|Cookson Hills Center and The Advance Celebrate 60th Anniversaries|
by Adam Neal and Barbara Wheeler*
Fort Worth, TX, April 25, 2008--In 1948, the same year in which The Advance for Christ and His Church was set up as the Methodist designated mission giving channel, two nurses sent by the then Woman's Society of Christian Service (WSCS) established a health clinic in Cookson, Oklahoma.
Sixty years later, The Advance is a major player in global mission, and the Cookson Hills Center is an Advance project (#582161) engaged in ministry with Native Americans, primarily Cherokee. The anniversaries are intertwined.
An Advance staff member made a visit to Cookson Hills on the way to Fort Worth to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, where the 60th birthday of the Advance is being celebrated. In Fort Worth, a staff member who stands in the lineage of the WSCS interviewed the current Cookson director, the Rev. Meridith Whitaker (#982994), attending the General Conference.
"Talk about the United Methodist connection -- you can see the reality of our mission linkages in the interplay between Cookson Hills and the General Board of Global Ministries," said Shawn Bakker, director of the Advance, which is part of the global mission agency.
The Rev. Whitaker is a missionary related to the board through the Church and Community Workers' program.
Cookson Hills today focuses on cottage industries that create economic development opportunities for the community. These include sewing, T-shirt printing, craft-making, and producing homemade jellies and preserves. In addition, Cookson Hills works with children and youth through daycare and after-school programs.
The center provides food packets for children, prom dresses for teenagers, and baby products for new mothers. It ministers to seniors and provides community service opportunities for persons sentenced in county drug court.
Most of the 21 staff members in the cottage industries at Cookson Hills are ex-offenders. One example is Jackie, a Cherokee man who just celebrated a year of sobriety. He makes outdoor mats out of used tires and recycled water bottles and sells them to earn money for the center. Yet, like most families in the Cookson community, Jackie makes less than $12,000 a year.
Product sales account for 27 percent of Cookson Hills' annual income for mission.
"My hope for the future of Cookson is that we would work ourselves out of a job, that the community would generate employment opportunities and take care of each other," said the Rev. Meridith Whitaker, interviewed in Fort Worth.
"When we started our senior citizen nutrition program that gives seniors two meals a week, we saw a decrease in the amount of food leaving our food pantry," Ms. Whitaker said. "The garden seed program helps them grow their own food. The things we do help people live within the means that they have."
Continuing the original emphasis on health care, Cookson Hills will soon open a health resource center that will be a place for community residents to come for referrals, as well as health and wellness information. Organized by two volunteers, this program represents the important roles volunteers play at Cookson Hills. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams visit the center throughout the year. Volunteers from the Native American community surrounding Cookson Hills also contribute to the mission.
A 60th anniversary celebration, held on April 19, was attended by many community members, donors, and church leaders from around the Oklahoma Conference and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Local Cherokee musicians played native music, and children entertained the crowd by singing in the Cherokee language.
The Rev. Joe Harris, assistant to the bishop of the Oklahoma Conference, and the Rev. David Wilson, superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and a Global Ministries executive, participated in the celebration. Ms. Whitaker was honored with a standing ovation for the many years she has led and served at the center.
Cookson Hills' mission work within the community continues to expand. Following the celebration, ground was broken for a new ministry center to replace many of the buildings originally build in the 1940s. The Rev. Bill Foote, Sr., pastor of the Mary Lee Clark United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, officiated at the event.
"The new building will be a ministry center that will house programs, our offices, a thrift store, and youth room," Whitaker said. "The building we are using now is 60 years old and about to fall down. It's had a lot of wear and tear."
Whitaker explained that her understanding of mission has been shaped by her experience with the community. Several years ago she met a child in foster care because he had beaten and burned with cigarettes. The foster family gave the boy a puppy. Ms. Whitaker and the boy took the pup to the veterinarian for a check-up. The dog had to be left temporarily in a cage and started to whimper and cry as Ms. Whitaker and the boy walked away.
She said, "The boy ran away from me, back to the puppy, and said, 'Don't worry because I'm here for you because I love you.' The boy said it over and over to comfort his dog."
"Mission is going to people who the world has decided are unlovable and saying to them, 'Don't worry, I'm here for you because I love you,'" Ms. Whitaker said. "And that's what Christ says to all of us, especially to the least, the last, and the lost."
Give to Cookson Hills Center through the Advance: #582161 at Givetomission.org.
*Adam Neal is a Mission Specialist for The Advance; Barbara Wheeler is editor of Response, the magazine of United Methodist Women.
Date posted: Apr 25, 2008