Hello my name is John Bowling and I have now lived at the ranch for 9 years. My time here at the ranch has been full of peaks and valleys but I have learned so much from being here. I must first start off this story by saying that the fact that I am even here today is a miracle. My mother was an alcoholic and drug addict when she was pregnant with me and because of this the doctors strongly suggested that I be aborted because of the problems that they foresaw with me. I was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and was in very bad health at birth but God’s plan kept me alive and is still going today. I came when I was ten years old and I could not have needed a place like the ranch at that point in my life as I did then. I had previously been living with my mother in a small apartment in inner city Knoxville. We separated from my stepfather because of his abusive behavior towards me and my mother. Times were often difficult as we were forced to live in a homeless shelter for a little while as well as other organizations designed to help the needy.

My mother was not able to work because of a physical disability which forced us to live on a small check that she received each month. My spiritual well being up to this point was twisted to say the least. I and my family believed in the Bible but that didn’t make us Christians. Any fool can see the things around us and realize that a higher power had to create it. But it’s a relationship with God that makes us his children. Up to the point of coming to the ranch I had yet to experience a real relationship with him. When I did come to the ranch I found it very difficult to leave my mother. Although the environment here was so much nicer I still had this innate desire to be with my mother. But through the love and care of everyone here at the ranch I soon came to call this my home.

I cannot say that there one exact point where I became a Christian, it was more of a process in which I slowly realized that I had two choices. Live the life of a sinner and go to hell or surrender my life to Jesus and live with him eternally. I chose option 2. The ranch really put an emphasis on teaching us to read our Bibles daily and memorize the scriptures in order to grow closer to God.

In Psalms chapter 119:11 it says “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

I have found that this verse is so true. Now that I have God’s word in my heart I hear him speak to me all the time. And the more I think about his word the easier it is to follow it. My plan had been to graduate a year early from wears valley ranch and go to college to get a head start on life. But these plans changed when I was given the opportunity to go to pigeon forge high school for a year to participate in the sports there. I found out how difficult it really is to resist temptations and continue to be a light in the darkness. But with God’s help I really believe that I showed a good example of a Christian lifestyle.

Now I’m going to college at Middle Tennessee State University and I’m learning new things everyday. I’m learning patience with my financial aid process and trying to find the money to pay for my education. I’m learning responsibility in having to get a summer job to help pay. But most of all I’m learning Trust, to have trust in God whose plan is perfect. I worry all the time about things that I think I have control over. But I am so wrong because God knows everything and things will happen just the way he intends for them to. With this knowledge I am comforted and ready to do his will.

It’s so hard to believe that my life would take so many turns and I know that I don’t deserve the things I’ve received any more than the next guy. I’m not the only person in the world who has a troubled childhood but God chose to pick me out and put me in a position where I could be successful. And when I sit down and think about it, I realize that it’s a miracle that I am where I am because I did nothing to be here. And so God has taken me from a newborn baby who was nearly aborted, to a child who lived with an abusive stepfather, to a ten year old who had to take care of his own mother, to a kid living in a homeless shelter and then a children’s home, and now to a man who seeks God. I would not trade any of the things I experienced no matter how horrible they may have been because I know that God has a perfect plan for me and I am absolutely content with that.

To begin, I would like to give praise to my Maker, who granted me the strength and perseverance to succeed through the last four and a half years. Before I came to Wears Valley Ranch I wasn’t sure if my life had any real purpose or even if I was going anywhere. But since coming at the age of 13, the God of grace and mercy has grown and stretched me beyond what I had even thought possible, and for that I give Him praise.

My spiritual and educational journey at St. Andrews has been a process, just like anything else. There were ups and downs, and trials beyond words, but through it all, the staff stuck with me, and I had constant encouragement, and for that, I say thank you to all who have played a major role in my life. It is here at WV that I truly came to know the meaning of love, and the meaning of grace and salvation. Thank you, Wears Valley, for pointing me to the only one who could satisfy all my desires, and full fill me to the utmost.
Looking back, I never thought I would make it to this point of graduation, where I would reach the end of this chapter in my life and begin the next. I thought I was going to be a kid forever. And now part of me still wishes I was! But I must give credit where credit is due. I could not have made it this far without the constant love and encouragement of my family. To my mother, I say thank you for being my number one cheerleader, and for not giving up on me when things seemed too hard. I say thank you for loving me, even when I was unlovable. To my grandparents, who were always the balancing point, and were always careful to make sure things were okay. To my sisters and brothers, for reaching out to me when I seemed the farthest away and gently pulling me back in with your love. I love each of you, and am so grateful the Lord chose to place me in this family.

To you students, I give you the challenge of perseverance when things seem too hard to keep going. I echo Paul when he says, “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” These trials are going to come, and you must know to whom you belong. As you know, the capacity for students at, Wears Valley Ranch is very small, therefore I say, each of you is here for a reason, and the Lord has big plans for all you. You must push on when the hard times come, and rest assured, that He will reward you. Choose to be the leaders and not the followers, and choose to make the difference by going against the “normal.”

As I close this chapter of my life and prepare for the next, I say thank you Pastor Wood, for showing me the truth through our Father Jesus Christ. Thank you to each of you who played a role as a houseparent in my life, and not allowing me to dwell in self pity when things didn’t go my way. Wears Valley Ranch will always be my home, and where my heart is. My hope and prayer is that some day, the Lord will enable me to give back what you have given to me. Thank you.

When I came to the Ranch three years ago, I had previously been in three different living situations because my mom was very sick and unable to take care of me as I got older. Not one of those living situations was very good. Each time I came out of them progressively more depressed, hating life, having a low self-esteem, and thinking that all of those situations ended badly because it was my fault.

To be honest when I first heard I might come to the ranch I was not too excited and I did not want to come. I was very cynical and I had expected the ranch to turn out just like the other homes. I thought that the first few months, everything would go well, then I would do something to mess it up and then the rest here would go badly. My brother had told me that my situation here would only be temporary and after my year was up I could come back home and live with him. I could not wait until my year was up before it even started. But it did not take long for me to realize that the Ranch was not like any of the homes that I had lived at. After about a month I went home on break and I told my mom that I did not want to come home after a year. My mom was very surprised but she could tell that I really liked the ranch. I was even surprised at myself but I knew that for some reason I needed to be at the ranch. Apart from my family, I had never been around so many people that genuinely cared for me and really wanted me to succeed. Most importantly, I had never been around so many people that loved the Lord they way everyone at the Ranch did.

Shortly after, I began to have doubts about my faith. I had grown up in a Christian home and had heard about God all my life. I had accepted Christ at a young age but I did not remember the details and I thought I was too young to understand what I meant when I “prayed the prayer”. I thought I was not saved because of this and also because I could not do anything good. One night, I had expressed what I was feeling to Pastor Wood and he read to me Titus 3:5 which says that Christ “saved us not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…” I then understood that there was nothing I could to for Christ to save me but I only needed to trust in him as my savior. That night Pastor Wood prayed with me and I became sure of my faith. I know now that Christ died for me because he loves me. After that, I could really see God working in my life. I am still growing and there is still a lot that I need to learn but I know now that God will never leave me or forsake me and he will never stop loving me. 
One night I was reading Romans 8:28. “And we know that In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” That night, everything was made clear to me. I then realized that God was with me when I went through the tough times in my life and knew all along that they were all going to. I never thought my trials would end and I and always wondered why I had to go through them but my trials did end and God was with me the whole time working out his perfect plan in my life. Now I know that if I did not go through what I did, I would not be standing before you all today and I would still be thinking I could win God’s favor by my works.

God has been so great to me and his presence in my life is evident. One, by bringing me here to the Ranch and also by things that has happened in the past month. I know now that God is so much greater than my circumstances and his plans really are perfect and so much better than I could ever had imagined. Now I am going to recite to you all Romans 8:18-38, One of my favorite passages from the Bible and one that always reminds of God’s unfailing love for me no matter what I go through.

Coming to the Ranch, I didn’t know what to expect. But I found people who love me: people who care about what I do, who care about what I say, and who want me to believe in the right things. Thank you so much for teaching me my classes, proper English, and how to live life to the fullest. Other than learning school, my five years here have been full of love, joy, peace, comfort, and of course, laughter. I love that the Ranch is just like another family, but bigger. Everyone here has brought a feeling of love and protectiveness into my life.
Mr. Seth asked that I thank him in my speech, so I am. Thank you Mr. Seth for all the fun times I had learning at rec. Thank you for the amazing summers when I worked camp. I have grown a lot from both you and Mrs. Amy these past few years. Thank you Pastor and Mrs. Wood for founding the Ranch. Thank you for making the Ranch work in such a way so that it brings and knits together those who are here.

Just being able to watch you two and listening to what you have to say has been so helpful to me. As a lot of you know it is not always easy staying at the Ranch. I want to thank those who encouraged me to do the right thing and to follow God’s voice and I want to thank my family for letting me continue my school here. This really is where I am supposed to be, and I am glad that I followed God’s directions.
Everyone here has been a blessing to me. I’m glad I am staying close by, that way I can still see you guys around the Ranch. I am going to say Romans 12, I see it as an admonishment to you all and myself. It also seemed appropriate for this special occasion. Here it goes…

Romans 12 (New International Version)

Living Sacrifices

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.


Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In Psalm 63 it says, “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings” This sums up my life and where I am today. The only reason I stand before you now is because God has been my help. He has carried me through the hard times and blessed me so much! All I can say is that we serve an amazing God! The biggest blessing he has given me is the people he has placed in my life that love me. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for all the blessings He has given me. I look out and see all the people whom God has placed in my life and I stand in awe! I have done nothing for God to bless me so much and yet He still chooses to do it. Each of you is a reminder of how much God loves me. There have been times in my life where I have struggled and God placed exactly the right person to help me during that season. I want to thank all you who were obedient to Christ, because without your obedience, God could not have used you in my life.

I just want to take the time right now to thank some of you that God has used. To Pastor and Mrs. Wood, I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am for the Ranch. Your obedience to God in starting the Ranch is the one blessing that has had the biggest impact on my life. I thank you also for your guidance and prayers for me over the years. I love you both very much.

To Mr. Douglas and Mrs. Nancy, and Papa and Mama Bair, words cannot express how thankful I am to God for placing you all in my life. You all have had such an influence on my life and on my family’s lives. I am so thankful God brought us together almost 12 years ago. It is hard to believe it has been that long. It seems like time has flown, from when I was here as a 6 year old until now as I stand before you as a graduate.

To the ranch staff that has helped me so much in these last 4 years. I thank all the house parents for your guidance and love. I love all of you very much.

I am especially thankful for all the interns that I have had. You all who take a year or two to devote yourselves to serving all the kids here, I look up to you so much. I thank you for your all advice and friendship. I look forward to keeping in touch with you.

God has also blessed me with some wonderful friendships. My peers who help me to strive to be more like Christ. I am so glad that God gave me those friendships to sharpen me the way they have.

As I said before, we serve an amazing God. He placed me in just the right family so that I could come to know him and grow in him more. I love each of you, my grandparents and my uncle. My dad, I love you very much and I am thankful God has given me you for a father. To my brothers and sister, David and Jason, I look up to you both so much. I know God could not have given me two brothers who love me more than you two do. You two are my heroes and, I am so blessed to be your sister. My little “big” sister, Alex, I am so glad I can be your older sister and I don’t ever want you to forget how much I love you. I could not have asked for a better sister!

Now to all the students, you need to listen to me right now. Do not tune me out! I want to encourage you to realize what an amazing gift God has given you to be able to come to the Ranch. As students, I think we sometimes forget how great it is to be in a place where we are loved and cared for so much. I also want each of you to realize that God has brought you here for a reason. He has a purpose for you time here. The more time you spend complaining about being here, about the rules, and the adults, the less time you are spending glorifying God. Be sure your attitudes are attitudes of praise and not of complaining. I urge you to learn to shine like stars here, so that when you leave you will know how to shine in the darkness.

Finally, as I leave the Ranch and move into this next chapter in my life, I am thankful that God has given me the training and tools I need to serve him. I know I am nowhere near the end of learning what I need to know to serve him fully. And I don’t think I ever will be while I am still here on earth. But I am so thankful for what he has taught me so far. Now I face the same challenge I have given to you students: to leave the Ranch, and be a light in the darkness. I ask you to pray for me that I will step up to the challenge to shine like a star that is so bright that people will want to know our savior Jesus Christ.

And this is where I end, with Jesus, without whom none of this would have been possible. To my God, my Savior, my Friend, and my brother, to Jesus I give all the credit for all he has done in my life.

At eleven years old I could not have imagined the things that God would have for me over the next seven years. And it’s certainly been better than anything I could have imagined. At eleven years old I was without a mom and practically without a dad, without a future, without a hope, and most importantly, without Jesus. Now I have a mom and a dad, I’m looking forward to a bright future, and my hope is in Jesus Christ. There have certainly been hard times, but God has always placed people in my life just when I needed them. It began with the Eatons, who met me at eleven. I was a kid with nothing in the world, and they gave me my first example of the love of Christ. Since then there have been so many people who have played key roles in my life. All placed there exactly in God’s timing, to help me and mold me into what he wanted me to become. People like the Booths, the Rouses, the Elsteins, and the Mercers are some examples of people God used. But thank you to all the ranch staff who have had to put with my pride and stupidity, some of you longer than others. And of course, to my Mom and Dad who introduced me to Jesus Christ, something worth living for. Thank you so much for your unconditional love, I can never begin to express how much you mean to me.

I can never repay you all for what you’ve done for me, but as my mom said to me the other day, “The best payback is to go out and live for Jesus.” So the best that I can do is to go out into the world, and be the godly man you’ve all raised me to be. I love you all so much. God bless you, and thank you.