(VO) If you are a hurting child in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, there’s a very good chance Melanie Watt knows your name and knows your secrets.
(Melanie) John—has a terrible temper… hits walls, throws things.
(Melanie) Chandler—he is a cutter… has some pretty low self-esteem issues.
(Melanie) And Raven just has some anger issues. She saw her dad on his deathbed. And that’s a heavy load for a little 6-year old to carry.
(VO) “Stories of Hope” is a podcast about people who meet needs, build relationships, and change lives.
In this episode…
(Melanie) We have spitting on their parents, spitting on their teachers, threatening people—some of them have been abused, neglected…
(VO) … when little kids become hard cases…
(Melanie) … where they are—suicidal, depression…
(VO)Melanie Watt says, “bring them to me”.
(VO) I mean, a lot of damage is done to these children…
(VO)This is a story about a brave lady, some troubled children, and their 15-hundred-pound mutual friend.
(NATBITE) kid making whistling and clicking noises to get horse to move
(VO) This is “Stories of Hope” from Send Relief”—“Today’s episode… Horse Sense”…
(VO) In Wellford, South Carolina, the air smells like a circus—hay and dust and animal sweat. The tallest structure, for miles around probably, is the water tower. You can see it just over the pine trees, but only if you stand on your tiptoes. In Wellford, the sky-is-falling-world-has-lost-its mind news stories you see on TV feel a million miles away.
(Melanie) Yeah, Spartanburg’s the Bible Belt. Yeah.
(VO) Unless you are Melanie Watt.
(Melanie) Every day 180 teenagers are arrested—and every 11 seconds a child is abused. And the schools can’t handle those tough situations. So, every child that comes here feels hopeless. They feel that mom and dad and their teachers have given up on them. They feel like because they have a bad temper or because they’ve cut themselves or tried to commit suicide that they’ve disappointed everybody so bad that they’re not lovable.
(VO) Melanie Watt is an ex-special education teacher who several years ago, quit her job…
(NATBITE) Mr. David, would you pray for us before we begin?
(VO) … so she could start… this…
(NATBITE – Man prays) Lord, thank you for the enjoyment and beauty of horses…
(VO) Hope Remains Youth Ranch is a living, breathing, galloping, snorting mix-tape of everything Melanie loves—troubled kids, horses, and Jesus.
(NATBITE) In Jesus’ name… Amen. (Melanie) Amen…
(Melanie) It sounds strange, but this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12 years old. I never knew it was going to turn into this ministry—I wanted to retire as a schoolteacher and do this on the side. And the Lord’s like, “No, you’ve got to commit all your time to help these kids cause more and more of these kids are falling through the cracks.
(NATBITE) Everybody have a good day at school?
(VO) Melanie and her volunteers at Hope Remains Youth Ranch call this equine therapy. Every afternoon when school lets out – the sad kids, the angry kids, the kids who won’t always look you in the eye and tell you what’s wrong – they all come here.
(NATBITE) OK, who’s up first?
(VO) Melanie starts simple. The kids grab a cowboy hat, they saddle up a horse, and they ride.
(NATBITE) OK, I want you to sit up—stick that belly out!
(VO) And just like that, the simplest-sounding things become the most profound things.
(NATBITE) John, you look great! You look like a professional rider!
(Melanie) When you walk into the arena, horses pick up your heartbeat and they immediately pick up what your demeanor is, whether you’ve had a good day or a bad day. And these kids come directly from school. And they may have had a tough day at school.
(NATBITE) This is only your second time riding horses right? You’re doing well… (kid) It’s fun too… (Melanie) Good!…
(Melanie) When they get with the horses, something occurs between the horse and that child. The horses break down that wall of anger. They break down whatever wall was there—the abuse, the neglect. For that moment, it’s a calming effect and the kids just get so comfortable, they start talking.
(NATBITE) What do you do when that bully picks on you Grant? (kid) I just get mad…
(Melanie) They’ll say, I had a fight with mom and dad or I got in trouble today at school or someone picked on me. And then the kids—we just carry over what they’ve learned with the horses and how the horses make them feel to how a relationship with Jesus Christ can make them feel. Because they can’t carry the horses with them to school or to the mall or at home—but they can the love of Jesus.
(NATBITE) (Melanie) Now, let’s talk about the devotion you had today.
(VO) After the horses—there is Bible study.
(NATBITE – Melanie) How many of you are facing battles? Raise your hand if you’re facing a battle.
(VO) Melanie asks that question a lot, and every time she does, all the kids respond. Today, the boy dressed in all black was the first to raise his hand.
(Melanie) Chandler—he’s a wonderful guy. His dad passed away between six and eight months ago. He had cancer. And he is really angry about that. He doesn’t understand why God has taken his dad away. He just sobs when he talks about that. He says, “I just miss my dad so bad.” And he’s in that area where he’s mad at God, but he loves God.
(VO) Chandler started coming to Hope Remains Youth Ranch when his sadness turned destructive. He began to lose his temper… punch holes in walls. Then, he cut himself—his wrists, his arms and his chest.
Even now, the scars are still fresh. You can see them if you know where to look.
(Melanie) He’ll tell you he cuts himself because the pain in his heart is so bad. Anything to get his mind off the fact that his dad has passed away. And I’ve told him, I said, “God is not angry because you’re angry right now,” and I said “He’s not going to love you any less because you’re hurting. He knows how bad you’re hurting.” And he said “Really? God won’t punish me because I’m mad at Him right now or I don’t understand why my dad had to die?” and I said “No, He’s not mad at you. He understands. Tell God, make that a time of prayer. And God will slowly start to mend your heart.”
(NATBITE) (Melanie) Who can tell me what the letters of the word “horse” stand for? (kid) He offers redemption, salvation and eternal life… (Melanie) Very good, everybody clap for Sam—He offers redemption, salvation and eternal life…
(VO) “Happily ever after” is a moving target for kids like Chandler.A gray mare and a retired school teacher won’t magically solve all his problems. But just having someone who can help you understand everything really will be O-K—sometimes, that’s enough.
(Melanie) I want them to find hope in Jesus Christ. That’s the only reason why we’re here. Because if they find hope—just like Chandler… he is a cutter, he was a cutter… for him to come and say, “thank you for showing me that the Lord really does love me,”—watching them transform right before your eyes, I consider myself the luckiest person in the whole wide world.
(Melanie) I had no idea that just opening a place with horses, I’d be able to see the Lord working just right before my eyes. People talk about what a wonderful job we’re doing here. I say, “we’re not doing anything but providing the atmosphere or providing the facility. The Lord is doing all the work”. And having an opportunity to do this just thrills my soul.
(VO) This has been “Stories of Hope from Send Relief. Today’s episode… Horse Sense”.
(VO) To learn more about Hope Remains Youth Ranch, you can visit them on the web at Hope Remains – all one word—dot org. And to learn more about how you and your church can help meet needs, build relationships and change the lives of troubled kids, go to send relief dot org.
(VO) We’ll be back in two weeks with another episode of “Stories of Hope.”