As a Christ-centered organization, the children we serve at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch are given daily opportunities to grow spiritually. Some come here delighted to continue and strengthen their faith. Others may just be meeting God for the very first time.
Questions are a powerful way for these young people to investigate, explore, begin and grow a personal relationship with their Creator. A primary goal at Boys Ranch is to provide the children we serve with a safe, interdenominational place, free of judgment, where they may find, and then depend on, faith for everyday living.
Weekly home devotionals and chapel services on Sunday mornings are an integral part of home life for our children. Other activities such as prayer rides, the chapel café and the ‘Radicle’ youth group are less formal ways for the adolescent-age children to engage within their spiritual realm.
A special event called “Night of Worship,” held quarterly since 2012, is popular among the residents. These special events provide unique opportunities for young people to deepen their faith.
During the most recent Night of Worship, chapel staff posted a very simple, but profound question on a white board at the front of the chapel.
“Following a time of praise music, scripture reading and prayer, our children were invited to anonymously write out a question for God and attach it to the board,” explained Assistant Chaplain Ray Martinez, who directs the youth ministry. “This was totally optional, just an opportunity they were invited to do. We also gave them the option of putting their question in a basket if they didn’t want to post it on the board.”
Hal Blackburn, director of Christian care, shared how the children began coming forward: “Well over half of the 150 or so young children in the chapel rose and went to the front to write and post a question. It was really powerful.”
God, why do you love me after everything I’ve done to You?
God, why did You take my parents away?
God, why are there so many evil people out there?
“We allowed the children as much time at the alter as they wanted,” Martinez said. Once the crowd had cleared, he and members of the chapel staff approached the board. “The children had posted some profound questions. We didn’t know what child had written what question, but we all felt very compelled to pray over their writings. And, that’s what we did.”
Senior Boys Ranch Chaplain Mike Wilhelm, who finds himself answering children’s questions every day, was not surprised by the questions.
“Most of us will, and should, struggle with the ‘God, why?’ question at certain times in our lives,” Wilhelm noted. He explained that when we believe that God is absolutely powerful and absolutely loving, we have to wonder why evil is allowed to exist.
“The fancy word for this dilemma is ‘theodicy,” the chaplain said. “Tragedies and other life losses have a way of bringing us into the pit of pain, where we really begin to question our faith. Unfortunately, many of our kids have experienced a heavy dose of this.”
Wilhelm further explained it is when these questions and objections are able to come out from the darkest places, where they may breathe in the presence of others, faith suddenly becomes possible.
“It takes room to doubt to be able to believe,” he said.
Chapel activities, like all aspects of Boys Ranch living, are intended to create safe spaces where our children feel they belong — spaces for honest questioning.
For it is here, with God’s help, faith may emerge and fears be relieved.