Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

Elizabeth Hudman Corwin

I always get a laugh when I tell my friends that the theme song for the children in the Baptist Orphan’s Home was “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” However, the circumstances of our being sent to the Home were no laughing matter! My mother, Emma Dee Hudman, died at age 31, when I was barely 1 year old. My father, James Thomas, at age 73, was old and unable to care for his young family of seven children. So, my older brothers, James, Jack, George and I, at the urging of our family pastor, M. E. Ramey, at First Baptist Church in Edmond, were placed in the Home. The date was December 7. 1939. We never lived together again as a family unit.

That was a dreadful day for me. At 4 years of age, I remember hiding under my sister’s coat, hoping no one would notice that she had four legs. That experience 58 years ago causes tears to fall; however, for different reasons than one would suspect. All through my adolescent years, I felt my brothers and I were the unlucky ones having to live in the Home and now, I weep because there was not enough space for Oklahoma Baptists to care for my older sisters, too. Perhaps their lives would have been significantly different.

As a child of 5, my photo was printed with the words “Thank you, thank you and thank you!” on the Home’s promotional brochure. So, this is my small way to say to you, as an adult, Oklahoma Baptists – Thank you, thank you and thank you!

What did you do for me and for almost 6,000 other kids? Accepting us in time of need, loving us, caring for us, nurturing us and opening doors for us we would never have had otherwise. Very few of us were true orphans, but were from broken families, some of them seriously dysfunctional. I came to realize that generally the orphans had less trauma to overcome than those with living parents who had remarried many times. The feeling of rejection several times over when none of the ‘steps’ want you to live with them was especially hurtful to some of my Home friends. No doubt the greatest thing you did for me was to give me the opportunity to choose Jesus as the giver of eternal life and not only that, but if I chose to be obedient to Him, I could also experience the ‘abundant life.” You also provided the atmosphere for me to discover who I really am—as a child dearly beloved by God who has a wonderful plan for my life. You provided a foundation of belief that I have talents and gifts given by God that I can choose to use or waste. I can become cynical, bitter and angry or I can weave into the fabric of my life the grays, blacks and dark hues of disappointment and discouragement and see God’s plan of creating a richer tapestry of my life. I have a choice to make about my response to sad circumstances and rather than see myself as a victim, view those difficulties as opportunities to grow stronger. I love the story of Joseph in the Bible sold into slavery who, through every terrible event, attested to a loving God who turns bad experiences into something good for His children. The identity crisis of who I am and to whom do I belong, when the family situation is less than ideal, is crucial to children. As a resident for 16 years, I gained a sense of belonging at the Home, at my church and with my WMU “Society.” And I ultimately discovered that my true identity is in Christ. I now define myself by what He thinks of me and His faithfulness to me and not by other superficial guidelines.

Many Baptists were there at crucial times in my life. Of course, the Truman Maxeys spent their lives at the Home and have encouraged us through our years on the mission field by praying and corresponding. Pop Maxey was our ‘front man.’ There was Mom Stinson, who showed respect (even for kids) and always had a listening ear for a troubled adolescent. And Millie (Gilliam) had a tough exterior and a heart like a marshmallow. She continues to keep in touch and also prays for us. Mom Huffman (Irene) challenged me to work hard and buy the fabric and she would make the clothes I wanted for my entrance into OBU. The Orley Lands taught me the value of doing a job well the first time as I re-ironed far too many shirts. And there were many others.

The preaching of pastors who shaped my life is nothing short of Who’s Who in Baptist life in Oklahoma during those years. Among them were M. E. Ramey, Willis Howard, J. Howard Williams (who baptized me), Herschel Hobbs (I wrote him a fan letter once and he responded), C. E. Matthews, who preached a revival at First Baptist, Oklahoma City, and Charlie and Laurie Taylor of Falls Creek fame. Every Sunday, a host of other First Baptist Sunday School/Training Union/Sunbeam and G.A. teachers molded my life and put up with the antics of the Home kids. I learned from them that church is a good place to be. Their names I cannot remember, but their loving, caring ways I cannot forget. I learned generosity and obligation through the envelope with the .01¢ offering we gave every Sunday. I was glad I had even a small amount to give and that I could keep up with the kids from regular homes in Sunday School.

The First Baptist Church Men’s Bible Class afforded music lessons: choral, voice, piano and drama for the kids at the Home. I must confess at this late date that I never practiced the piano enough to become a church pianist, but did learn to play one Haydn song so we could play the game of Musical Chairs.

I was at times recalcitrant and difficult to manage as I had a mind of my own. And I learned to do anything to get extra attention. Now that I have reared three children of my own, I realize the truth of the quotation: “Children would rather be praised than punished but they would rather be punished than ignored.” I made sure I was never ignored! I am so grateful there were people who saw the good in me and never gave up on me. I learned the coping skills for life, which I needed to become a well-adjusted adult.

  • Continued...

    My birthday and Christmas were made more fun by the wonderful folks at my “Society” or the WMU of First Baptist Church, Pauls Valley. Those folks made me feel like the most special kid at the Home by providing gifts selected just for me on my birthday and Christmas. That first bicycle, blue and chrome, was all mine! Mrs. George Berry sewed what seemed like a room full of clothes just my size and had them hanging around the room when I walked in for my annual vacation to Pauls Valley. I went to Falls Creek with them every year and remember that as a highlight of my life! The pastor in those early years from that church was Leonard Stigler who made me feel a part of his own family when he called me down for giggling in church, along with his own daughter, Sarah. Along with a sense of embarrassment came a feeling of belonging to a family—that made me feel special! Hale Dixon was the pastor later and his family, along with the Perrys, the Ledgerwoods, the Milners and the Lukes, were people who loved me and told me so and showed me. Muriel Williams, who had few of the world’s goods but a loving heart, made me welcome in her modest home. She cooked my favorite foods. Baptists are kind people!

    Prior to my graduation from John Marshall High School in 1952, the kids from the Home could choose any of the Oklahoma universities to attend and the tuition was paid by Baptists. However, that year, the announcement was made that we could only attend Oklahoma Baptist University. I remember distinctly being rather irritated, rather than grateful to be able to attend at all, and made the remark that “All you want is for us to meet and marry some dumb ole preacher.” It was in God’s plan for me that that preacher (who was not dumb at all and the most handsome guy on the OBU campus) would be my husband for 43 years now. Bill Corwin grew up in a pastor’s home. His father was D. H. Corwin.

    When I married Bill, I said I loved him enough to follow him to the ends of the earth—and he took me literally! After graduation from seminary and serving as pastor in Texas for several years, he sensed the Lord wanted us to continue our ministry on the mission field. In 1966, we began the process of being appointed by the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention. We left with our three children in 1968 for Southeast Asia where we served in Indonesia for 21 years and in Singapore for nine years.

    One of my hesitations about going to the mission field with Bill was that Foreign Mission Board consultants advised us that there was a possibility that we would be required to send our kids away to boarding school for their high-school years. I felt it unfair that my kids should be apart from their parents just as I had as a child, and so I resisted that requirement of being on the mission field. The Lord convinced me in certain ways that He knew my emotional needs and He could and would take care of every need of my heart, even if it meant being separated from our children during their teen years. It was a giant leap of faith to go as missionaries, but my ability to trust God had grown, and so once again, I trusted Him. He had always been faithful to me and I had learned that God does even more than we ever ‘think or dream.’

    I was not anxious for the day to come when our children would go to boarding school. Our firstborn, Scott, was ready for junior high and would go to Faith Academy in Taiwan for school. The international community in Jakarta (the capitol city where we were assigned) decided to establish the first Joint Embassy High School. When Scott had completed the eighth grade, the ninth grade was added, which meant we could keep him home for another year. Not only that, but the Indonesian Baptist Mission asked us to be surrogate parents for other missionary kids who were required to leave homes in the villages all over the archipelago to come to Jakarta for high school. The Mission felt we had a special sensitivity to adolescents living without their parents because of my early experiences in the Baptist Home!

    Well, I did ask the Lord to allow me to teach and nurture my own kids through high school, but I didn’t dream He would give us up to 28 other teenagers to love and care for under the same roof. Difficult—yes! But tremendously fulfilling, particularly after they are grown and functioning as well-adjusted, contributing adults.

    Because of a need for the teachers in the churches on the mission field for instruction in methods of teaching and in curriculum planning, I had the opportunity while on furlough to upgrade. I also spent some time at the Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee, to check out the materials they offered. This prepared me for the next assignment that I was given, which was to transfer to Singapore to be the Education Consultant for the Singapore Convention. My task there was to plan and implement teacher training events for Bible teaching in any setting (Sunday School, cell groups, etc.) and to assist the churches in curriculum planning. Bill was involved in seminary teaching, leadership training and church development at the time.

    In addition, we have had the opportunity to help begin the work in the Riau Islands of Indonesia in cooperation with the Missions Department of the Singapore Baptist Convention and to travel to several other countries to equip and train teachers. Those countries include Sarawak, Sabah (West Malaysia states), Brunei, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines to strengthen leadership and encourage believers.

    We have been on furlough from the mission field eight times and have spoken in many churches across the U.S. Many times as we report on our work in Southeast Asia, Bill and I express appreciation for the prayers and financial support of the people in the churches here at home. I also mention the partnership of Oklahoma Baptists who continue to make a home for so many children in need. When the Home place on 63rd and Pennsylvania was sold several years ago, I told some people that “my old homestead sold for millions.” Until I explained, they thought I was some rich missionary!

    Bill and I have three children and four grandchildren. Scott is a pastor in Dallas, Texas; Kerri is a surgical nurse on an organ transplant team in Boulder, Colo.; and Kelly is a pastor’s wife in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. They are all active in Baptist life.

    From the very beginning of my story, the Baptists at First Church in Edmond contributed basic necessities to our family, and then Baptists of Oklahoma provided for me and educated me; I married a Baptist pastor and continued on the Baptist payroll; served on the mission field for 30 years supported by Baptists; and am currently living in a furlough residence owned by a Baptist Church. If I ever became a Methodist, it would be nothing short of treason!

    It is with a deep sense of gratitude to the Lord working through Oklahoma Baptists that I say, “Thank you, thank you and thank you!” You have allowed Him to use you to make me who I am today.

    “...God is a father to the fatherless and sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:5,6 NIV & NAS)

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