For the past 5 years, my wife Joy and I have traveled to Northeast Oklahoma in late summer. The first year we came at the request of the Cookson Hills leadership. They were desiring to provide a time for the houseparents to focus on their marriages. Our church, Southeast Christian in Louisville, Kentucky responded by organizing a mission trip that’s focus was a marriage retreat. Southeast has partnered with Cookson for some time with different goals, but this would be a new experience for Joy and me.
When asked to help lead the retreat we quickly felt God’s prodding to go to Cookson Hills. I had been on many mission trips in the past but they most often didn’t involve spending time with the folks we were serving. Along my journey of faith, God has invited me to be more relational. This is still not natural for me but I found the folks at Cookson Hills made this so easy. By our second year, I saw it less as a “mission trip” and more of a time spent with family.
I have heard it said many times that a mission trip is more for the folks on the trip rather than who they are serving. This has always been the case at Cookson Hills. During our meetings preparing for the trip, I would encourage our team about the opportunity and privilege we had to love on the Cookson Hills houseparents. Above all else; including the sessions we led, the couples day we planned, and the gifts we brought; loving on them is our greatest opportunity.
Above all else, loving on them is our greatest opportunity.
I truly believe that; but what I discovered year after year was that we could never out love the houseparents. They are the most giving and caring group of people I have walked with. From inviting us for coffee, spending time with us on their “couples day out”, and trusting us with some intimate conversations, we always walk away feeling loved. Joy and I often comment about our trips to Cookson Hills by saying, “Sure hope they got half as much from the retreat as we did”. We say that in a kidding sort of way but we mean it from the depths of our heart.
Each year we have tried to change the retreat a little to keep things interesting. Sometimes maybe overthinking the process. I have come to the conclusion that we could probably show up and just sit and chat together and the retreat would be a success. I don’t say that flippantly, but rather point out the quality of folks that are houseparents.
They are always engaged and each brings something different to the table. We can always count on Mike and Debbie to keep our theology in line. Kevin and Pam can lighten things up when things get a little too heavy. Jorge and Amanda bring a passion for God’s love that impacts me to the core. I’ll never forget the time spent with Sarah and Tony as we shared the raw experiences of each of our spiritual journeys.
I could talk about more of the couples that we have come to love, and my conclusion about each one would be the same. Each one is made up of two imperfect people who love God. These couples are passionate about serving with Him in the ministry of loving and caring for His children. And they do it boldly with grace, truth, and love. We will never be the same having spent time with all the wonderful folks that make Cookson Hills the ministry that it is.