Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

An Adventure in Life

Christopher Jones

I spent most of my early years in a broken family. My parents divorced when I was 4 years old. The years between that time and when I arrived at the Baptist Children’s Home in Madill were not easy. After the divorce, I went to live with my mother. A few months later, I was sent to a foster home. I wish that experience on no one. For the next few years I lived with my father in a trailer park near Tinker Air Force base. A few years later, my father lost his job and we started on public assistance.

When I turned 8, the responsibility of running the house was dumped on me. At this young age, I had to make sure things were done. I did not have a childhood. I had very little time to play with the other kids. I had too many other things to do. These experiences have shaped the rest of my life. I have always been mature beyond my age. But at the same time, I missed out on the childhood experiences, like being able to play with my friends. It was about this time that I decided I did not want to live this kind of life. I realized that my only way out of this hole was to excel in school. I always had a knack for learning things quickly. I was always an A and B student. Later in middle school and high school, I would receive many top student awards, mostly in math and science. I was determined not to live the same life on public assistance. I wanted to have some control over my life and not be totally dependent on other people.

In 1985, my father was arrested and then became very sick. It was at this time my grandparents finally decided to act. They removed my brother and me from the house. We then went to live with our grandfather. They decided that they could not raise us due to their age. My grandmother had a lake house on Lake Texoma and always drove by the campus in Madill. They decided to place us there.

For the first year, I was very angry with my grandparents for placing me there. It was like I was yanked out of my miserable life and put in a place I didn’t want to be. I had all those misconceptions about an “orphanage”. For that first year I was not much of a model person. But then the first of many things God has done in my life happened. Each year, the campus received two scholarships to Kanakuk/Kanacomo Kamps in Branson, Missouri. The camp has a Christian-athletic format. I was not the first person selected to go. The first person selected to go got into repeated trouble and lost his chance to go. I gladly accepted the opportunity to go, since I was looking for a way to get off the campus. What I did not know was what God had in store for me.

For it was during the 26-day camp that I discovered God. I knew who He was before, but I did not know Him. It was the first time I had been around that many true Christians my age. I realized that they had something I did not have. And that was true peace in their hearts that I was missing. That was where I met Greg Murtha and Greg Johnson. Murtha was my cabin leader. Johnson was the cabin leader next door. I got to know them both well. They were both a great influence on me. Greg Johnson, at the time, was the starting tackle at the University of Oklahoma and also had at one time lived at Madill. He was always an inspiration to me. During my time there, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. This was the true turning point in my life. I returned the following two years. In 1988, I was honored with the “I’m Third” award. It is presented each term to the person who exemplified the principle of putting God first, the other person second and being “I’m Third.” It was quite a shock to receive such a high award. I firmly believe that it is a belief that I live by, and that everybody should follow. I have always tried to encourage the other person to excel even if it means getting less of the credit myself. You never know how a little encouragement will affect a person. If people believe in themselves, they can accomplish anything with God’s help.

When I returned to Madill with a new fire in my heart, I learned that I would be getting new houseparents. At first I was anxious to know who they were, because this had all gone on while I was at Kanakuk. As it turned out, my new houseparents would become the single greatest influence on my life. Harlan and Cathy Snodgrass were beginning their careers as houseparents, and I was starting a new life. They were always there for me during the good and bad times.

Gayle Buck, who worked in the office at Madill, always took an interest in me and encouraged me to excel in the things that I did. She was always the one to say uplifting things and served as a role model in how to live your life. She was always after me to improve myself.

For some people, popularity is important, but I wanted to be the top student in the school. Unfortunately, there were stereotypes that I had to overcome. Some people believed that all the kids from the “Home” were bad apples, but I was out to prove them wrong. It was like wearing the Scarlet Letter to come from the Home. Most of the kids in the care of the Baptist Homes for Children just need a little focus in their lives. The first year was rough, but after I started to get awards for my grades, things started to change. It was a way for me to get my foot in the door, and let them know what kind of person I was.

Everything was going really good for me, until in September of 1987, when my mother could not overcome cancer. It was a hard time for me. But the Snodgrasses were there for me. They helped me overcome the hurt. It was very difficult for me because my mother and I were close. She was the only real parent in my life. In a span of almost 10 years, I only saw my father four times, and none of them were pleasant.

As the years rolled onto my graduation from high school, I became very close to Harlan and Cathy. They were like the parents I never had. They showed me how to live a Christian life and instilled in me many of the values that made me the person I am today. When I graduated from high school, I decided to attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant. I started work on a computer science degree. It was at this same time that I got a job working as a teller at a local bank. I really liked the work. Meeting the people helped me overcome my shyness. While I was working at this bank, I accepted a job for its sister bank doing computer processing. I worked both jobs for a year and a half. Then I was laid off in a cost-cutting phase. It was very hard at first, and I was in shock. I had never lost a job before.

After a lot of soul-searching and consulting with Harlan and Cathy, I decided to move to Stillwater and attend Oklahoma State University. It was here that life caught up with me. I eventually went to work full-time at a local bank to pay for my college education. It was a catch-22. I needed money to pay for my education, but I made too much for financial aid. I then proceeded to work full-time and attend school at night. It was during my first of many bank mergers that I thought really hard about what I wanted to do in life. I had really enjoyed working in the financial industry. So I then decided to change my major to finance.

When the second bank merger came along, I decided that it was time to get my degree finished. I then transferred to a branch bank in Norman. For the last year, I have juggled a full-time job and a full-time school schedule at the University of Oklahoma. It had always been my dream to graduate from the University of Oklahoma. In May of 1998, I will graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Finance.

Looking back, God has steered my life in so many ways. He has always opened a door for me when a door closed. I have always fully believed that how you treat others will always come back to you. You never know when you will need their help. Life is full of twists and turns, but with God’s guidance, you will always know which way to go. If you are kind and gentle to others, they will be kind and gentle to you. As a friend once described me, I am just an oversized teddy bear. I will give the shirt off my back, if you make an honest effort to improve yourself. I have always believed that you should try to walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge them.

There are a lot of people who have helped shape my life. Gayle Buck always encouraged me to do better. For that I will always be thankful. There were many minor players in my adventure so far, but the greatest appreciation goes to Harlan and Cathy Snodgrass. They were always there for me and always will be. As they retired after 11 years of service in the child care ministry, thankfully they moved to Norman to be closer to their family and me. As I close this story of my adventures, I would like to encourage you to help support a child in need. They are helpless. It is not always the money that counts. Time spent with a children in need will change their lives forever. Children are our future, we must take care of them now so they can take care of us in the future.

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