Much of who I am today can be attributed to my childhood years of growing up at Cookson Hills. I accepted the role of Executive Director at Cookson Hills for a couple reasons. First of all, I wanted to give back. It was at Cookson Hills that I learned to work hard, live a disciplined life, and most importantly, where my faith in Jesus was solidified. These are the things that have shaped me over the last twenty-five years. There are a lot of ways one can give to this ministry; I knew my time and leadership were the most valuable things I could offer. So when I took on a leadership role at Cookson Hills, I committed to the Board a minimum of five years of service.
The second reason I accepted the leadership role at Cookson Hills is because I saw how the Lord could use me. My predecessor did a wonderful job establishing a good foundation upon which I could build. It was exciting to see how my strengths could be most useful to the ministry.
As the Executive Director, I view my role primarily as a steward. Cookson Hills belongs to Jesus and my role is to make sure His vineyard is pruned and fruitful. Having a twenty-five year history with Cookson Hills has given me a good working knowledge of the ministry. If I were to prioritize my stewardship of Cookson Hills to a simple phrase, it would be: “Ensure the ministry is fruitful today and set up well for the future.” Every decision I and the leadership team make is run through this filter.
Due to this stewardship lens, there have been many changes to this ministry within the past five years. Some areas of focus were behind-the-scenes overhauls such as our communication strategies, online presence, human resource processes, and connecting to a clean water source. Other areas of focus included much more obvious changes such as the completion of the Building on a Legacy of Love campaign, moving staff homes out of a floodplain, and removing unused and aging facilities.
Serving at Cookson Hills has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things I have ever done. Challenging because of the complexity of the ministry and the volume of decisions that have to be made each day. Rewarding because of the kids we get to serve.
It is at this point, I believe it is time for me to step down from the Executive Director role at Cookson HIlls. My decision will be disappointing to some, so let me explain. In short, I am exhausted! I have been diligent in carrying the mantle of leadership and the responsibilities that come with it. Over the last year though, I have struggled with the tension of increasing responsibility and an ever-decreasing energy level. Not to mention I have three young children to father and a wonderful wife to husband. I decided long ago that I would not let the demands of ministry replace the needs of my family. I want what is best for both Cookson Hills and my family; therefore, I believe it is time for me to pass the torch of leadership.
After several months of praying and searching, the Board of Directors has selected Ron Riley to serve as the next Executive Director of Cookson Hills. Ron is a minister of the Gospel currently serving as the senior minister of First Christian Church in Grove, Oklahoma. A graduate of Ozark Christian College and Lincoln Christian University, Ron and his wife, Donna, have served in churches in Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma. Ron’s story is full of Kingdom work, loss, and restoration as Ron and Donna have welcomed eight children into their home and laid to rest two.
I believe Ron is uniquely suited and equipped to serve in this role for a number of reasons. First, Ron and Donna are aligned with the mission of Cookson Hills. They have served multiple kids who are at risk through foster care and have also adopted five kids into their family, serving kids up close and personal. Over the years, Ron has often said, “Our family is like one of the big houses at Cookson.” It’s very true.
The main vision and focus of this ministry has never changed, but the methods and means of achieving it have steadily improved with each new leader. In our 2018 Annual Report, I rolled out pieces of our 5-year strategic plan. These goals provide a centralized focus for the ministry that will not waiver throughout leadership transition. This brings me to my second reason of why I believe Ron is aptly suited to serve in this capacity. Ron was a part of developing these goals for the ministry. He has served on the Board of Directors for the last two years and comprehensively understands the current and future challenges facing Cookson Hills. Ron’s history and depth of knowledge of this ministry will serve us all well.
Life at Cookson Hills is challenging and fast paced. We are our own community with unique challenges due to the kids and families we serve. The third thing Ron brings to the table is a much needed gift for pastoral care. His heart beats to care for people. Our ministry, our kids, and our staff will greatly benefit from having a leader who can naturally offer these pastoral gifts. I am excited to see the ways the Lord will use this gift to enhance the Kingdom work being done at Cookson Hills.
Ron begins his role as the Associate Executive Director starting July 1, 2019. The plan is for Ron to work with me for the following 2-4 months before taking the reins. My top priority in the coming months is it to work with the Board, Ron and our Leadership Team to ensure a smooth and helpful leadership transition. I am fully confident that God has yet again, provided Godly and capable leadership to continue leading Cookson Hills well. Please be praying with us throughout this transition and as we steward all that God has entrusted to us.