Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Had It Not Been for the Children's Home

JoAnne Sheltman (Watson) Evans

I was around 9 years of age when I came to the Baptist Children’s Home on North West 63rd and Penn.

The reason I was placed in the Children’s Home was due to a court order. My neighbors, who were Christians, called the police to have me removed due to severe physical and mental abuse by my mother.

My father was very protective. He never talked negatively about my mother, and he took me everywhere with him until the day he died.

My mother worked as a waitress, and I was left alone at home. I was not allowed to even go to my neighbors to visit or eat. If she found out I had, she would take around seven paddles that come with rubber balls tied to a string around the handles, and beat my legs until they bled and were bruised and tie me to the bedpost. The neighbors reported the abuse, but I would deny her doing this because I was afraid she would beat me again. My neighbors would feed me healthy meals because my mother never cooked, except maybe on Sundays when she cooked mashed potatoes. The rest of the week, I lived on cold mashed potatoes, candy bars and junk food.

I never had a real bath or shower until I went to the Home. I slept in a baby bed until I came to the Home. I never knew what new clothes were. I only had two dresses at a time that my mother made with big hand stitches in them.

My mother had severe mental problems. I wasn’t allowed to have friends to play with. If I got caught doing anything, she would beat me again. When she was off work, she wouldn’t come straight home. She would be out all night. Different men would bring her home.

She never had time for me or the house. I was raised in a filthy environment. My shower was used for garbage. The garbage was stacked to the ceiling. If she received tips that had torn bills, or green on the coins, she would throw them in the trash. She would tell me that the money was thrown in the trash because no one would take it. Out of curiosity, I would take the money down to the farmer’s market cafe and get some real good fried chicken dinners, etc. After a while, she began missing the money. She knew I had gotten it, so she beat me again.

I was taken to a county home for about a month. Judge Homer Smith gave her a chance to change. The change only lasted about two weeks. That’s when I was court ordered to the Children’s Home. The day I was taken to the Children’s Home, they discovered I had some health problems. They took good care of me.

The first day at the Home, all I did was sit in my cottage and cry. I looked out my window and watched all the kids play outside. I was placed in Kerr Cottage, where there were about 18 children to one housemother. The cottage was spotless. I didn’t seem to fit. I didn’t know how to play with the other kids, let alone know how to clean.

We were made to go to three church services a week. I didn’t feel I fit with the church people either. My Sunday School teacher was the only person who came to visit me.

I began to ditch church and go to the drugstore, but I would get caught. We attended Olivet Baptist Church. We had to go to Training Union, and I hated it because you had to get up in front of others and give a part. That wasn’t for me because I had a fear of getting up in front of others.

The Home tried to bring out the best in me. They thought I had a good voice. I tried out for a singing group called the Tri-Tones. I enjoyed that. We got to go all across Oklahoma and perform at various Baptist churches. I was grounded because I had a run-away problem. I couldn’t count the times I ditched school or ran away.

I would run away either to my mother’s house or my Sunday School teacher’s house. I would be angry at my teacher for calling the Home and reporting where I was. Many times Mr. Browning would bring me back and I dreaded that because I knew I was in a world of trouble. It got to the point where spankings didn’t do any good, so Mr. Browning took my privileges away from me, such as getting to go to Spring Lake, or taking vacations with my church WMU sponsors. All I wanted was attention and a home environment with a mother and father. I was very rebellious and resented rules and regulations. I couldn’t fathom how one little housemother could love me, along with 17 other girls.  I resented going to church every time the door was open, and being made to attend nightly devotionals in our cottage; also having to study my Sunday School lesson and recite it to my housemother on Saturday night before I could go out and play or watch Lawrence Welk.

The Home protected me from going to visit my mother on Christmas vacation until I was a senior. When I went to visit her, I decided not to return. One day a detective came knocking at my mother’s door. I was taken immediately to the Juvenile Detention Center at the Berry House. I was locked in my room with a steel door that locked behind me. There were bars on the window. I was there for three days. I wasn’t the worst kid there. I told them I would mop, wax and buff their floors to work my way out. I was almost 18 years old. I knew how to mop and wax and could do them well, because at the Home we had to do the floors every Saturday. We had many people visit on Sunday. I thought it was a good deal to get out, but when I was released, I had no place to go. The Home did not accept me back because I was a few days away from being 18, and they had done everything they could to help me. I had also been a bad influence on the other kids because I was always coaxing someone to run away with me. I went to my mother’s, but she refused me because she had a boyfriend and she hadn’t told him about me. I had no place to go.  In January, I slept on a cardboard box in an alley two blocks away from my mother’s house. A lady that had 10 children found me after I had been sleeping out about two weeks. She let me stay with her to clean up and eat until I got a job. I did get a job, as a waitress for 60 cents an hour at Bishop’s Restaurant. They worked me a split shift. I was so ignorant I didn’t know what a split shift was. I worked part of a shift and didn’t come back. They gave me a chance, but I wasn’t making enough money to support myself or rent an apartment, so I quit. I went to work at another restaurant and worked one hour at a Mexican restaurant. I spilled drinks all over some businessmen and walked out.

  • Continued...

    I got to thinking maybe things would be better for me if I tried going to church. I had vowed that I would never darken the door of a church again. I went to a small church and began dating a man who went there. On my first date with him, I was taken to a busy club. I was shocked. I had never been anywhere like that. He seemed to know everyone, and he got me a job as a topless go-go dancer. The money was excellent. I got busted because I was underage and it was illegal. My name came out on the front of the newspaper and I knew everyone knew about it, including the Home and Olivet Baptist Church. I was told I couldn’t visit the Baptist Home for a while due to my influence on the other children.

    It wasn’t long until I met a man who owned a bar next to the bus station in downtown Oklahoma City. He was a little older than me. I married him, and we moved right across the street from Olivet Baptist Church. We had a very good business.  However, working at the bar and being an owner began to bother me, especially when I would see little children come looking for their parents, especially dads who had just gotten paid on Friday nights. I was under conviction.

    When I found out I was expecting a baby, something came over me. I didn’t want my baby raised around a bar environment. After my baby boy came, the Cradle Roll Department from Olivet Baptist Church came to visit me, to invite us to church.   I started going to the church I was raised in. I was embarrassed because I knew Bro. Ralph Crawford and all the other members who knew me knew about the dancing ordeal. It wasn’t easy for me, owning a bar and going to church. I was leading a double life.

    My husband was really a good man. He didn’t drink. We started going to church with our baby who was 2 weeks old. We attended a revival. Winifred Moore was preaching. My husband and I both were saved. I bet I had been saved and baptized three times, but it had only been on emotions. It was a big step for my husband to sell the bar because that’s all he had ever done. We sold it. I had another boy. They are 15 months apart. We bought a laundromat and went broke. He went to work as a city bus driver, and I went to work as a retail clerk at Lerner Shops, and later became a department manager.

    I’ve been blessed with many good jobs since. I lacked one semester finishing high school. When I was in my 30’s, I went to Rose State College and was placed on the Vice President’s Honor Roll.

    I started getting involved in mission work with small children’s choirs. I had the opportunity of sending both of my boys to a Christian school, called Christian Heritage.

    I was afraid that I would be abusive to my children because statistics show if you were abused as a child, you tend to abuse your own children. I prayed I would be patient and loving with them. They both have good jobs.

    In October, 1978, I became director of the Battered Women’s and Children’s Center. I loved that work. I did that for about seven years. Then I worked a short time at Boys Ranch Town in Edmond as a cook and part-time relief houseparent. My husband felt too confined so we left. I worked about seven years as a counselor for the homeless and street people at the Downtown Baptist Church food room where they feed daily from 8 til 3, six days a week. I helped many find employment, witnessed to them, and helped them get on drug and alcohol programs. Many good results came from this.

    I am a widow now. I had to find a job that had some benefits. I went to work for Goodwill Industries for the mentally and physically disabled. I am now manager of one of the stores. I have been with them about six years. I’m a store manager in Midwest City, and I am content with my life. I also am active at the Downtown Baptist Church. I teach in Children’s Church and choir.

    I have recently been asked if I would consider running another women’s center and be on the advisory board. Olivet Baptist Church is fixing up a house to help women and children. That’s a matter I’m praying about now, because I own my own home, have a dog I love, and I love the job I have.

    Who would have ever guessed or known my life would be filled with all of these great opportunities.

    When no one thought I was paying attention, the word of God was planted in my brain, even when I tried to ignore it. I learned Scriptures that were taught to me. I now can speak in front of every kind of crowd about the Home and give my testimony. I was taught domestic chores that I probably never would have known otherwise.

    I didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities that the Home had to offer. The Home offers you a chance to babysit. You can save your money and the Home will match the funds to send you to college, such as OBU. The Home attempts to bring out the best in you. I have no one to thank but the Baptist Children’s Home for teaching me when I seemed unteachable for almost 10 years of my life. I now thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting and caring for me. I do not know what would have happened to me if I had not had this foundation taught to me.

    My mother passed away in May of 1997. I continued to visit her in the nursing home, but she never once acknowledged her love for me, which ended in a very painful funeral.

    Thanks for letting me share my testimony.

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