Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning


John Fite

As a pastor, I was interested in the ministry to children through the Department of Child Care of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The “Thanksgiving” love offering and “Birthday” offering were promoted in our church. In the Spring or Summer, I would order egg cases from the Baptist Children’s Home and pick them up at Mistletoe Express. Then I would travel over the rural community, giving folks an opportunity to give eggs. Practically everyone who had eggs would give some. It made no difference whether or not they were church members or even Christians. They just wanted to help the children. The eggs were taken to Mistletoe and shipped to the Children’s Home. The Home sold them and bought other needed items. For several years, people would bring home-canned food to the church at a designated time and a truck from the Home would pick it up. The State Health Department felt some of the food might be inadequately prepared and stopped that practice. Factory-canned food could be given.

It was in the early 1960’s that a youth Vacation Bible School group from our church at Oklahoma Avenue, Shawnee, visited the Baptist Home at N. W. 63rd and Pennsylvania. A young lady, about 12 years old, was our guide. We were favorably impressed. It was difficult to hold back the tears while going through the small children’s cottage. They wanted lots of attention. From there, we went onto Boys Ranch Town. We enjoyed our visit there. It was sponsor’s vacation and most of the boys were gone. As we visited a cottage, a boy was sitting outside on his luggage. The houseparent said, “He is waiting on his sponsor to come after him. The sponsor isn’t coming, but he doesn’t know it.” We asked if he could go home with us for sponsor’s vacation. There really wasn’t car room for him, and his luggage, but arrangements were made with the administrator for him to go with us for two weeks. It was sad to see a teenage boy cry when his vacation ended. He begged to stay with us.

In 1969, I was pastor of View Acres Baptist Church in Tulsa. My wife, Lillian, was employed at Sweet Adeline’s (clerical, not singing). We discussed becoming foster parents, but decided to check on being full-time houseparents instead. After prayer and conversing with others, we believed that God was leading in full-time direction. So, on January 1, 1970, we began working as houseparents in Kerr Cottage at the Baptist Children’s Home, Oklahoma City.

We brought more furniture than we needed, because we were not sure how long we would stay. The Home would have furnished what we needed, but we didn’t want to sell ours and maybe have to buy again. Had we known that it was the beginning of a 20-year employment, we probably would have had a large garage sale before we moved. I’m sure the men who helped unload the truck wished we had.

My first job at the Home was memorable. It was December 31, 1969, about 9:00 p.m. There was a deep snow and traffic was moving slowly. Mr. Avery Marion, our maintenance supervisor, called for me to accompany him across town to pick up some donuts. A bakery was closing out the year and wanted us to get what they had on hand. There were about 200 dozen donuts. So, on New Year’s Day, 1970, I spent the day boxing donuts and placing them in the large walk-in freezer. Then small boxes would be delivered to the cottages as needed.

We serve 6½ years as houseparents to teen-age girls—a total of 69. I worked in maintenance, painting, lawn mowing, bus driving, etc. The other 13½ years, we took other positions working with the entire campus instead of majoring on one cottage. Some people asked, “Why did you leave the ministry—pastoral ministry of 23 years—to work at the Children’s Home?” We didn’t think of it as leaving the ministry, but a change in type of ministry.

Sometimes the work was frustrating. Like when a child didn’t want to help or would not receive help, regardless of the effort that was put forth. However, it was rewarding when one seemed to appreciate what was done. Therefore, I usually said my work was frustratingly rewarding.

The ones who had experienced the most difficult situations at home were most likely to appreciate the guidance, protection and provisions of the Baptist Children’s Home. For instance, the 12-year-old girl, whose mother was ill, was trying to provide a mother’s care for her five siblings. She was glad for help. Her father was a fine man, but couldn’t take care of the children and keep a job at the same time. Another young lady who was old enough to check herself into the Home requested acceptance. She had been running with the wrong crowd and needed some time away from them to get her life in order. She did and was grateful for the opportunity. She returned home and did fine.

There were many humorous experiences. The two I’ll share both happened during Falls Creek assemblies. A young man was really covered with poison ivy. His face was swollen and the rash was about to get in his eyes. I took him to the medical clinic. The doctor looked at him and decided he needed something by mouth, but an injection was needed, also. As the doctor prepared the medicine, he looked at the boy and said, “Are you allergic to anything?” The boy seriously replied, “I think I’m allergic to poison ivy.” The doctor had a good laugh.

The other incident involved a young lady. We were loading the bus to return home following an assembly. It was hot. I was placing things in the bus as the campers brought them to me. A young lady came to the side of the bus and asked, “Mr. Fite, may I go to Lost and Found and look for my Bible?” (She had already lost and found it once during the week.) Rather sharply, I said, “You had better hurry, we’re getting ready to leave. What kind of Bible was it?” She very calmly said, “Holy”. I just wiped the sweat and laughed to myself. She was so right!

Staff workshops were enjoyable times for learning, fellowship, and getting acquainted with staff from all campuses. One had the feeling of belonging to a great team of Christian workers focused on ministry to children.

Though overall we enjoyed our work, there were times when we probably would have quit if both had agreed to do so at the same time. One would be ready to quit and the other one wouldn't, so we would continue. We are glad we did.

One of OBHC’s heroes, John Fite, passed away Sunday Morning, December 30, 2007. His funeral was Wednesday, January 2, at 2:00 at Emmanuel Baptist Church Shawnee.

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