I spent some time this summer 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:
Wednesday during lunch at the senior center, I saw the pastor of Stilwell Mission United Methodist Church, Pastor Deb. She was wearing a wonderful cross necklace. I commented on her necklace we chatted for a second about it and then we both went on with our day.
On Thursday, we watched the amazing puppet show that the youth performed for us. I asked the women, Sherri and Jenny about the vitality and life that I felt in this small church. They both believed that their pastor was the reason for their vitality. Before Pastor Deb they had less than ten people in worship every week, after only a year, the church had more than doubled that amount. They had amazing plans for being a positive force in their community; they were excited and enthusiastic about their church. This was a church, tiny, and full of vitality.
What was it about Deb that brought vitality and life to her church? Well, of course, I asked her. I asked how she accomplished so much, before she answered, Colleen, our host (and boss!) for the week, told me it was Deb. She is an amazing pastor, who simply cares. She shows up to preach, cares about how her people are doing, and understands their needs. Deb simply loves her congregation.
But Deb did something I will never forget. As we were eating dinner on Friday night, she gave me the beautiful cross I saw her wearing earlier in the week. I don’t remember what she said, but I DO remember how I felt. When she gave me her necklace as a gift, I felt like she believed in me. I felt like she saw something in me that I have a hard time seeing in myself. She had confidence in me, where I sometimes do not. And in that moment I knew, she turned the church around, not because of her amazingness…but because of her ability to see the amazing gifts in others and sincerely communicate what she sees. I am grateful for Deb and her gift to me. It is not every day that someone makes it so clear that they see something in you. It was a powerful gift that I am forever thankful for. Thank you, Deb!!!
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 descendants 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, daycare, 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 daycare 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.
This was the most powerful group I have led up to this point. It was a Spirit filled, Holy night.
I do not think I will ever be able to explain the power of this video! The large group gathering was contemplative and quiet. As the leader, I was very intentional about using few words, I did not want to fill the space with too much chatter. It was powerful for both youth and adults alike! Below is an outline of the evening, what and how I taught, and the small group/TAG time questions.
This is my take on it…but the creativity and artistry of the video demands conversation…so I wonder, what would you do? How would you frame a class around this video? Adult? Student? Multi-generational group? Drop me a comment below! Thanks! Tiffany
Title: The Blame Game
Theme: Blame and Condemnation
Audience: Middle School – High School, youth and adult leaders
“We all struggle with issues of blame and condemnation. They are the weapons we often use to hurt others in our culture. We are going to watch a short video. After the video you have two choices; you can either grab a blank piece of paper and draw or write whatever you want. Or you can take one of the papers that have questions for TAG time (TAG = Time Alone with God).”
(On the floor in the middle of the room I had crayons, markers, blank sheets of paper, and a stack of printouts of the nights questions.)
Biblical Text – Good Samaritan Story – Luke 10:25-37
One of our youth read the story to the group.
“I realized something as I watched this video and read the story of the Good Samaritan again…I realized the power in this story is that it is a story about all of us. I would like to say I am the Good Samaritan, but that’s not always me. Sometimes I am the innkeeper, willing to help people who are helping others. Sometimes, I am the priest and the Levite, judgmental, hypocritical…too good to stop and help when I see someone in need. And I hate to say it, but sometimes I am the robber…the one causing pain in others. And sometimes I am the one being beaten up by life, the one in need of help. And yes, sometimes I am the Good Samaritan, the one that sees the pain and is willing to step in and sacrifice my own time, money, and reputation to help. Jesus calls us to be Good Samaritans, to be the ones not only willing to help, but willing to sacrifice to help.”
Prayer/Blessing and sending to small groups
Leaders Meeting (30 Minutes)
I began by explaining the theme and flow of the night. (We did not watch the video in the leaders meeting. We could have but I am not sure how it would have changed the “feel” of the rest of the night.)
Youth leader read the text: Good Samaritan Story – Luke 10:25-37
I explained my understanding of the text (basically I taught the “teaching” from above.)
After a short example of how our youth group has been the “Inn Keeper” I asked for further examples of how we are the characters in the story of the Good Samaritan (<— This led to some great conversation!)
Other business and calendar stuff
These are the questions used for TAG time and small group discussion. Most of them were adaptations from chapter 4 Blame and Condemnation, from the book The Search for Significance: Student Edition by Robert McGee. (The Blame Game – TAG Time Questions PDF File)
“Every day, students and teacher alike enter their schools packing a concealed deadly weapon…that weapon is our ability to send a message of condemnation or blame to another person using words, physical force, facial expressions or silence….and we are as likely to be hit as pull the trigger” (The Search for Significance Student Edition, Robert S. McGee, pages 71-72).
As we watch the video, To This Day think about these questions and then take some Time Alone with God (TAG Time).
– What mistakes have you made in the past that your parents, friends, or others keep bringing up to make you feel bad? How do you react? Do you laugh it off? Get angry? Feel rejected? Blame yourself?
– Remember a situation where you have heard someone being ridiculed or verbally abused. What could you have done to help? What did you do? What will you do next time?
– Remember a situation, whether at school or at home, where you were the one doing the blaming and condemning. What did you do? What could you have done differently? How did you feel later?
– There are many characters in the video. Which one is most like you? What does the character do, say, or feel that you identify with?
– Christ spends much of his ministry loving people that are unlovable; he loves the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. He asks us to love the unlovable too. Who are the people in your live that are hard to love? What are ways you can show them love? What would you have to sacrifice to show them love in this way?