Wanted: loving Christian houseparents
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — In their 29 years of marriage,…
HUCKABAY, Texas — Texans, as you probably know, take great pride in their state — and in knowing where stuff is in their state. But I managed to stump more than a few of them when I said I was preaching at a gospel meeting in this unincorporated community, southwest of Fort Worth.
Our ad manager, Christi Roméo, knew the place right away.
“My grandfather used to preach there,” she told me as we stood by The Christian Chronicle’s table at the EQUIP workshop in Waxahachie. (Every Texan knows where that is. By the way, kudos to Paul O’Rear and the Brown Street Church of Christ for a great workshop.)
I scribbled the name of Christi’s grandpa on the back of my workshop program — “Garlon Sampson,” almost biblical. Then I drove 90 minutes west to my hotel in Stephenville.
Kimberly Leatherwood, my point of contact with the Huckabay church, invited me to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. She took my drink order and ran to get it herself. Turns out she works there. That’s service!
Sam and Alice Copeland joined us. Sam grew up in Huckabay and came back a few years ago to care for his aging mother. He talked about cruising between the two Dairy Queens in Stephenville when he was a teenager.
Kimberly talked about growing up in the church (her mother worships with a congregation in nearby Morgan Mill) and about the weeklong gospel meetings she used to attend. Those meetings inspired the Huckabay church, which has 25 worshipers on a good Sunday, to host one of its own.
I mentioned Garlon Sampson, and the Copelands’ eyes brightened. They remember him from the 1990s. He was one of the hardest-working, most down-to-earth souls you’d ever meet, Sam said. I mentioned him again on Sunday morning. One member, Laquita Elston, said that brother Sampson was “the classiest common man I’ve ever known.”
I’m not a preacher. I mostly just share lessons I’ve learned in 21 years with the Chronicle. I talked about the churches I encountered in Vanuatu, a nation of islands in the South Pacific. They were so confused about why I had traveled all the way there — just to talk to them.
That trip inspired a talk I wrote titled “You Matter to God,” where I go through the Old Testament and show how God delights in using people who think they aren’t all that important.
Think about it: The worst thing you can be in the Old Testament is the firstborn. It never works out for them! They don’t slay giants. They don’t become kings — well, not good kings. They sell their birthright for stew. (I should point out that I’m the firstborn in my family. Thankfully, my sister never has offered me stew.)
The church members said they appreciated the message. And I appreciated the absolute feast of a potluck that followed. I spoke with Jerry Nance, a chiropractor who preaches for the congregation. I found out that members work with prisoners through NewLife Behavior Ministries. The church also supports mission work in India and Nigeria.
We had visitors from the Morgan Mill church and the Graham Street Church of Christ in Stephenville. I met Brian and Melissa Cooper, who serve as houseparents at the nearby Foster’s Home for Children. That ministry was founded by oilman and rancher Sherwood Foster and his wife, Myrtle, in 1985, just a few years before brother Sampson began preaching in Huckabay.
The Coopers helped me get in touch with Doug Young, president and CEO, and we met for coffee. He talked about his dream of raising up a new generation of houseparents to serve a massive need. There are nearly 29,000 kids in Texas’ foster care system.
Brian Cooper gave me a tour of Foster’s campus. I got a sense of the devotion he and his wife have for the kids they serve. They keep pictures of them on their walls, even after they move away. They know all their names.
And I know where Huckabay is, I’m proud to say. I was blessed immensely by the souls I encountered. I pray for more Sampsons, more Coopers and more folks who don’t think they matter to come their way.
Those are people God can use.
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