Last month, five friends and I traveled from Louisville, Kentucky to Kansas, Oklahoma to visit Cookson Hills. Going into the week I had no idea what to expect, but felt like I was pretty well prepared for a mission trip. I’ve been going to church, attending weekly bible studies, reading Christian books, letting people merge into my lane during rush hour traffic – essentially I thought I was doing everything I could to be the person I was made to be.
And then I met the staff at Cookson Hills.
The houseparents, are parents of up to 10 kids who do not legally belong to them. They are on duty 24 hours a day and get four days off a month, yet they are still thriving. It was truly amazing seeing the dynamics of these homes and how accepting and supportive they are of one another. The selflessness of staff was overwhelming and I started questioning my cushy life and priorities. It is so easy for me to get wrapped up in the latest and greatest everything and forget about what actually matters in life. And on day one of our trip, it hit me dead in the face. People. People are what matter. The people of Cookson Hills know this and don’t seem to forget it.
We came to provide volleyball and basketball camp to the kids. Having never played either sport except for gym class, I was nervous about how I would be judged. Thankfully the kids of Cookson Hills are full of grace and I don’t think anyone even noticed the number of layups I missed (six in one game). These kids inspired me to stop living in so much fear. Fear of not knowing what to do, not being the best, being embarrassed by my mistakes, what others will think. I can guarantee you, I am the only one who will remember my missed shots.
In between camp sessions, we met the Executive Director, and found he and his brother spent their childhood in this community. His brother is now on the Board of Directors. Numerous former Cookson Hills kids have gone on to have successful careers and families, including the town doctor who spent years there in his youth as a staff kid and moved back to open a practice in town. To me, that says everything about what Cookson Hills provides.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the resiliency in these kids. I’d like to think I would be able to overcome tragedy, but I don’t know if I could recover with such poise and confidence in God’s plan as the youth we met. The Cookson Hills staff devote their lives to giving these kids the opportunity to learn, grow and be truly loved. They are changing 80 lives at a time by giving them the chance to write a better story. I wish everyone could see this firsthand.
Traveling back to Louisville, we were filled with hope and challenged to really live out our truth. What are we really doing every day that is helping other people? I am not saying we should all take in more kids than a mini-van can hold or we should all move to Oklahoma (no offense to Oklahoma). Instead, I challenge everyone to increase our impact where we live.
If you have the chance to go on a mission trip, I hope you take it. I procrastinated for years and used every excuse for not going, but these few days in Oklahoma were some of the best I have ever lived. And if your travels take you to Cookson Hills, please call me and I’ll meet you there.