I spent last week in Cookson Hills, Oklahoma at the Cookson Hills Center with the youth group from my church. As a group, we taped and mudded drywall, painted, worked with jewelry, fixed siding on a house, sanded concrete floors, moved a couple from their home of 14 years, picked up sticks, cooked ate and sang together. It was a good week, challenging and life-giving. Here is a bit of what I discovered:
Cookson Hills and the surrounding area is an area debilitated by poverty. The community bears the wounds and scars of Native American genocide. The end of the Trail of Tears is close to Cookson Hills and the descendents of the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee, Chickasaw, and Seminole, continue to inhabit the area. In 1948, Methodist Women started a health clinic at Cookson Hills; they were the nearest medical help for more than 18 miles. They gave prenatal care, stitched people up, and offered vaccinations….whatever they could do to help. As medical help became more widely available in the area, the center moved to more of a social program that worked with low-income people of the tri-county area.
Some startling facts about this area:
- 2nd to last in education in the state of Oklahoma
- 7th in the nation for methamphetamine use
- 1st in the nation for hunger
- 2nd in the state for crime
- Vian (close to Cookson Hills) is 1st in the state for rape
Today the center has twenty people on staff, eight vehicles, and multiple buildings on multiple acres. They run a thrift store, day care, food pantry, senior center, seed program, Christmas store, new baby help, school supply program, farmers market, and they are home to multiple cottage industries. In addition to the wide variety of programs they have on site, they go out into the community working on homes, churches, and giving wherever the community has need.
This is an active, vital ministry of the United Methodist Church and the General Board of Global Ministries. The week away was an amazing experience, with many, many moments of God showing up in amazing ways. I want to continue to blog about moments from last week but I wanted to start with the most profound. We spent our time on campus and off, spread out over 40 miles, and everywhere we went the people told stories of God showing up. Mari Whitaker, Missionary to Cookson Hills for over 27 years, tells the story of the day care furniture in her book, My Sister the Father. They felt God leading them to start a day care center but ran into problems with funding for items like furniture. So Mari prayed. As an answer to prayer, a friend that already had a daycare agreed to take on the new one also. One day a woman came to Cookson and offered to volunteer; her job was writing grants for daycare centers. Then one day people from Pennsylvania showed up at her door ready to help the center. Come to find out, their community made day care furniture. They gave the center everything they needed.
Day after day, these are the stories we heard. People went to God in prayer and God showed up in the form of people offering water, Gatorade, daycare furniture, food, friendship, community. God answers prayers and this community told us about it…it was in the fabric of who they are. It is inspiring.