A New U-Turn for Christ Ranch

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From Addiction to Adoration: U-Turn for Christ Expands to Washington State

Story by Kathy Symborski
Photos by Josh Larson

When Bethany Whinery checked in at the women’s U-Turn for Christ in Perris, CA, in 2017, she had no idea that the Lord would use that experience to bring U-Turn to Prosser, WA, four years later. Her father, Pastor Steve Whinery of Calvary Chapel Tri-Cities, WA, realized that the faith-based addiction recovery program was needed in his area. Overseen by CC Tri-Cities, it opened in April 2021.

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Pastor Gerry Brown (right), founder and director of U-Turn for Christ, headquartered in Perris, CA, responds to a participant during the Q&A time at a regional conference. U-Turn for Christ, a faith-based addiction recovery program, operates 18 ranches in the United States—the newest in Kennewick, WA, which opened April 19, 2021. Their first retreat, held March 2-4, 2022, drew over 55 men from all walks of life from U-Turn ranches in Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington.

She also didn’t know that her maternal grandparents, Gary and Billie Sparks, had mentored U-Turn founder Gerry Brown and his wife Peggy during their early marriage struggles, which eventually sparked the vision for U-Turn. Gerry, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Romoland, CA, along with wife Peggy, have battled firsthand the journey out of addiction. They now dedicate their lives to helping others enslaved in that lifestyle find freedom in Christ.

“I stayed at U-Turn for two years, met my husband Saul Flores there, and Pastor Gerry married us in May 2019,” Bethany explained. She is now the administrator at the Prosser U-Turn for Christ men’s ranch.

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Pastors Gary Sparks (left) and Gerry Brown (right) pray over a young man. Gary mentored Gerry and his wife, Peggy, when they first came to Christ and were set free from addiction and substance abuse.

U-Turn in Washington State
Gerry elaborated, “Bethany and Saul moved back to be near her dad [Steve] after they were married, and he saw the radical change in her. He called me up, saying, ‘We need a U-Turn for Christ in Washington!’ After praying about that, we started up the ministry, sending one of my overseers [Rodney Salazar] from the Perris men’s ranch to be their overseer under Pastor Russ Wood, Steve’s assistant.”

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Pastor Steve Whinery (left) of Calvary Chapel Tri-Cities, WA, talks with Mike Knox, a graduate/now leader of a U-Turn for Christ ranch. Steve saw the need for the U-Turn program after his daughter Bethany’s success at the women's ranch in Perris, CA, in 2017. Gary Sparks and his wife Billie, who mentored Gerry and Peggy Brown, are Bethany’s maternal grandparents and parents to Bobi Whinery, Pastor Steve’s wife.

Pastor Russ, Prosser’s U-Turn director, had served at CC Tri-Cities since the 1990s and has been involved in numerous service projects and prison and street ministries throughout the years. His 42 years as an auto mechanic/refinishing technician had him working alongside and supervising men. Recognizing these qualities, Pastor Steve knew Russ was “made for U-Turn” and asked him to get involved. Russ retired from his job in February 2021 and started work on the newly acquired ranch house the next day.

“There was a lot of work to do, because the property sat for three years,” Russ said. “I spent a little over a week at the Perris ranch to experience the things they do, and they sent Rodney Salazar up to work with us. He has been here as an overseer ever since.”

The ranch opened April 19, 2021, and although smaller than the Perris ranch, it operates under the same format. The property is a little more than six acres, houses four to six men, and is also a “working ranch” with animals to care for, pastures to maintain, fences to fix, irrigation to run, and routine maintenance to perform.

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Men in Phase One of the program worship at the regional U-Turn for Christ conference. The event was held at CC Tri-Cities’ Bar M Ranch retreat center at Bingham Hot Springs in Adams, OR. They began each day by reading Proverbs, then participated in Bible studies throughout the day. During their free time, they explored the 633-acre ranch located in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon.

The Beginning of U-Turn: The Family Connection
In a sense, Bethany’s grandfather, Gary Sparks, is the “grandfather” of U-Turn. When Gerry Brown was on the brink of divorce and losing his family, he was willing to do anything to continue being involved in his children’s lives. “When Peggy asked me to go to church with her, I told her she was crazy. Realizing it was the only way I could continue seeing my kids, I said, ‘Yes.’ The Lord used my love for my children to draw me to Him. That was the day I fell in love with His Word.”

Hungry to learn more of God’s truths, Gerry found mentorship under then-Assistant Pastor Gary Sparks at Calvary Chapel Hemet, CA. “He [Gary] and his wife Billie really took Peggy and I under their wings; we went through marriage counseling with them, addressed all the issues going on at the time,” Gerry related. For two months, he followed Gary’s strict discipleship—a pattern of Bible study, question and answer, and life application. For the next six months, Gerry began to put those truths into action, engaging in men’s fellowship activities and various church ministries while running his flooring business. After eight months of separation from his wife, Gary told Gerry it was time for him to move back home to Peggy and the children. “We began working through a lot of old hurts and pain, but now it’s been 44 years of marriage,” Gerry said. “We have three children all walking with the Lord, and five grandchildren!” Gerry beamed.

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U-Turn for Christ participants study the Book of Proverbs at the conference after a morning teaching from Gerry (right). “The best time for me was waking up in the morning, sitting with my Bible and answering questions from the younger men, having Gary next to me when questions were coming. We saw one man after another breaking, weeping [about needing to get things right], just [from] the answers being given,” Gerry reflected. Typically, each ranch starts their day together, gathered outside around an open fire, as they study Proverbs.

Gerry eventually served in prison ministry, further sparking his vision for U-Turn. This led to starting a home for those coming out of prison, who were struggling with all kinds of addiction. “And that was when U-Turn began to flourish,” Gerry noted. U-Turn’s program is based on his own discipleship experience with Gary. “It was through my intense times of eight months, before I was restored to my wife and family, that the pattern came,” he said. Beginning in a little home in San Jacinto, CA, U-Turn moved to its current location in Perris in 1993. Situated on five acres, the ranch facilitates 50-60 men a month and is a full working ministry.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah 4:10a (NLT)

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Mike Knox leads the conference workshop, "How to be a Leader in a Fallen World." U-Turn graduates, who once spent their lives serving themselves, are now dedicated to serving others.

Retreat & Reunion in Washington State
Every year, U-Turn holds a retreat at the main Perris headquarters for all leaders and former graduates. It’s a celebration: guest pastors speak, Calvary Chapel bands lead worship, and there are games for kids and programs for adults. They feast on the Word, as well as on the pork. “We call these retreats Pig Roasts—we raise hogs on the ranch and butcher about 10 for the event. It’s a great time being together,” Gerry exclaimed.

Bethany revealed, “I wanted the [Prosser] guys to get connected because there are U-Turn for Christ ranches all over the world, but our ranch is small. I began praying about what God wanted us to do to get them involved. He put it on my heart to do a retreat with the other U-Turn ranches that could make it.”

“Here’s the interesting thing,” stated Gerry. “When Bethany initially came to the [Perris] women’s ranch, we didn’t know that [her father] Steve [Whinery] is married to Bobi—and [Bobi’s] parents are Gary and Billie Sparks! So, we got ahold of them and asked them to come help facilitate the retreat.”

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U-Turn Phase One men enjoy fellowship at the retreat before Bible study. Back at their different ranches, participants stay in military school-type quarters—one room filled with bunks for the first two months of the program.

Gary added, “Russ, who directs the ranch in Washington, came down to the Pig Roast in Perris. He shared with Bethany how good that was and how great it would be to have [a retreat] up there. She took over.” Proud grandmother Billie affirmed, “Bethany felt like there were so many people in Washington who didn’t get to go to the Pig Roast, so she just pulled it all together. It was just amazing how she did everything!”

“It really is a big entanglement of God setting things up,” Bethany chuckled. She developed the theme of the retreat, “Unity and Forgiveness,” based on Psalm 133:1: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! “I really wanted the new guys to have fellowship with the other guys from different U-Turn ranches.”

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During the conference, Pastor Gary Sparks prays over a man in Phase One. At the ranches, men are required to participate in morning devotions, daily chores, volunteer community service, evening Bible study, and personal devotion time throughout the day. U-Turn for Christ enjoys a high success rate.

The retreat was held at CC Tri-Cites’ Bar M Ranch retreat center at Bingham Hot Springs, in Adams, OR, March 2-4, 2022. Over 55 men from all walks of life came from U-Turn ranches in Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. Each day began by reading Proverbs, holding Bible studies throughout the day, and using free time to explore the 633-acre ranch situated in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon.

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Pastor Joe Tuccinardi from U-Turn for Christ in Payson, AZ, leads a discussion group after a teaching. Eight pastors taught through the Book of Romans, devoting 25 minutes to each chapter assigned. After each message, they spent 25 minutes in small groups discussing two previously prepared questions.

Feasting on God’s Word
Russ exclaimed, “Pastor Gary wanted to teach Romans—the whole book—in 2 1/2 days. The whole book, that’s gonna be wild, but you know what? It was amazing!” Gary recalled how he, as a brand-new Christian, went to Bible School at Twin Peaks and spent the whole semester going through Romans. “That was the rooting and grounding that impacted our entire lives.”

At the retreat, eight pastors taught through the Book of Romans, devoting 25 minutes to each chapter assigned. After each message, they spent 25 minutes in small groups discussing two previously prepared questions. Additional leaders were assigned to each group to keep the discussion on track and to answer questions. “Having leaders in each group ensured those questions would be answered by them, not leaving it up to the brand new guys,” Gary explained.

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Pastors Gary and Gerry pray over Pastor Angel Baez (center) from U-Turn for Christ in Camino, CA. “Unity and Forgiveness,” the theme of the retreat, was based on Psalm 133:1: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Lupe Delcarmen, overseer at the Perris ranch, reflected, “Romans is a difficult book to teach; I was surprised how well it went. Through that teaching, I was impressed that I need to spend more time with the brethren. It strengthened my ministry skills for those at the ranch. I tend to be very busy, but I need to reach out to people instead of waiting to be called upon.” 

Saul Flores recalled Pastor Steve’s teaching about what you choose to allow your eyes to see and your ears to hear, and how other members in the church body help you make those decisions. As a young father, he knows this is pertinent. “I am excited to impart what I learned to my family and teach them by being an example.” He added, “I know Pastor Gary but had never heard him teach, so it was cool to see that. We are family now, so it was good getting to know him that way!”

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Pastors pray over Gerry, asking God for the wisdom he needs to continue running the ministry for the Lord's glory. “We see the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, change lives—not through psychology, not 12 Steps, just one step: repent, come to Jesus, and He will do the rest,” declared Gerry.

Gerry reflected, “The best time for me was waking up in the morning, sitting with my Bible and answering questions from the younger men, having Gary next to me when questions were coming. We saw one man after another breaking, weeping [about needing to get things right], just [from] the answers being given. We saw the breaking of strongholds, through special prayer and anointing of oil, and watch[ed] God move amongst them. We see the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, change lives—not through psychology, not 12 Steps, just one step: repent, come to Jesus and He will do the rest. Like Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:33, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.’”

                  

The 18 U-Turn for Christ ranches throughout the United States and the 16 in foreign countries are staffed primarily by U-Turn graduates who once spent their lives serving themselves but are now dedicated to serving others.

                  

(To learn more about U-Turn for Christ, visit their website)

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.