A Change of Heart in Tulsa
September 1, 2003 - Through the Children's Heart Project of Samaritan's Purse, Christians in 27 states have brought to their communities 205 child heart patients from Bosnia, Kosovo, Mongolia and Uganda—countries where complicated pediatric cardiac surgery is not available. Through the project, a community comes together to minister physically—and spiritually—to child heart patients and their parents.
by Amanda Knoke
Without help, Emina and Djana were both going to die.
Born with heart defects in the war-torn country of Bosnia, the girls had no hope. Neither girl's parents had jobs, and because Bosnian hospitals had been bombed, there was no way for the children to have surgery there.
In April 1998, Emina and Djana were the first two of 10 Bosnian children who would be treated at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., through the Children's Heart Project.
When Emina arrived, she was unable to walk; she was an unhappy baby who wouldn't let anyone hold her except her mother. "After her surgery, Emina played with people and smiled all the time," said Nancy Cook, a Samaritan's Purse volunteer in Tulsa for eight years. "Physically and mentally, she was a different child."
Emina's mother, Sajda, now back in Bosnia with Emina, still keeps in touch with Cook. "I can't keep up with Emina," Sajda wrote. "She runs all over the place and is an incredibly active child."
The children found hope for a full life as a result of the medical treatment they received. But the benefits of the Children's Heart Project go beyond medicine.
The heart patients' mothers traveled with their children from Bosnia. The mothers told Cook that they had never before experienced the outpouring of love that they did in Tulsa, Cook said.
Cook remembers waiting with Emina's and Djana's mothers for the girls to come out of the ICU after surgery. "Both mothers were in tears," Cook recalled. "They said, 'You do things for us that our families would not even do. You've been with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the churches, the schools, the community, we have never felt love like this before.'"
Cook replied, "This is the love of Jesus that you are feeling." Recounting the experience, Cook added that she also made sure the mothers understood that she prayed for their children in Jesus' name.
Before the Bosnian children returned home, Cook arranged a meeting for them to visit Tulsa students. During the schools' chapel times, hundreds of students prayed for the heart patients. "Tulsa schoolchildren were changed," Cook said. "[Meeting the Bosnian children] opened a whole new world to them."
Tulsa students also received a glimpse of the types of children who are receiving their shoe-box gifts through Operation Christmas Child. "It brought it all together for them," Cook said.
Because of Cook's involvement with Samaritan's Purse, Christians in Tulsa asked her if she thought that Franklin Graham might come to their community.
So in the fall of 1998, Cook approached the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association about a possible Franklin Graham Festival. Over the course of three years, she met people from many denominational backgrounds who wanted to invite Franklin to Tulsa. Cook said that she spoke with more than one person who had been praying for 30 years that Tulsa would experience revival.
On the evening of September 10, 2001, Cook and 11 other Christian leaders met at the Council Oak Tree, a historic Native American meeting site, to pray for 100 letters of invitation that had been written to Franklin Graham. The group asked God to anoint the letters for His purpose to bring revival to the community.
The next morning, Cook had the letters in her car to be mailed when she heard reports of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. "I was impressed with the incredible importance of lifting Christ up in our community," Cook said. "You never know what may happen; we must share the Gospel."
Many of Tulsa's children and youth, through their exposure to Operation Christmas Child and the Children's Heart Project, also embraced the vision of inviting Franklin Graham to their community. In addition to the 100 letters Cook initially sent out, about 200 children and youth wrote letters to Franklin Graham. One read: "Dear Franklin, I want you to come to Tulsa because my grandpa doesn't know Jesus. If you come to Tulsa, I promise that I'll bring him so that he can hear about Jesus."
Cook marvels at how God has woven together her involvement with Operation Christmas Child, the Children's Heart Project and now, the Northeast Oklahoma Festival with Franklin Graham. "Tulsa tends to be divided along denominational, ethnic, cultural and age lines," Cook said. "Franklin Graham appeals to people across those lines and bridges the dividing gaps."
Ten Bosnian children came to Tulsa and received hope for new life on this earth with physically changed hearts. And the prayer of Christians in Tulsa is that when Franklin Graham speaks of the hope of Jesus Sept. 19-21, thousands of hearts will be changed for eternity.