My goal throughout my life has been to try and be the best servant I can be. I believe that your ministry starts with availability and a heart that says “yes.” If you’re not available to take care of people’s needs or to see the needs of those around you, then how can you show love? Your “yes” should not depend on what day it is, the time, what the weather’s like, or if it is outside of your comfort zone.
In 1967, a man traveled to our church in Michigan to talk to us about Cookson Hills. Neither my wife nor I had been raised in Christian homes, but we knew we wanted to dedicate our lives to Christian service. So we traveled down to Oklahoma for an interview. After our visit, we told the director, Lawerence Hallum, “We loved it…but we also have a lot of stuff to take care of back home. Maybe we can come back in about six months or so.” He replied, “Don’t limit the Lord. He can work out anything in His timing.”
We returned to our lives in Michigan. We were both 28 years old, had a house, a car, a really good job, three kids, a dog and a cat. But all we could think about was Cookson Hills. So we called Lawerence back and he said that they had an immediate opening for houseparents. From there on, things happened quickly. When I arrived home from work the next day, my wife said, “Guess what I did today? I sold our house!” Then a few days later we sold our car and packed our U-Haul. Both of our parents, who were not Christians, just could not understand why I would quit my job and sell our house to go and do this type of work. They thought we were crazy, but the Lord provided encouragement for us to continue on.
Ten days after our initial interview, we were back at Cookson Hills, moving into our new home. Some kids came over to help us unload our truck. We thought they were just helping us, but then they never left! By that night, we had a total of 12 children in our care.
The first few years of house parenting were rough. We had no training, social workers, or outside support. We were on duty 24/7 with no time off. We just had to figure things out as we went along, but there were many fun times along the way too. We all loved going to the river to catch crawdads, swim, hike, and go caving. Of course, there was hard work to be done too! All of the houses were heated by fireplaces; So on Saturday mornings, I would take all the kids out to chop wood. I would cut brush with a chainsaw, they would drag it out, load up the truck, and we’d deliver the firewood to all the houses on campus. While it was difficult, we worked together as a family and all the kids knew that once we got the truck unloaded, we would have a hot dog roast and a sharing time together. Those were some good times, building unity between the kids.
There were times in the early years when people would just drop kids off at the corner. Often the kids didn’t even know their own names, but each time, we would help the best that we were able.
Our role as a house parents was (and still is) basically to become temporary parents for kids who were really hurting. They were all good kids, they just had been mistreated or neglected along the way. Therefore, we always tried to meet their needs – just like our own kids. In times of discipline, I made a point to work side-by-side with them, as I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to connect.
I remember we had a boy who stole some cigarettes. I sat down with him and asked, “What are we here for? Why do we have to practice discipline?” He mumbled about how he stole cigarettes because he wanted to smoke. I sat down with him and prayed, and then I said, “I don’t remember anything now. I don’t even remember why we are here. Let’s go back to the house and start fresh again.” I think it’s so important to let kids know that they are truly forgiven and can start with a clean slate.
Before I came to Cookson Hills, I held a lot of different jobs because I always had an appetite for learning new skills. I had no idea that Lord was preparing me for this lifelong ministry. Throughout my time at Cookson Hills, I have filled in whenever I can, in any way that I can, and I still do! I’ve been a houseparent, supervisor of maintenance, helped build the orphanage in Haiti, taught Bible, served over a hundred meals, and I’ve taught kids how to weld, fish, and hunt.
Now, after 50 years of service, I have the blessing and opportunity to continue loving and praying for kids and staff each day. I try to go out of my way to meet a need that sometimes houseparents can’t meet. I give kids a kind ear to listen when the rest of their world is going crazy. I show people that they are loved and wanted, and I give them a hug every time I see them.
Even during the tough times, I try to remember what really matters. I sometimes ask myself, “How was I able to help meet needs today? Who did I influence today? What kids did I talk to today? Then I can hardly wait until tomorrow comes so that I can get up and get going. I try to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit so I can go out and do what I need to do. I know that it’s not me who changes lives, instead, the Lord does the transformation. I just plant tiny seeds along the way.