Battling addiction: Renewal Ranch helps restore broken lives

by Sonja J. Keith
Mike Kemp photos

Renewal Ranch, a faith-based ministry in Perry County, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary of helping men battle addiction and restoring broken lives through Christ.

As executive director James Loy points out, addiction knows no boundaries. It affects all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic levels. Addictions range from prescription medicine and alcohol to methamphetamine and cocaine.

Since it began, there have been 152 graduates from Phase 1 of the ministry and 54 from Phase 2. Several on staff are graduates of the program, including assistant director Josh Kear, Brooks Walthall and Rusty Beck.

“The best thing about this ministry is the guys who have come through (Renewal Ranch) and now serve on staff,” Loy said. “The restoration in their lives and the lives in their families is what we’re all about.”


After two years of planning, the ranch opened Jan. 30, 2011, to eight men.

It is situated on 105 acres and includes three bunkhouses and a bathhouse, which were built and paid for in the last five years with help from groups like Nail Benders for Jesus and Faith in Action from Central Baptist Church. With the purchase of additional property, the Ranch added more beds, an efficiency apartment and space for a library.

The Ranch also features a workout pavilion, a wood shop and an auto shop that is used to help provide maintenance for the Conway Police Department’s fleet of vehicles. “We are also looking for ways to use the shop to give back into the community to help single moms with oil changes and simple auto repair,” Loy said.

There is also a garden on the Ranch for men to grow vegetables. “We try to be stewards and use the resources that God has blessed us with,” Loy said.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held recently to add a 15,000-square-foot multipurpose building which will help meet major needs: additional bed space, a commercial kitchen with dining space, office space and a chapel. Loy said the capital campaign for the project has generated about $350,000 and fundraising efforts are continuing.

Loy said Renewal Ranch works to provide first-class facilities for its participants. He said oftentimes other programs have run-down, dilapidated structures. “We are representing the Lord and want to do that with excellence. We want them to know God loves them, He cares about them and they are worthy.”


Once a man arrives at the Ranch, everything is paid for, from the laundry detergent to the curriculum. Loy said the Ranch tries to remove all distractions and direct men to a relationship with Christ, providing an opportunity for them to focus on what is driving their addictive behavior.

Fifteen pastors provide 570 hours of classroom instruction for the men in the program. “We are blessed to have these pastors, teachers and counselors who come out and give of themselves. They are all volunteers and they pour into these men’s lives.”

Renewal Ranch participants are also required to provide community service. They have been involved in projects ranging from packing food boxes and assisting tornado victims to planting daffodils and filling sandbags to help those threatened by flood.

“Addiction is so selfish and self-seeking. We try to help men follow the example of Christ and look for opportunities that he can put into practice to give back,” Loy said, adding that the Ranch is investing about 30,000 hours of service in the Conway area each year.

“It’s great because most of these guys when they get here have never done any volunteer anything,” said Walthall. “Not only does it help them give back to the community, it starts a pattern in them where they understand the value of giving back and giving something that’s beyond themselves.”


The Ranch is not only impacting those battling addiction, it is also having a spiritual impact on the individual’s family and children. “Eighty-five percent of our graduates have been reunited with their families, which is awesome. God is a God of restoration.”

While many are successful in beating their addiction because of Renewal Ranch, there are some who fail. On one bunkhouse wall there is a plaque listing all of the ministry’s graduates. Another plaque reflects the seriousness of addiction. It shows the men who fell back into addiction, which eventually killed them. “This is life or death. Addiction leads down three roads. You end up sobered up, locked up or covered up. That’s the only three choices.”

Loy understands addiction – he battled his for 23 years. “There were no bounds and no lines I wouldn’t cross to feed my addiction,” he said. “I feel like I’m alive on the prayers of God’s people. My family, especially my sister, never gave up on the fact that God could change my life.”

While many have been served, there are many more that would like to attend Renewal Ranch but space is limited. Loy said the first week in January, 24 men and their families showed up. The next two weeks, there were 23 each week. They came from Arkansas as well as other states, including Michigan and Missouri. Individuals hear about Renewal Ranch through graduates and through the programs presented at churches throughout the state.

“The needs are tremendous,” Loy said.


Support for the Ranch has come from different churches, representing different denominations. “One of the things that has been so humbling is the denominational barriers that often divide the body of Christ are put aside as people come together for what Jesus described as the least of these. These guys’ lives matter. They matter to us, their families, their children. To see that kind of outpouring is incredible.”

Loy is grateful for where God has brought him and for God’s provision for Renewal Ranch. “To be able to provide $15,000 a week in support, week in and week out. To see that come in. God has already been on time.”

Support from the Ranch continues to grow from the original board who shared Loy’s vision for the ministry to young people who help meet its financial needs. “I know God is in this ministry when I see the kids at Southside Baptist in Damascus take up their pennies during Vacation Bible School and give us a $1,400 donation toward the ministry. And when I see an elderly woman come up to me after a church service in Clinton and she hands me a $2 check and another single dollar bill. I know she’s on a fixed income and I know that’s the widow’s mite that she is giving to us,” he said. “You see God and how He brings it all together in His incredible tapestry.”

When Loy reflects on the last five years and all that has happened and lives affected, he describes it as “mind blowing.” From where God has brought him in his personal life with his addiction battle and overcoming serious health issues in recent years, Loy is humbled and grateful to be a part of His work.

“God is awesome. God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ever think of or imagine. To see what the Lord has done in the lives of these men it just builds my faith in who God is and what is possible with Him.”