Since 2019 I have had the opportunity to travel to St. Ignatius, MT twice and be apart of something that not only changed my life, but has and continues to change the lives of many for the better.
Pinehaven Christian Children's Ranch is a change of environment for youths as a chance to learn skills, knowledge and the importance of hard work in order to help them develop into well-rounded young adults. Since 1976, Pinehaven has been helping youths in need find answers for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It is a 1120 acre “kid and cattle” ranch located in western Montana, about an hour’s drive north of Missoula. Their school has been in operation since 1984. They take kids from all over the United States and, occasionally, from other countries.
Pinehaven is a residential, year-round, adjunct ministry of the First Christian Church of Saint Ignatius in Montana. Their structured and controlled environment allows them to help young people more effectively since they are not distracted and hindered by many of the things — whether it's physical or social — that contribute to their difficulties.
Money is never a factor in determining which young people get to come to Pinehaven. While they do want the families of their kids to be financially involved in the support of their own children during their stay at Pinehaven, their ministry is funded almost entirely through the generous contributions of individuals and churches across the country.
Those outward contributions are how I became aware of this ministry.
I have been attending Reddington Christian Church, located just outside Seymour, since 2018, however this church has been taking mission trips out west to Montana for several years now. After hearing stories and seeing photos from my church family who have traveled to Pinehaven in previous years, I was motivated to go the next time around.
The first time I got the privilege to mission out west, it was in June 2019, and the second time was June 2021, as Reddington typically goes to Pinehaven ever other odd year for one week, but volunteers are welcome throughout the year, as it takes nothing short of an army to keep a working ranch running. It's recommended to contact the ranch beforehand to make sure they can accommodate you if you're interested in volunteering.
Reddington's job, and the job of the other churches who visit throughout the summer, is to help complete odd jobs around the property as well as prepare for the winter season.
Meals are provided in the ranch cafeteria three times a day and you're welcome to a game of basketball, volleyball, bowling or swimming afterwards.
Pinehaven staff ask that all volunteers abide by a code of conduct in order to intercept any undo outward influences from their kids. Tobacco, alcohol and drugs are absolutely not allowed. Prescriptions are permitted but should be kept securely out of reach between uses. Profanity is also not allowed. Only Christian music is permitted; no rock, heavy metal or secular music.
Men and women are to sleep on different floors or in different houses. Married couples are not to sleep in the same bed.
They also abide by a dress code: No inappropriately lettered shirts (beer, cigarettes, rock stars, etc.), no spandex shorts, one-piece swimsuits for girls if you go swimming, no tank tops, boys are not allowed to wear earrings, necklaces or any other piercings and must wear a shirt except when swimming, and girls should cover up or take out any piercings that are not in their ears.
Essentially, they ask that everyone on the ranch represent Christ, not the world, and to be a role model of wholesome, pure speech and action.
Your age and skill level will decide what chores you are assigned for the week. Blue collar skills, such as construction, plumbing, and engineering, are highly valuable for operating machinery, housing maintenance and building barns and storage sheds. But if you lack these skills - like me - don't worry, because there is a job for everybody.
I have spent my time gardening, painting, cooking, and sewing. Wood chopping, stacking, fencing, collecting and stacking hay are all jobs that need done and require little more skill than watching and learning.
But no matter your job for the week, make sure to hydrate!
But it's not all work and no play.
Once we arrive at the ranch and settle into our house - usually on a Saturday - we have free range of the property and are welcome to explore as we please. The view of the mountains is beautiful enough to make you want to grab a drink and just sit on the porch for hours. For those more active, like myself, you can gather some friends from your own church or meet up with members from the other visiting churches and meander.
We did this with a group from Nebraska in 2019 and took a hike up into the cow pastures and found an old, abandoned red cabin. The view from the cabin was pleasant and we were happy to rest on the giant front porch after the strenuous uphill climb we'd endured in order to reach it - which is even more difficult given the higher altitude.
On Sunday after church service at The First Christian Church of Saint Ignatius, we had the option of a hike to a waterfall - which can be seen from the ranch - or a drive through the National Bison Range. The first year, bad weather canceled the hiking trip, but the tour of the Bison Range was incredible. We went half an hour before closing, at twilight, and saw so many animals, from bison, to antelope, an elk and even a cinnamon bear!
The most exciting day of the 2019 trip was Thursday, our day off, when we all piled into vans and headed to Glacier National Park. We were unable to go this year, as COVID-19 had regulated the amount of people permitted to enter the park, but the trip we took two years ago is a memory I cherish.
We entered through the West Entrance and browsed the shops at Apgar Village before having a picnic lunch at Lake McDonald. Afterwards, we drove along the Going-to-the-Sun Road which we followed all the way up to the visitor's center at Logan's Pass. We were fortunate to be able to do this, because the full-length of the road had just opened and only stays open until the third Monday in October, weather permitting.
Once there, you had the option of touring the visitor's center or taking a short hike on the Hidden Lake trail. I chose the latter and, despite having to take a 15 minute break three different times due to the high altitude, it was WELL WORTH IT. The view of the lake was breathtaking and I even saw a little family of mountain goats.
All the fun aside, my presence and the presence of all volunteers at Pinehaven is, most importantly, to support a program that is dedicated to rebuilding the family, helping the kids with their schooling, improving behavior, and allowing them the chance to meet Jesus Christ and hopefully give their lives to Him.
I love being a part of something bigger that is working towards a better tomorrow, with the added perk of being constantly surrounded by the stunning beauty of God's handiwork that is Montana.