Many people who battle addiction realize later that their problem didn’t stem from just craving the substances themselves; it involved a wounded or missing relationship in their life.
Christian Life Ranch, an Adult & Teen Challenge men’s training center in New River, Arizona, is committed to helping men identify and deal with those hurts and, most importantly, find a relationship with Christ.
Rick W. Casto says he never fit in at church, although his Christian mom, Pat, attended. Casto sought the approval of his non-Christian dad, but never felt he could please him. At age 13, Casto began using drugs, and for a time he felt the acceptance he so wanted. He later became involved in a sexual relationship that resulted in a daughter, Ashley, but when he couldn’t stay clean, his girlfriend left him to join the military. He lost custody of Ashley and spent time in jail.
The breaking point came when his depressed father took his own life on Casto’s mother’s birthday. Angry with his dad for hurting his mom, Casto — despite being high on drugs — determined to clean up the blood scene from his father’s suicide at the family home to spare his mother. Paul N. Singh, who pastored Paradise Hills Church, where Pat attended, refused to let Casto go alone.
“It was a long, quiet ride,” recalls Casto. “All he said was, ‘I love you.’” Those words came back to Casto “every time I started to sin,” until finally he had a dream of his father asking, How is what I did any different than what you’re doing?
Casto realized he needed to find help. In 1999, Singh introduced him to Teen Challenge in the north Phoenix area, where Casto submitted his life to Christ after a chapel service vision of Jesus on the Cross. He graduated from the Christian Life Ranch program in 2000 and began working there. Now Casto, 52, serves as ranch director. He is married to Marie, and they have a daughter, Danielle, 13, in addition to a restored relationship with Ashley.
Individuals entering Teen Challenge typically spend their first few weeks at an intake center, where they work toward sobriety if necessary. They learn to handle structure and responsibility before moving to a training phase such as Christian Life Ranch. Then, during around an approximate eight-month stay in a training program, enrollees learn to identify deeper issues, wrong beliefs, and old wounds, plus learn accountability and trust.
“Discipleship is truth being transmitted through relationship,” says Casto. “We set a standard of Christlike behavior among both students and staff, and help develop day-to-day habits that make the difference.”
Students also learn to work together in practical ways and to prepare to take new, constructive habits into the workplace. Those who need to catch up educationally receive help from a teacher on staff and through partnerships with educational programs in the community. Residents learn skills such as woodworking, a coffee-roasting microenterprise, and tending gardens and chickens. The ranch also has labor contracts with a business that preps cars for auction plus a catering company that feeds first responders. Students serve in the ranch’s public relations office, assisting with production of a regular livestream program called “The Ranch Live” and a “Man on the Street” feature.
Christian Life Ranch sponsors community activities, including a golf scramble and an annual bike run. Such outreaches build connections in addition to serving as fundraisers. Teams also help conduct worship for other U.S. Missions Arizona Adult & Teen Challenge facilities. There are regular family days where students and families learn together, with question-and-answer sessions as well as lessons about enabling and boundaries.
These events require management and coordination, and center supervisor Josh W. McLeod wears many hats to keep the activities running. He oversees the daily schedule and staff duties, and teaches the “Conquer” series on dealing with pornography and sexual addiction. With a degree in electronics and technology, McLeod is responsible for the ranch’s online presence, including the livestream. He is also a guitarist and coordinates worship teams.
McLeod, 39, grew up in a conservative Christian home, but fell into a wrong crowd at age 16 when his family moved from Illinois to Arizona. Following wisdom teeth surgery, he became hooked on painkillers, which eventually led to heroin use. After three years, McLeod realized he had problems: an ill-advised marriage had ended, and heroin abuse had taken a toll on his health. Down to 130 pounds and desperate, he called his mother, Barbara,to ask if he could return home.
Dream City Church Scottsdale, where Barbara attended, recommended Teen Challenge and Christian Life Ranch.
“God really met me there,” McLeod says. Going through aching withdrawal at the intake center, McLeod says he learned that “Christ understands pain.”
McLeod graduated the program in 2006, served an internship, and started working there in 2007. In 2009 he married Johanna, and they live on site and home school their five children.
“Secular programs have a goal to get you clean and sober, but Teen Challenge is different because the goal is a relationship with Christ,” McLeod says. “The addiction is just a symptom. Knowing Christ brings true freedom.”
Lead Photo: Rick Casto (right) and his wife, Marie (left), have a daughter Danielle.
Bottom photo: Josh and Johanna McLeod have five children: (from left) Ames, Asher, Nora, Lily, and Evelyn.