Changing Lives At Chestnut Mountain Ranch – With Steve Finn: Police officers see the results of moral decay every day. However, many have learned what our Founders knew: good values lead to the right solutions. Today we share the miracle story of one former police officer who has given his life to help restore the lives of trouble, fatherless youth. Tune in to be inspired and learn how you can make a lasting, life-giving difference!
Air Date: 11/17/2021
Guest: Steve Finn
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: Â As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Faith and the Culture
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live, we’re talking about the hot topics of the day, from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective. You can learn more about that perspective and the program at our website, wallbuilderslive.com.
That’s where you’ll also learn about us, the host, first of all, David Barton, he is America’s premier historian, and our founder at WallBuilders; Tim Barton, he’s a national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders, and I’m Rick Green, former Texas legislator, and America’s Constitution coach.
Again, wallbuilderslive.com, that’s the place to give your one-time or monthly contribution as well. You help us get the truth out there when you make that donation. So, thanks to all of you that have been doing that. And thanks to you that are considering it. We appreciate you going today and making that contribution. Wallbuilderslive.com is the website.
David and Tim, it’s not a Good News Friday, but it’s going to feel a little bit like a Good News Friday. We’ve got kind of a feel good story that’s actually powerful. It’s really part of the solution to turn our culture around. And it’s about a guy, former police officer that saw that he could make an even bigger difference by starting a school where he can minister to young men that were frankly, having a tough time that we’re going down the wrong path. So a really cool story we’re going to get today from Steve Finn.
Yeah, and this is a great example of someone who actually sees life at a very real level. I mean, if you’re a police officer, so many of us we don’t encounter that many criminals, at least that we know of in a daily basis. And so we see maybe what goes on in a jaded view because we’re surrounded by a lot of stuff that’s not necessarily criminal. On the other hand, if you’re a police officer, you’re seeing the worst stuff in society going on a regular basis, and you’re seeing where policies actually lead and what they produce.
One of the things that jumps to mind is how much the Founding Fathers emphasized with the Bible taught about that you have to have religion and morality: without that, you lose control of your behavior. Jesus said in Mark 7, all crime comes out of the heart, everything is in the heart. Murder comes out of the heart. Theft comes out of the heart.
Morality is the Answer
Everything comes from there. And for a lot of people, we have lived in a Christian culture so long that we still have a sense of Christian values about what’s right and what’s wrong. Even though most people can’t quote the 10 Commandments, they know that it’s wrong to steal or to murder, or to perjure themselves or whatever. But that’s because we still have a sense of religion and morality about us.
But if you’re in a lot of families where that has not been there, maybe in a generation there, you’re raised in communities where that’s not part of the community, I mean, on a very real sense, I think what police officers see is the policy effects of not understanding how important religion morality is.
Yeah, and I think many situations too, especially if you live in an inner city, a lot of the issues you’re seeing are kids coming from fatherless homes. So there’s not the parent there to instill some of those values, which sometimes it could be because that maybe father’s lacking values to stay with the woman he got pregnant, or right, there could be a widowed or a widower situation. There could be a lot of factors involved.
But certainly, there are good solutions, and good values that would lead to the right solution, where the Founding Fathers talked about the need for the Bible to be in schools, and the reason that we should teach kids when especially when they’re young to read and study and know the Bible is as you put those good values in them, we know the Bible tells us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, that what is in a man will come out of a man; and when you start putting the right character, the right values, the right morals into somebody, it will have an impact in the way they live their life.
And this is a great story of a police officer who has tried to both ways, who was working to make a difference in the city where he was. And we’ve actually had many times on this radio program over the last year or two where we’ve tried to highlight some of those really awesome police officers who are really working to make a difference, whether they’re from their own financial position helping get somebody gas or food or meeting needs, there are so many good officers out there.
And yet we also recognize there’s a limitation to what police officers can do, especially when it comes to reaching the hearts of young people and pointing them in a different direction. And this is a police officer who found another way to help outside of the police force, who got involved and is now making an incredible difference in a lot of lives. It really is a feel-good story.
Steve Finn is going to be our special guest. So stay with us through the break, folks, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American History. Too often today history education excludes great black heroes from the American founding, such as Lemuel Haynes. Haynes, abandoned as a baby, pioneered churches across upper New England. He became the first black American to pastor a white congregation, to receive an honorary master’s degree, and to be ordained by a mainstream Christian denomination, the Congregationalists. He was a soldier during the American Revolution.
And in his churches on George Washington’s Birthday, he regularly preached sermons honoring George Washington. Even late in his life, he expressed his willingness to go back to battle if necessary to protect America, which he called a Sacred Ark. American history is filled with numerous examples of black heroes who are largely ignored by mainstream education today.
For more information about Pastor Lemuel Haynes and other colonial patriots, go to wallbuilders.com.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us today. Steve Finn is with us from Chestnut Mountain Ranch program. Steve, thanks for coming on.
Hey, it’s an honor to be here.
Hey, great article in The Epic Times about your story and the lives that are being changed. Originally, a police officer, thanks for serving there as well. But you saw something you could do to make an even greater difference in the lives of these young men that you guys help. So we wanted to share your story with folks from across the country, and also send them to your website so they can help you financially so you can reach more young people as well. But anyway, we appreciate you coming on, man. Tell us a little bit about what made you to decide to go from being a police officer to starting a school?
Leaving the Police Force to Make a Difference
Well, thank you, Rick. I was an officer in metro Atlanta for 12 years. And I had the honor and privilege to serve and absolutely love what I did. I was proud of wearing the badge. And I saw that tragic situations over the years where mostly fatherless homes were leading youth into poor decisions that would lock him up for the remainder of their youthful years, or they’re putting them in the grave early. And I was just talking to my wife over and over again, you know, what could we do to get to these kids before they got down that path?
And how old were you at that time? You’ve been in the Force 12 years, so I mean, you’re probably about early 30s?
Yeah, so I was about 32-years-old, and we were living just outside of Metro Atlanta. And God was stirring something within both of us. And we weren’t really sure what was going on. But we went on some mission trips. We tried this, and we tried that, there were good experiences, but it wasn’t what our aha moment was leading us to.
And then one day, I got introduced to a children’s home called Eagle Ranch in North Georgia and my wife and I went to visit, next thing I know, we were getting a job offer and we walked away from law enforcement. And we got on the front lines of this type of work. Back in 2002, 2003, 2004, we were house parents.
We had seven teenage boys in our house, and I thought being an officer on the streets of Atlanta would have prepared me for anything. But I can tell you being a house parent is one of the toughest jobs and one of the most rewarding jobs. But you’ve got your own family plus seven other boys that have come from wayward past right there in your home.
My wife and I were probably changed more than those boys were during that season. And we saw a program that worked. We saw families being restored. We saw boys turning their lives around and discovering who they were created for in Christ. And it was a marking moment because when I was an officer, I saw these kids in and out of the system being adjudicated for 4-6 months for making a stupid decision, and nothing was really changing in their heart, and certainly nothing was changing in their homes. And here’s this private Christian program that’s knocking it out of the park and so we began to pay attention.
So for most of those boys, I mean, whatever trouble they got in with the law, they’re definitely not going to get the answers in the system, and then they go home, nothing’s changed there: they’re not getting the answer that there was really nowhere that somebody was going to touch their life, and give them the chance to turn around. And that’s what you were saying, hey, we can meet that need, we can fill that gap?
Yeah, that’s right. And so when we were house parents, I’d get the boys out the door to school. And my wife and I started doing state by state research, we wanted to see which state in the country had the highest need and we began praying about taking that program to that state. And so in 2005, we had done our homework, we had built a business plan centered around West Virginia.
And I can remember my wife saying, you know what, they’ve got troubled kids in Florida, I don’t want to move to West Virginia. And so I got to had the throttle off a few months and let her wrestle with that. But she came back to me one day and she said, you know what, let’s go after this. And move into the poor state with a program like this, I had no idea what we were getting into. I mean, I have no fundraising background. I’ve got no public speaking background.
And so we decided, okay, if God’s in this, He’s in it; if He’s not, He’s not. We’re going to give this 12 months, we’re going to do this debt free. We’re not going to borrow from the bank. We’re not going to ask people for money. Let’s put all our chips on the table and go after this. And so in 2005, we moved up here, we packed up the U-haul, and we moved to the mountains of West Virginia.
Wow! Now did you have a property for the school or the home?
No, we had nothing.
Nothing? Wow. So how did you find the place that now became Chestnut Mountain Ranch?
So going back, we made this deal with God, we had 12 months. And He took it right to the 11th hour and so…
12 months of basically your savings?
I mean, 12 months, you’re out of money? No feeding your family?
That’s right. And so we landed here, we couldn’t find properties. Nobody was willing to sell his property without going to a bank. I mean, people thought we were crazy. And we probably were a little bit, but we were committed to doing this debt-free and holding to the line. And so we looked at about 20-30 different properties over that 12 month time frame, we were running out of money. At one point, we got down to $25 in our own bank account. It was a scary time. And I thought I made a big mistake. I need to provide for my family and so I started looking at getting back into law enforcement.
And the phone rang. And we were getting ready to pull out of West Virginia and moved back to Georgia. And my phone rang and there was a gentleman that said, hey, I heard you’re looking for a property, I’d like to talk to you. And we came out and look at this beautiful tract of land. At the time, it was just a little over 200 acres and I told the landowner, I said I don’t have the funds, but if you give me time I need to see if God’s behind this. And he said yeah, me too. I want to see it. I want to see if God’s behind it.
Because I’ve already got this property sold to a developer, if you guys don’t buy it, but he goes, hey, what if, and I said that’s great, what if? So somebody gave us a shot at the last moment, and we had 88 people on our mailing list at that time. So it was like my mom’s Christmas card list. It wasn’t like we had any heavy hitters. But what I didn’t realize was that people were watching us. And some of the Atlanta Falcons players surprised us. We had churches in Atlanta send gifts. We had churches here. Some corporate gifts came in that were very unexpected. And in nine weeks, we wrote a check for this property and we had a $400 balance after the closing.
Nine weeks from the time you started with the property, I was expecting you say three or four years later, we had some donations that allowed us to pay, nine weeks?
Nine weeks, we bought this property. And there was nothing on this property. We bought this raw piece of mountainside. But we were on the land. We were on the map. We had a mailbox. It was an old single wide trailer down at the front and we moved into it. I told my wife maybe a year, and we ended up living in that thing for seven years. But that’s a whole another story. But we saw mission teams starting to show up. We saw people groups come in here from corporate days of giving to school groups coming out here to help us clear brush and cut roads, and we began to blaze a trail through this mountain. And we’ve never seen it stop since.
You know what, we’ve never been bankrolled. But we have seen God provide, ‘give us this day, our daily bread’ has been our battle cry. And we’ve seen this place come out of the ground. Even especially during COVID, we just saw that daily provision come through and then where we’re at today is nothing short of a miracle.
Now tell me how long it took from the time you got the property to where you had your first kids there?
So we bought the property in 06, and we got the first child in 2010. And so it was about four years.
Wow. Man, that’s perseverance.
But we had to cut the roads. The infrastructure was one of the biggest hurdles getting water and gas and electricity into the property.
Yeah. And how many kids can you take now?
Right now we have a capacity for 21 children?
What age range do you shoot for?
Mostly middle school aged kids 11-14.
And is that on purpose? Have you kind of found that that’s the place where you can still interrupt the pattern that’s been developing?
Yes and yes. So that is where most of our applicants are landing in that middle school age range. And we find also that we can turn things around. You know, when behavior issues start to settle in as we become adults, it’s harder to turn, it’s harder to turn that around.
Right. And middle school age, you still got a better shot. I mean, obviously, God can do anything. But in terms of numbers, and what you can have the most impact doing, if that’s the best target, that’s the best targeting. I mean, they live there. So they’re going to school, it’s full time. I mean, they’re going to school, but they’re living there as well.
So we built a school out here. We designed it for 50-60 children so we can grow into this. And it’s nationally accredited through ACSI. And so they go to school here, they live here. We’re a community. And we work very intently with their parents. Most of our children are from the northern part of West Virginia. Like I said at the beginning, the need is the highest here and our phones are ringing. So we’re going to fill each house as it’s built. But we’re taking it in God’s timing. When it comes in, we move ahead; when it doesn’t, we wait.
Wow. Alright. So what is the best way for people to help you because I’m assuming more money you raise, more kids you can touch?
That’s right. That’s right. And every dime counts. And we’ve learned over the years how to turn a diamond to $1 through discounted building materials to mission teams. And we’ve been very good stewards with everything that’s come in. But our website is cmrwv.org. That’s Chestnut Mountain Ranch, WV for West virginia.org.
And we make it easy, folks. Right there at wallBuilderslive.com today, easy to click over right to the website. Go ahead. Sorry, Steve.
No, no, that’s fine. So that’s an easy way to give and find out about us. You can get on Chestnut Mountain Ranch Facebook page and see some recent news feeds. We dedicated our chapel yesterday, which was just beautiful. We did the ribbon cutting on that. Got a wonderful letter from Vice President Mike Pence, and…
Oh, yeah, you went to the White House a couple of times.
We’ve been nine times with the boys to the White House. Yeah.
Nine times? Wow, that was all of that in the Trump administration or have you all been invited back with the Biden administration?
No, it was just during the Trump administration. The story that I just shared with you over the last several minutes trickled into a meeting at the White House and the President, from what I understand, said, get him here, I’d like to meet him. Didn’t have any connections, our family got invited into the White House to meet with the President and the Vice President and spend about a half an hour with him. And then from there, Vice President Mike Pence began, he opened the door for us to start bringing our boys to the weekly Bible study that was held in the White House.
So I just all but short abused that…
Well, I mean, I can imagine the impact on a 15-year-old boy that you’re at the highest level of government in the world and they’re studying God’s word. That is a spike moment. That’s got to stick with them.
You know, I remember it took a young man that had been carried out of his fourth grade classroom in handcuffs. And he was with us for a couple years and it really turned his life around. And he had earned this trip. It was time for him to go. And so we took him to the Bible study. We got a wonderful tour. Some of Mike Pence’s staff took us on a tour afterwards and spent a couple hours with us.
And I was able to sit down with this young man afterwards. I said, do you realize what God has done in your life, where you’ve come from, and where you’re standing right now? And the boys don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And it’s that those moments we can kind of draw them in a little closer and say you got to listen to me, God has a plan and a purpose for your life.
Powerful, powerful stuff. Chestnut Mountain Ranch in West Virginia at cmrwv.org is the website. We’ve a link today at wallbuilderslive.com. Every penny you give makes a difference in a young man’s life. And that’s going to make a difference for generations. Please go to the website today and check it out. Now, Steve, I’m going to be in real trouble with my daughter if I don’t ask this question, because as I’m sitting here perusing your website, is that a golden doodle on the website, is that dog or golden doodle?
My secretary’s doodle. Yeah.
Okay. I just had to be able to tell my daughter that. So she’s going to love that. Absolutely love it. Hey, God bless you, brother. What an amazing story. Obviously, your family has a servant’s heart. You’ve had that, even serving as a police officer, and now the difference that God’s using you to make in these young men’s lives. This is what it’s all about, man. This is what turns our nations around. So we appreciate you and appreciate you spending time with our audience today.
Thank you, Rick. Thank you.
That’s Steve Finn. Stay with us, folks, we’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.
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We’re back here on WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us today. And thanks to Steve Finn for spending some time with us today and just for a great ministry. Guys, I mean, this is what really makes a difference. And just imagine the ripple effect of this. Every one of those young men that comes through that program, that life being turned around, the family that they will end up impacting and raising, the community that they’re going to end up impacting, some of them will go on to run businesses, or be a pastor or run for office, I mean, this isn’t just that one person. There’s a ripple effect over the years, as a result of investing in these young men.
There is. And actually, it reminded me when I was in college, I worked at a children’s home, a place where a lot of, and I just for three years on the weekends, I’d go and volunteer and there were a lot of kids coming in from a lot of tough situations and circumstances. And just like it was described, some of them had a parent or even parents who loved them, just weren’t in situation they could meet their needs and take care of them. And so I went and volunteered on the weekends this home and it was a Christian run home.
And certainly, when these kids were in a place where they were loved, they were valued, there were boundaries, there were standards they were consistently enforced, the morals were instilled in them, we saw firsthand kids’ lives be changed and kids come from a family where no one had ever attended college before. And some of these kids come to this home and then they’re the first one in their family to attend college, and actually graduated in high school.
And these things that so often we would just take for granted for most of us in our lives, you know, if graduating from high school, like that’s not a big deal, that maybe should be normal for people. And it probably shouldn’t be normal. It’s just not always normal in every family. And so seeing some of these kids in a place where they get stability, where they get a foundation they can build a future on, it is so encouraging.
But guys, I tell you, one of the things that blew me away was just the journey of faith, where you say, okay, we’re going to sell everything we have, we’re going to put all our money together, we have 12 months, and we’re just going to see what happens. I mean, this is crazy that someone would do this, right. And then he said, kind of the 11th hour where someone shows up and hey, I’ve already sold this property, but like it hasn’t been finalized yet, and would you be interested in? You just see God’s hand working along the way.
I mean, dad, it really reminds me of when you first started WallBuilders, you just believe that God had called you to go do something, and we didn’t have the finances necessarily to go and do that. We were living on peanut butter sandwiches and we were doing we could stand together as a family, but you stepped out in faith and you saw God’s provision and God guiding you along the way. It really reminded me in some ways the similarity of how sometimes that journey of stepping out in faith when you don’t know what’s ahead, you don’t have that, maybe financial security and foundation, you’re trusting God. But this is one of those situations where you definitely see God provide.
But see, one of the interesting things I think in the Bible too as part of the lesson is that when you look in the book of Joshua, as they are crossing the Jordan River at flood time, it’s interesting that God did not part the river until after they were into the river. He didn’t part it and they walked across like Moses did in dry ground.
In the case of Joshua, the river was at flood stage, they had to wait in the river in raging torrents and then God parts it. And sometimes you just have to get involved and get into it and move into something before you really see it kind of manifest. And that’s really a lot where Steven was.
Changing Lives At Chestnut Mountain Ranch – With Steve Finn
And the other thing really struck me about him is okay, here’s the guy who’s really seen all the problems. I mean, this was his life as a police officer for however many years it was 10 or 12, or whatever, he’s a police officer for that many years. And it’s striking to me that the two things that he wants to introduce these kids to, number one, is Christian education, so they’re doing Christian education.
But the second thing I thought that that really is a sacrifice for him as much as it’s a good influence for those kids is there in family units; they move these kids in the family unit. So they’re not just in dorms. You actually have these kind of sponsoring families. I mean, think what it would be in his own family. He’s raised his family, he’s raised his kids, and now he’s taking some dysfunctional kids and saying, you’re going to be part of our family.
And so the fact that you’re helping mentor these kids, not only with religion and morality, but also with what a family is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to act. I think that is, as Tim, you talked about the long term effect of this, and Rick, you talked about how it affects generations to come. That’s a big sacrifice for Steven to say, I’m giving up my own family security, in the sense that I could be loose peace with my family, I’m going to invite turmoil into my family with kids who don’t know what it’s like to be in a family so that they can learn that. That’s really sacrifice.
Yeah, no doubt about it. And it’s an investment that we should all consider and be a part of, whether you’re going to donate to families that are doing that. You know, sometimes when somebody, for instance, does an international adoption, or even adoption in the US, it costs a lot of money. So you may not feel like God’s calling you to do that. But you can support a family that’s doing that. Or in this same case, if you’re not going to take a kid into your home, you can donate to organizations that are doing exactly like what Steve’s doing. So we can all play a part in this and again, the ripple effect will be for generations.
So please consider what you can do to participate in that. Be sure and go to our website today at wallbuilderslive.com and share this program with your friends and family so they can consider doing the same thing. Thanks so much for listening today to WallBuilders Live.