U-Turn for Christ Women's Ranch
U-Turn for Christ Women's Ranch

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Turning Souls Away from the Snares of Death—Freedom from Drugs & Alcohol at the U-Turn for Christ Women’s Ranch

Story by Carmel Palmer
Photos by Tom Price

U-Turn for Christ is a Christ-centered discipleship program for men and women seeking restoration and transformation from drug and alcohol addiction through Jesus Christ. The program is based entirely on the Word of God. This article originally ran in Issue 70 of Calvary Chapel Magazine.

“I would forgive my father if…”

The sentence from that week’s Bible study leapt off the page for Josie Madrid. Immediately, she knew how she would fill in the blank: if he died. Dark memories of her father’s rage and alcoholism swarmed inside her head: the dread she felt as a child when he came home drunk from the bar he owned, watching him beat her mother and brothers, knowing she was next. The emotional damage from his destructive behavior had set off a chain reaction of self-destructive choices in Josie’s life: substance abuse, three major overdoses, a cumulative six years in prison, and ultimately broken relationships with her loved ones.

Group prayer

Peggy Brown and the ladies from the ranch gather in the living room to pray for a young lady who was in a car accident.

During her time at U-Turn for Christ Women’s Ranch in Perris, CA, Josie had learned that only through her relationship with Jesus Christ could she conquer her addictions as well as the emotional wounds causing them. Now in the U-Turn program’s second phase, Josie had opted to take the “Healed & Set Free” class, based on the book by Tammy Brown. “Until I took that class,” Josie acknowledged, “I didn’t realize I was still carrying so much bitterness toward my father. I knew I needed to be honest with the class about what I was feeling. As soon as I spoke it aloud, it felt like 1,000 pounds were lifted off me. Through that class, God freed me from my bitterness.”

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Josie eventually became head overseer of the 15-acre ranch’s 33 women, and now lives in U-Turn’s second-phase home in Hemet, CA. The ranch is one of many U-Turn programs worldwide founded by former drug addicts Gerry and Peggy Brown. Since 1996, the ranch has helped nearly 3,000 women through its Christ-centered, two-phased approach. The goal is to go beyond addiction recovery to the full restoration and transformation God intends for everyone. “God rescued Gerry and me out of our darkness,” Peggy declared, “and now we have the privilege and honor of pouring into others the hope God has given us.”

Peggy smiles

Peggy Brown (right) encourages the ladies at the U-Turn for Christ Women’s Ranch in Perris, CA.

Healed and Restored

Josie learned about the U-Turn program while in prison for drug possession and distribution, entering it immediately after her 2014 release. One day during her first phase, Josie got ten rose thorns embedded in her sandaled feet while taking out the trash. “As I removed them one by one,” she related, “I felt the Lord reminding me of the thorns pushed into His head on Calvary—except those were worse than mine. He was telling me He’s felt all the hurt I have felt, and more. Every time I doubt, I look back to the cross.” Josie has endured many beatings, stabbings, and gunshot wounds, but the deepest wound in her life was the loss of her youngest daughter, Jasmine, kidnapped 16 years ago at age 2 by the girl’s father and his new girlfriend. One day in the Healed & Set Free class, she shared the story. “I told the girls I had faith God would bring her back into my life. Thirty minutes later, the phone rang. Jasmine wanted to meet me.”

“We were reunited on December 26, 2015—it was God’s Christmas present to me. I held her in my arms, and we both cried happy tears of God’s restoration and amazing love. Peggy let us use the chapel for our reunion. It was only by God’s grace and mercy that my daughters, Jasmine’s dad, and his wife were able to gather in the same room. His wife was actually the first one I hugged. He had cheated on me with her, and then when they snatched Jasmine, my heart was so broken. But when I saw her, I was filled with God’s forgiveness. We set aside our problems and focused on our child.” Over a barbecue lunch, Josie learned about Jasmine’s life, savoring each tidbit of information—her upcoming graduation from a Christian high school; her love of ice cream; the choir she sings in. Josie avoided bringing up the past, talking instead about what she was learning at the ranch. “It’s so incredible how God orchestrated all this!” Josie exclaimed. “How can I ask Him for more? He brought my child back.”

For the Lord … will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. Isaiah 51:3

Worshiping

Women from the ranch participate in worship during the U-Turn for Christ Friday night Bible study.

“Women come here with so many worries,” commented Peggy. “They can’t see how God could repair the ruined parts of their lives. After a few weeks sitting at the feet of Jesus, studying His Word, their whole countenance begins to change. A light turns on inside them—their eyes sparkle, their skin tone and the tone of their voices change. It’s like when a baby is born blue and the doctor spanks it and it takes that first gasp of air and fills with life. Getting to watch that change is an incredible blessing.” After launching the Men’s Ranch in 1994, Gerry and Peggy received many calls about women in need of U-Turn’s programs—but didn’t have a place to house them. One day, a pickup truck pulled into the ranch. The driver introduced himself as one of the ranch’s neighbors, Jerry Cohen. “I’ve been watching you for a year,” he reported, “and I can’t believe how you’ve transformed this property. What are you doing?” After learning about U-Turn, Gerry recalled, “He asked me, ‘Could you use 15 more acres?’ I told him we don’t have the money. He retorted, ‘I didn’t ask if you had money. I asked if you could use it.’” The property enabled them to build the women’s ranch only one mile from the men’s, though they avoid contact aside from Sunday church services. Peggy explained, “We’re very clear that they’re here to focus on Jesus. Anyone caught sneaking around has to dig a five-foot by five-foot hole.”

Woman with goats

Carolyn Osborn tends to the livestock at the Perris, CA, ranch.

Peggy continued, “We have to have rules—wherever these women go in life, there will be rules they need to follow. But at the same time, when someone rebels, my first question is, How have they been wounded? God knows the hurts they carry long before they’re ready to open up to me. Our leaders seek to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in each situation.” The program immerses women in God’s Word. They begin their days studying a chapter of Proverbs together, each woman choosing one verse they feel applies to how God is working in their lives. At lunchtime, they receive a memory verse hand-picked for their relationship with Christ, starting with Philippians 4:13. Nightly Bible studies, often featuring guest speakers from surrounding Calvary Chapels, are followed by personal reflection time before bed. “For the first week after a new girl arrives, we just let the dust settle,” Peggy explained. “She has to keep the meal schedule and the morning Proverbs study, but otherwise we give her room to rest and adjust. When I got off drugs, I was 95 pounds—I couldn’t get out of bed. Having experienced it myself helps me have discernment to handle this stage on a case-by-case basis.”

Dorine Castle arrived at U-Turn after 25 years in prison for accidentally killing her infant. At first, the anger issues that had caused her to shake her baby still dominated her behavior. The staff encouraged her to get away from the masses, as Jesus did, and let God calm her down. They gave her memory verses about a quiet and gentle spirit. During the two years she decided to stay, God transformed her. Dorine now lives in Maine with her husband, a retired chief of police. Still close with the Browns, she joined them this August at Franklin Graham’s Decision America prayer rally in Augusta, ME, passing out 1,000 signs reading, “Prayer Changes Things: Philippians 4:6.”

Prayer

Pastor Gerry Brown, Peggy (middle), and Josie (far left) pray over one of the new residents. As Scripture encourages, Gerry anointed her with oil before the group began to pray.

Facing Forward

Each morning, the ranch’s women gather to divide into work crews, both on the ranch and in the surrounding community. The constantly changing assignment list is divvied out according to each woman’s skills and needs. Some help at CC Romoland’s K-12 school, where working with the children helps motivate them to return to and teach their own children about God. Others are sent to CC Bible College Murrieta, where Maria Graciano teaches them housekeeping skills as basic as making beds. All assignments help equip women for future life, work, and ministry outside the ranch.

Transition to the outside can be difficult. Before a woman leaves, the staff tries to connect her to a Calvary Chapel community and offers counsel. “I speak to them out of my own mistakes,” Peggy confessed. “I’d been a Christian one month; I thought I had the bull by the horns. I went to tell a close friend about Jesus and ended up using drugs for a weekend. I’ve learned prayer can be just as effective as going to see someone. And, if you go, remember three things: take an accountability partner, don’t stay too long, and don’t go on old turf—meet somewhere neutral. You have to be very careful because our enemy uses triggers. For me, something as simple as our bathroom mirror in our old house would whisper to me, This is where you used to use dope. You should use it now. I had to fight back, saying ‘In the name of Jesus, by the blood of Christ, I will not do that.’”

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Philippians 3:12

Women with babies

Ranch residents enjoy visits from family during Sunday visitations.

Carolyn Osborn, now the ranch’s administrative assistant, became involved in an unsanctioned relationship while in her second phase. She left the program and was soon using drugs again. Instead of giving up, she humbled herself and returned to U-Turn to start over. She was determined not to focus on getting to the program’s end but on learning and receiving. “My soul felt dead in the beginning,” she asserted. “I’d hear other girls’ laughter and wish I could have that joy.” On the long drive to work crews, Carolyn would stare out the window, dwelling on the string of abusive relationships behind her and how low she had fallen. God, I’m trying to be a doer of Your Word and cast my cares on You, she prayed. Why am I still so angry? “I felt God replying that I was angry because I was hurt and abused. But if I would keep giving these things to Him, He would take my hurt and anger and replace it with healing. After a couple of weeks, I was laughing again. He restored my joy.”

But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14

There is a new U-Turn for Christ women’s facility in central Pennsylvania.

uturnforchrist.com

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. 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.

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