“I couldn’t stop talking about Jesus”
Twenty-two years ago, I was born to two wonderful people, Eugene and Melina Cook. I am the middle child of their three girls. Dad was a traditional aboriginal man; he knew how to hunt, fish, prepare hides, was fluent in our native language. Mom, a lovely and compassionate person, is also fluent in Cree.
Every summer, we’d pack our bags and live at Hatchet Lake Lodge, Wollaston Lake, Sask., where Dad worked as a tourist guide. These summer adventures were the highlight of my year. In between, we lived on a reserve called Sucker River. Surrounded by beautiful spruce and poplar trees, traversed by a river, overlooking Lac La Ronge, it offered so much to explore! I loved growing up in this place.
I was raised in a non-Christian home. Both my parents were alcoholics, and when dad was drunk he was often abusive. They also struggled with other substance abuses and drugs. Despite this, my first nine years hold great memories.
In fact, I’d have said everything was good, until my mom, unable to endure more physical abuse, filed for divorce. That summer was spent going between my parents’ homes while they worked out joint custody. Then one day, my mom, sisters, and I were visited by police officers, social workers, and uncles to tell us that our dad had committed suicide.
After dad’s death, so much changed. We felt like the ground had been pulled out from underneath us. I agonized over the ways I had failed at being a daughter. Why did he have to leave? We had no idea how to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and start a journey toward healing. Holding our hurts by ourselves became the safest way to go on. We relied on substances to numb our pain. We wanted to forget, rather than accept this part of our story, heal, and move on.
The next five years, suicide, alcoholism, abuse, neglect, and not knowing where my next meal would come from were things familiar to me. I struggled with despair, anger, distrust, and shame. I was ashamed of everything about me and my history. I attempted suicide; like my parents, I turned to alcohol to numb my pain; and I tried to find my worth in relationships.
At age 14, I hated who I was. I hated that I hurt so much, and in that woundedness, I hurt people around me. Afraid of being rejected, I hid my true joys and fears from my family and friends, making myself appear tough and calloused on the outside, so no one had the opportunity to hurt me. More than anything, I wanted to have a reason worth living for and to be loved unconditionally – but I would have never admitted that to anyone.
God knew all of this. He saw my wounded, bleeding heart full of despair and hatred, and in his amazing grace, he revealed himself to me during that very dark season of my life. That summer, a mission team from Sterling, Col., came to my community to share the good news of a Saviour who created me to be in relationship with him.
I remember that week of VBS like it was yesterday. I was drawn to the kindness and compassion of the group, instantly growing attached to a quiet girl named Emily. Emily and the team showed me the love of Christ in the way they treated each other and my people, and they presented the gospel in ways a “too-cool-for-Bible-school,” rebellious and wild 14-year-old could understand. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
I wish I could live every day just like the moment I trusted my life in Jesus Christ. That moment was the happiest of my life; I would have been content if Jesus took me to be with him that day. But I remember getting up off my knees after I told Jesus I loved him, looking around my dark and quiet room, thinking that so much needed to change.
The next weeks proved just how much would change. God gave me the strength to let go of my growing addictions and abuses. I couldn’t stop talking about Jesus and the Bible to my friends. However, to be cool and accepted by these friends, I would have to give up my relationship with Jesus – and that was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. To have my friends become strangers to me hurt almost as much as losing my dad, but now I knew Jesus was my reason for living.
As we exchanged letters, Emily helped inspire a love for God’s Word in me and an appreciation for prayer. She explained her favourite verses, then asked me mine and why. She prayed that I would become more like Jesus every day. She is a wonderful example of a disciple for me, and a friend and sister in Christ to this day.
Experiencing his grace
About six months after becoming a Christian (little Jesus), I met another mission team from a Bible school not too far from my home. These young people taught me a lot about the Word, and I had my heart set on attending this Bethany College in Hepburn, Sask., as soon as I graduated.
I was baptized in 2006 in my community, and God helped me understand the things of my past did not have to define me. I experienced his grace not only the day I trusted Jesus, but every day since. It has not been easy – I still experience the heartache of living in a fallen world. But God has kept me safe from many things in these past seven and a half years of being a Christian. I am thankful.
Looking back at this adventure I have been walking with Jesus is a lot of fun; hindsight is great! It blesses me to see the many people God has brought into my life to help me grow as a Christ follower. He continues to transform me from a scared, wounded, ashamed child into one who is confident in her love for Jesus and his love for her. I know he loves me, I love him too.
Note: At the beginning of the winter semester, second-year Bethany College students have the opportunity to earn credit for team participation on a week-long, off-campus service learning trip in a First Nations community in Northern Saskatchewan.This month, the Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will hold a national listening event in Saskatoon from June 21–24.
To find out more about how to engage with the issues, see MCC Saskatchewan, the Peacebuilding on the Prairies blog, Mythperceptions (a project of MCC’s Indigenous Work Program), and the EFC’s Aboriginal Ministires Council.