Cedar Ranch Retreat Center: Getting Away to “Hear” God’s Voice—Part 2
Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Josh Larson
This is Part 2 of a two-part series about Cedar Ranch Retreat Center, a ministry of Calvary Chapel Crossroads in Culpeper County, VA. To read Part 1, which introduces the history and ministry of the Ranch, click here.
In rural Culpeper County, VA, a small band of believers from Calvary Chapel Crossroads work together to provide a retreat from the world and an opportunity to tune in closely to God’s voice, through His Word. The Cedar Ranch Retreat Center, a beautiful 68.5-acre property, is now open for youth, adult, and church ministry. It has the 40-bed Lodge, swimming pool, horse farm, and sports fields; it’s also the home of CC Crossroads, a fellowship of approximately 60. The church purchased the property in an auction in April 2020, and it has become their mission field—a testimony to God’s work.
Mike Skillman, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Crossroads, VA, leads his congregation in a special “family-style” service, giving members of the church body an opportunity to share what they were learning from the Lord. Students visiting from Liberty University were welcome to share as well.
A Testimony to the Community
The surprising generosity of the local community has allowed camp staff many opportunities to share Jesus with them: in words, actions, and the testimony of God’s goodness.
Cristy Berry, who lives with her husband Guy and two sons in the Lodge, said, “Every day we can see God at work. He sends people who aren’t even a part of our church to come and work. It seems like every day He’s doing something, or someone donates something. We get to be a part of it, and it’s really exciting.”
There are many examples of local generosity, beyond direct financial support. A quarry donated tons of gravel. Neighbors sponsored a Half-K run to raise funds for a handicapped lift for the pool. People have donated topsoil, blueberry bushes, lounge chairs, a pool pump, soccer goals, air conditioning units, and even a used truck. A local couple adopted a field and come every week in the summer to mow it, never accepting payment. Crossroads Pastor Mike Skillman explained, “This couple wanted to do a service to the Lord without being recognized. I could tell they didn’t want to be thanked here but in heaven. So I slipped a note into the crack of a window in their car, saying, You help me glorify God better.”
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Guy Berry, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel Crossroads, shares a devotion during the Sunday morning service at Cedar Ranch Retreat Center, a ministry of the church. The ranch exists to help guests listen to what the Lord wants to show them.
Crossroads member Cheryl Hawkins added, “People come here who aren’t necessarily believers. They hear and see what’s happening here, and in our lives. We have a friend who works in the barn. She said, ‘You know, I think I need to pray. Something’s going on here that I don’t understand.’ They want to come back because they see something happening that they can’t explain—but they also want to be a part of it. They’re drawn to the testimony we have.”
Income and Opportunity
To support the ministry, CC Crossroads runs a horse farm and rents 10 low-income RV spots to those in need. Additional income comes from renting the indoor horse arena, often used for equestrian clinics. Guy Berry, a board member who lives at the Lodge, pondered the opportunities for ministry: “The world comes to us through the RV spots we rent and through the equestrian world.”
Next to Cedar Ranch is Commonwealth Park, a well-known, large equestrian park. Mike shared, “We want to minister to people in the horse community. We have five boarders (as of March 2021) and we’re going to try to share the Gospel with them. One of our boarders started seeking the Lord and has been coming to church here for several months now.”
Two photos above: Liberty University students haul wood rounds from a tree Pastor Mike cut down with a chain saw.
One of the RV renters is a single mom living with her three children and a nephew, who were invited to CC Crossroads’ youth group meetings. Mike related, “They have been coming to youth group for a few months. [This winter], her nephew gave his heart to Jesus for the first time.” The young man wants to grow in his faith through Cedar Ranch programs.
Another way that Cedar Ranch reaches youth is through its Gaining a Purpose (GAP) program, a 36-week individual discipleship experience during the off-camping season. This year, there’s only one student, Timmy Marchica, who is being mentored by Guy Berry. Guy and Timmy are working through Pastor Mike’s book, Discipleship for Life: A Manual for Becoming a Follower of Jesus Christ. Timmy, 20 years old, lives in the Lodge and also works a local job. It all began after he had made a confession of faith and told Mike, his neighbor, that he felt God might be calling him into ministry.
Guy observed, “One of the important things for the GAP program is really to make sure the students have time set aside for the Lord.” When not working at his part-time job, Timmy spends a minimum of 2½ hours a day in time alone with God, followed by an hour of discipleship with Guy. He’s responsible for getting up early in the morning to study Scripture and take care of the Ranch’s animals. The bonus is that Timmy has become a part of Guy and Cristy’s family.
Bobby Hawkins, worship leader and elder at CC Crossroads, leads the congregation in passionate worship.
Timmy, still unsure of what the future holds, admitted that he’s waiting on the Lord. He’s interested in discipling young people to bring them closer to the Lord. “God has definitely helped me to trust Him more and to gain a better understanding of how He works—and just how good He is,” Timmy reflected. “I have such great friends and family who are around me here and at my house. These great people, the faith that they have, are just amazing. They’re full of the Holy Spirit.”
Pastor Mike and Guy hope to build up the GAP program and bring in more students. “It’s a real joy and pleasure,” Guy acknowledged.
Physical Labor & Spiritual Results
During the winter and spring months, nearly 100 students from Virginia’s Liberty University will have spent several weekends working on the Ranch, one way to fulfill their required Christian service hours. They helped clear and burn debris, clean out the horse barn, paint walls and fencing, and re-gravel the driveway. One of those volunteers is Brianna Soliday, who on an early March weekend was among several young women painting the walls of the property’s Cottage that will soon house staff and volunteers. Brianna has recruited many of Liberty’s volunteers. “I go into it as an evangelistic opportunity to try to tell my friends about Jesus,” she relayed with excitement.
Men at Calvary Chapel Crossroads talk with one another on a Sunday morning as they wait for lunch to be served.
Brianna plans to return as staff this summer. “I love this place. Even if you’re going through something spiritually or physically traumatic in your life, you always know that when you come here, it’s safe,” she noted. “You don’t feel like you’re being judged, and you can talk to someone who can be a mentor or encourager for you. They help boost you in the Lord. It’s comforting—you can come up here and feel God’s peace.”
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Psalm 46:10
Fellow student and Cottage painter McKinzie added that coming to the quiet, rural Culpeper ranch is a welcome break from the busyness of campus. “They love us to come up here and are pouring into us, even as we’re serving them. They want us to get in the Word every day, lead us in worship, and we attend their church on Sunday.”
Timmy Marchica (right), the lone student in Cedar Ranch’s Gaining a Purpose (GAP) program, helped lead students from Liberty University during their weekend stay.
Ministry from the Heart
For Pastor Mike, camping ministry is personal: “I don’t think I’ve missed a summer of camp in some form or fashion since fourth grade.” He was young the first time he felt he heard from God at camp. Mike confessed, “The Lord was telling me, I don’t like the way you treat your older sister. It broke me—I had to go and ask for her forgiveness.”
Even more, he received his calling into ministry as a high school junior at a camp. That year, he had become ill and ended up spending much of his summer in bed; during those days he began to really take God’s Word seriously. “That was my time to surrender. I actually read my Bible to hear the Lord’s voice and just pored over it. It was the best summer of my life,” he revealed. Toward the end of summer, he was given permission to attend his church’s sports camp—as long as he promised not to engage in any activities and to sit by the pool all day. Even though sports had been his whole life, he realized, “I just wanted to be in God’s presence.”
Liberty University students take a few moments to enjoy laughter and fellowship as they serve.
As he sat by the pool, though, he noticed the kids who weren’t connecting with the rest—the outcasts. “Five or six middle school kids found me. Nobody was paying attention to them, and I started asking them questions, being interested in them. I was so emptied and full of the Lord and trying to encourage them in Scripture. They seemed to be absorbing it.” His youth leaders were watching; independently of each other, several asked him if he’d ever considered youth ministry. “I really started asking God: Is this what You want me to do with my life? If You want this for me, I’d be OK with it.” It all culminated in a powerful prayer meeting in the camp’s chapel with his youth pastor, Gary Hamrick, who now is senior pastor of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA. Years later, Mike became his first youth pastor.
“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” Joel 2:28
Two photos above: All ages are represented on a Sunday morning at CC Crossroads. The young children especially appreciate the outdoor space the Ranch has to offer.
Now, Mike boldly proclaims that the Lord wants to reveal Himself to His people. “Who am I to know the ways of the Lord and what He wants to do in somebody’s heart? I have no idea. But this is the place where it can happen, to give them a chance to be quiet before God. This is why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
On Saturday, April 24, the Cedar Ranch Retreat Center is holding a Celebration Service. “It’s our one-year anniversary service, when we can say, ‘God, thank You. We want to praise Your name,’” Mike said. The potluck is open to all and the event will feature music from multi-Grammy, Dove Award-winning Christian entertainer Bruce Carroll. For more information, go to CedarRanch.org.
Sheila Skillman (front), along with other women from the church, dish up plates for Liberty students who are spending the weekend working at the Ranch. Sheila is the wife of Senior Pastor Mike Skillman.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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