Allow me to tell you a shortened version of a century-long story.
Once upon a time…in a land way out in the Oregon wilderness (where I sit at this very moment)…lived a group a people. One group of the distant past, one more recently, and one of today. Each group with a different purpose for their presence.
Most of my knowledge of these groups comes from the written words of others, but some of it comes from my own experiences. Wildly valued experiences. The history here doesn’t belong to anyone singularly, but rather to all who have shared in a piece of it. To them, and also to the steep hills and deep canyons that carve the landscape and contain the memory of all who have been here before.
One hundred years ago. The place is called Big Muddy; a sheep ranch. A family in the Ranch House. Living off of the outback land, far from populated civilization. They worked together and also struggled against other groups in the area, other ranchers, land-seekers, and Native Americans. This group took residence, loved and grew in both spirit and census. Alas, times change.
1980s. The place is now called Rajneeshpuram. A cult commune full of individuals seeking freedom from the confines of traditional society. Wearing only the colors of the sunset, red and purple, they follow their last hope of a god. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is their man and visits to his people come in the form of Rolls Royce drivebys. They expanded the place, enlarged it into a village, all centered around that same historic Ranch House. They, much like the group before them, lived off of the land and grew, significantly, in census, and in power. Yet again, times change.
Present day. The name is called Washington Family Ranch. The group knowing their purpose of creating a place for today’s youth to come, play, hear the sweet words of truth and love. Young Life staff and volunteers lived in the Ranch House, joining forces to transition the buildings built by those seeking something impossibly promised. The job was reconciliation.
The place of reconciliation. History has seen this place through love, crime, growth, decline. Through positive, negative, good and evil. Through the saddest and sickest and also the sweetest and healthiest. True freedom. A place where promises are delivered.
My history here started as I grew up in the ’80s in a nearby community, when the Rajneesh people were establishing themselves. Their failed attempt at creating a utopia in the Oregon wilderness turned into desperation and greed. After domineering the city council of the nearby town, they infiltrated our city and began their work at gaining control there too. They took all sorts of measures to make this possible, including power moves like poisoning the local eatery buffets with e coli and bussing in Portland’s homeless to register to vote with the guarantee of food and shelter. My parents both spent their careers in local government and were both impacted by this season. It caused community stress and my own personal curiosity. Even now, looking back at that time, it is an outrageous, true story.
A few years ago our family was invited out to the ranch to help with an annual large venue multisport event. The Wild Canyon Games is operated primarily by volunteers. The event is an athlete’s dream; a weekend full of challenging activities, from a triathlon to the scouring the world’s largest geocache grid and highland games, to a relay that will exhaust even the toughest participant. The Wild Canyon Games strive to be the ‘best weekend of your life’. #whatlimits
We found a community with this group. Most of them live a few hours away from us, but we’ve developed some relationships that are friendships from afar. We come together out here several times each year. We sleep in a building built by the Rajneesh people, but recaptured for Christ. For his people; those who love him and those who will one day be fulfilled by the truest freedom and deepest love.
We found a beautiful landscape, a historical story, and an incredible group of friends out here at this place of reconciliation. This is volunteerism at its best. My appreciation is wide for our sliver of the story surrounding this incredible place.