‘Calling’ led Wood to open home

Dec. 03, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Pastor James P. Wood wanted to start a children’s home. So did his wife, Susan.

Even before they knew each other.

“When we did meet, that was one thing that drew us together,” said Wood. “We loved the Lord, and we also felt called by him to do the same thing.”

Wood is founder and executive director of Wears Valley Ranch, where up to 32 children from troubled backgrounds live and learn. The beautiful rural campus borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Wears Valley Ranch opened its doors in August 1992. “I had felt that when it was time to start a children’s home, God would give me the property,” he said. “In 1990, I was contacted about a piece of property in Wears Valley. I had never heard of Wears Valley. We literally were given a multimillion dollar piece of property that precisely fulfilled our plan.”

The property belonged to a conference center called Wears Valley Retreat, Wood said. Frustrated in their efforts to start the center, organizers decided to donate the land.

“Our plan was to have a residential facility for children who came from families in crisis,” said Wood. “We wanted to have a school for them that would provide a tutorial education. We wanted to have a summer camp and a conference ministry as well.”

Part of the vision was a counseling center. “It would apply biblical principles, and that would bring healing to children – and staff,” he said. “Because the staff also needed to work through their issues. Every one of us has that baggage.”

Wood lives in a lovely home on a forested lot adjoining Wears Valley Ranch. He and Susan have seven children. On a recent chilly afternoon, a fire crackled in his soaring living room. A set of the Great Books of the Western World lined one wall.

“We do not discriminate based on the basis of a child’s religious background or beliefs,” he said. “We teach children the basics of Christian faith. A Baptist, a Pentecostal, a Presbyterian ought to be able to say yes to our statement of faith.”

The statement of faith is nondenominational but Christ-centered, Wood said. “And based on the idea that the Bible is God’s word. We want to be sure parents and guardians understand: that’s what we’re going to teach the children.”

Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Wood grew up in Montreat, N.C. – “a little tiny town where Billy Graham lives,” Wood said. He attended Montreat College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Five times each week he broadcasts “Abiding in Christ,” a SiriusXM radio program.

Earlier this year, Wood’s son Andrew took over as headmaster of Wears Valley Ranch. Jim stepped down from the position to work as mobilization director of My Hope with Billy Graham, an outreach effort of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“I’m thrilled and honored to do it,” Wood said. “We’re looking for tens of thousands of churches, all across America, to join in doing personal evangelism in the homes of members.”

Meanwhile, said Wood, “the ranch is in capable hands.”