the way. We are continuing to trust God is working all things out according to His plan so lives of young men will be impacted for eternity.

As you face challenges, know that we are praying that God gives you extra strength, perseverance, and faith to rise above them as well. Nothing is impossible with God! It is that fact that sustains us all as we face difficulties. It helps, though, when friends like you join us as we see God change lives. One of our guys is on an extended home visit now in anticipation of a future Ranch graduation. Another guy will graduate this month. That is only possible through the generosity of friends like you. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Letter dated July 28, 2021

Summer is in full swing around the Ranch. Mowing yards, gathering hay, swimming, fishing, summer school, and special outings are all part of Ranch life right now along with hot days, mosquitoes, and poison ivy. It reminds me of the importance of accepting the good and bad that comes our way trusting God has it all under control.

The boys in summer school have an extra treat this summer participating in "Kids in the Kitchen," which is a 4-H program offered by Stone County to teach basic nutrition and kitchen safety. Our guys have really enjoyed learning about the different food groups and sampling the treats during each lesson.

Dealing with anger and frustration is an important topic that comes up with the boys often. One of the boys was talking with a staff member and how to handle his frustration. When the staff asked him what he does with his frustration, all the boy said was, "Jesus." The staff asked for more clarification to which he responded, "Jesus just takes my frustration and throws it out the window."

We're one of a few farmers who still bale their hay the old-fashioned way in small square bales. That means we get to load the bales on trailers and stack them in our barns. For 38 years, our guys have competed with each other to be the best and fastest stackers. One year, we had four teams of guys with six on a team compete all hay season for champion hay haulers. The record holders that year, loaded 120 bales on a trailer in 8 minutes and 51 3/10 seconds. The whole interesting story was put on TV for a condensed, 3-minute news spot several years ago. It's interesting to watch our new guys try to keep up with our seasoned ones. Because our guys are in tip-top shape, even our smallest boys can outwork the newer ones who are still not in very good shape.

I believe there is a big difference between pride and self-confidence. Because of all the lawn mowing, farm work, and even the physical consequences that our guys do--they're able to compete at a level far higher than most guys their age. Humbly knowing that we can accomplish challenging tasks is a big advantage for success in the future.

David, a graduate about 25 years ago, called to thank us for what he said was a "life changing experience at LUC." He has been injured, but still works at an irrigation company where he's been for over eight years now. He said, "I learned at LUC to never give up and that has kept me on curse for all these years." He no longer has any support family, so he values his daughter and spends lots of time with her. "I pray for her, for me, and for the Ranch every day." David reported, "You were the one person who never gave up on me."
Letter dated June 30, 2021

One of our staff members was admitted into the hospital. Sheila was giving an update on how the patient was doing. Before she could finish, Alex interrupted her and said the staff would be fine. A little shocked by how quickly he responded, Sheila asked how he already knew about the staff. He replied, "Because we prayed for her yesterday."

Several of the guys have been raising their own rabbits. The guys have built different levels in the cages, so the rabbits can run to kitchens, bedrooms, and even maternity rooms. Since the guys take the rabbits out to play with them, some of the rabbits now think they are entitled to being free all the time. The rabbits find a way out and the guys eventually catch them, mend the escape hole, and put them back in their house. Our firewood piles are good hiding places. James has put live traps at the exits and baited them. So far, he has caught 2 raccoons and 0 rabbits.

We're mowing about 40 lawns on a regular basis and are booked several weeks in advance to do other jobs for people in our community. Haying season is starting so we are loading and stacking small square bales of hay in our barns. Some guys are in our summer school to catch up on some academics they missed before coming to LUC. I would think that Drama class wuld be easy for our guys, but few of them like that class very much.

Ten-year-old Gauge recently told me, "I'm not going to be an inventor anymore when I grow up. I'm going to come back to LUC and be a staff because then I'll be with friends. I don't like to be lonely and I've always been lonely before coming to the Ranch."

Russ, a LUC graduate about 30 years ago, drove to LUC to celebrate his birthday with us on the same day that Will graduated from LUC. Tears were flowing as Russ recounted his experiences at the Ranch. Russ credited the Ranch for the skills and values he learned that have enabled him to be the carpenter, electrician, and plumber on multimillion-dollar homes. Russ said he felt peace as soon as he drove on the Ranch.

Marcus contacted us from Korea where he's stationed in the Army. He thanked me for never giving up on him and for expecting the best of him even though it was hard. Jacob, another graduate, called to let us know he'd just finished Marine boot camp and was appreciative of everything he'd learned at LUC. "In everything I do,' Jacob said, "I know nothing is impossible with God. Over half of the recruits in my platoon never graduated, but because of my LUC experience, I've done well."

December 14, 2020
Five of our boys have reached their 18th birthday and were eligible to vote this year in the Presidential election. David and Marilyn, two volunteers who teach at the school, were a huge help in getting them registered to vote. JJ and David presented the boys with valuable information so they could make an informed decision. On election day, the boys loaded up with a couple of staff and headed to the voting area. When the election officials recognized they were from LUC, they quickly started telling others what wonderful work the boys do and made sure they knew what to do during the voting process. The boys cast their ballots and took another step toward understanding the importance of being a responsible citizen.

Every year, Silver Dollar City allows our boys to come and experience a day at their park and enjoy some time off Ranch. Each of them finds personal enjoyment in different ways. During our last visit, a few of our boys were reminded that they were kids at heart when they discovered they still enjoyed some of the "kiddie" rides. Others conquered their fears and rode various roller coasters. The youngest boy was thrilled he had grown tall enough to ride most of the roller coasters and giggled with delight as he rode them.

Psalm 107:1 says, "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." During dinner devotions one night, the speaker challenged the Ranch family to work together and create a list of 100 things they were grateful for. The boys' creativity went to work, and they completed a list within a couple of days. It was interesting to see the items chosen...everything from insects to moms and from soap to salvation. We truly have a lot to be grateful for during this special holiday time.

A Ranch graduate sent me the following email: "Dear Ken, I want to thank you so much for what you have done for me. Tonight, I have looked the devil in the eye and defeated him. Because of how you have prepared me, I saw through one of the most slick and clever plans the devil has laid before man. I simply turned and walked away. I cannot express the feeling of gratitude I feel towards you and the LUC program. Our living Lord has led me in the path that I should take, and I took it. Thank you! I love you, you are my brother, my friend, and the one who made me see the error of my ways. What I have today is because of my mother and you! May God bless you and keep you close to His heart."

August 31, 2020
Several of the boys have been in summer school for tutoring and credit recovery. One of the boys worked diligently to complete four credits which will allow him to graduate high school next year. As he reached the halfway point in his summer course work, he commented, "Graduation, here I come!" It's great to see a boy demonstrate the focus and determination to reach a goal.

July 20, 2020
The first cutting of our hay season is over! A lot of rain has brought an abundance of hay for us to harvest. The staff and boys have been busy working together to gather hay from the fields and store it in the barns. Teamwork is a key component to doing it successfully.

Along with hay, summer also is a time for gardening of both vegetables and flowers. The garden area has been sectioned off into smaller plots for the ranch and staff families to maintain. Several of the boys help with the care and weeding. We are hoping to enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the summer. Ken, Sheila, and a couple of the boys have been diligently working on creating a new flower garden in front of the Trades Building. Each piece of the garden represents a piece of LUC's story. We can't wait for you to see it!

One of our sweet nine year olds was answering a Bible question and he was sharing why we shouldn't blame God for bad things that happen to us because God loves us. Then went on to explain that Adam and Eve made the wrong choice in the Garden of Eden and now people suffer the consequence but God sent His Son Jesus to help us through our trials. Wow—out of the mouth of babes!

On Wednesday night, I meet with all our guys to do four things. Pray with them, hear what they've seen their peers do well, listen to any concerns or frustrations, and then tell them a story with an object lesson intertwined in it. On a recent Wednesday, our 9 year old's prayer request was: "When I'm working off my consequences because I told a lie, help me to keep reminding myself not to lie again." He's figured out the two solutions to all our bad choices: I need God's help, and I have to remind myself before and during consequences, that I don't want to do what I know is wrong.

I was going to the dining room for supper when I noticed our golf cart had been backed into a ditch and was stuck. I asked one of the guys how that happened and was told, "It wouldn't go forward when I told it to." I wish I had thought of that reason all the times when I got stuck or was in a ditch!

We routinely get calls or notes from employers who use our guys' help. A recent note went like this:

"I want you to know how very impressed we are with the quality of work done by the boys and the entire staff of Lives Under Construction Boys Ranch. What a pleasure it is, in this day and age, to see young men with a great attitude, a good work ethic, and respect for those they come into contact with. It's been most gratifying to work with the boys and I plan to continue our relationship, as LUC has been a real blessing to us. You're indeed changing troubled boys into productive young men."

Every night after supper, we have a 15-minute devotion. During the last week of every month, right after devotions, the guys give a report on what they learned in their trades area for that month. Last month, the guys in the woodshop learned to wood burn freehand designs and use the scroll saw to make intricate wooden clock frames. After three of our guys had given their demonstrations, Will got up to report on what he learned during the last month while he was teaching the three guys to do the things he'd already learned in woodshop a year ago. Will's report began: "I learned patience! In fact, I may have my first two gray hairs!" Will has a lot of woodworking talent, so it was a challenging but rewarding experience for him to help others learn some of what comes easily to him.

One of our rules at the ranch is that everyone has to eat at least one tablespoon of everything the cook makes. That includes vegetables. You might be surprised to know that most of our guys have a problem with this rule when they come. One new boy struggled to eat most food besides sweets. On our way to church, I heard a couple of boys telling him that he needed to just give in and eat everything because most of the time our fears are worse than what's real and you won't get by with not doing it anyway.
March 9, 2020

All winter we've been busy every day with two crews and we're still booked up over a month in advance. We're getting calls from over an hour away but can't usually go that far to help people out. We've helped people move, picked up trash out of ditches, cleared brush, cleaned yards and houses, raked leaves, cut up dead trees, trimmed bushes, etc. Now with the grass starting to grow—we're gearing up for non-stop grass mowing, in addition to all the above.
March 7, 2020

Thank you so much for your prayers for the Ranch. Weather here is beautiful and bulbs are growing and a few are blooming. I am teaching our two youngest Ranch boys to work with plants and get rid of weeds. Today we added manure dirt, planted a few bulbs, raked leaves, and dug out weeds. It was tiring but they are ready to come again next week because they said they learn so much!

The other boys are doing brush and yard cleaning. Several of the people they have helped in the last two weeks brag about how well they do. One developer said he has had crews coming over the last 25 years and never before had as good a crew working for him.

Boys are doing great in school also. Some behaviors still need correcting. It has been a little over a week now for our newest boy who is about 12. In his whole life, he has hardly eaten food except for peanut butter and milk with honey in it. His parents even had to take him to the hospital for lack of food. Now the first night, he refused to eat anything. So he chose instead to go out and do some consequences. The next breakfast he still had his night-before meal and had to eat ONLY one tablespoon of each of four items and so he finally did. The next meal we showed him the good dessert of chocolate chip cookies and reminded him that he could have the reward to eat a cookie if he ate his tablespoon of each, and so with a little coaxing he received his cookie and a smile came over his face. Each meal now, he eats more and more. His face has fewer blemishes on it, and he is starting to be a happier fellow.

If anyone has the opportunity, come join us for an evening meal and see and hear how well they are doing. I am amazed at the 9 year old who can tell you all about the first sin and how we have salvation today.

Have a blessed week.
Sheila Ortman

January 4, 2020

I want to send out a Happy New Year to all of our followers of the Lives Under Construction Boys Ranch. Each year, we have HUNDREDS of volunteers who come to stay at the Ranch and help us with various needs. You are here and interact with the staff and the boys and you get to see all that goes on and ask questions. Many of you come year after year and can see the changes in the hearts and lives of not only the boys but also the staff. You encourage us with your selfless giving, your words, your testimonies, and love. Many of you come year after year and even bring others. Then besides all of that, you give to help this ministry because you know that is the foundation of our support.

Even though we were licensed by DSS since the late 1980s, we did not take any funds from them but followed their regulations. They suggested that we operate under the religious exemption, but in 1988, we were told that we were not allowed to. However, we still follow those rules.

Continue to PRAY for the Ranch and the staff because as you know, rewards in doing well are not always noticed right away. It warms our hearts when boys we have worked with come to visit us and bring their families, share their testimonies with everyone here, and then in many cases have become staff to help other boys along their journey. So a BIG THANK YOU TO YOU!!!!

To those who are just getting to know us, our doors are always open and we invite you and your church groups to come and see the REAL LUC Ranch and join us for our evening meal at 5:30 p.m. We always have room for a couple more. If coming with a large group, please call a day in advance to 417-779-5374. May the Lord Bless you in this new year!
Sheila Ortman