Farm Talk

September 5, 2012

Finding hope in devastation's aftermath

by Danielle Beard

Parsons, Kansas —

A Cowboy’s Calling

One early Sunday morning in the summer of 1989, Wade Markham, pastor at Cowboy Junction Church, walked into his den to find his son and eight other cowboys asleep, after coming in late the night before from a rodeo.

“That’s when the dream took off, because I saw these boys were so focused on rodeo but they still needed to know the Lord and how he had tapped into me, and my life,” Markham said.

This moment gave way to what would become the beginning of Cowboy Junction.

“We started by having a fellowship on Monday nights,” said Louise Markham, wife of Wade Markham. “I would bake a cake and have desserts there while Wade would teach a basic lesson for 15-20 minutes and then they would go out and rope in the arena.”

What began as a small gathering on Monday nights among a few cowboys began to take off and attract more and more people to the services being held in the vet barn. According to Markham, when Monday night fellowships started consistently attracting crowds of 125 plus people, he decided they would have to expand.

“It was kind of a novelty for years,” Markham said. “Cowboy churches were a rarity back then, it seemed like no matter what we did we still attracted the people.”

The Markham’s began to draw up the plans to enlarge the vet barn in order to allow more people to attend Monday night fellowship.

“We were out measuring one day, when Wade said, I think what we really need to do is build a new barn, and that was is what became the first section of Cowboy Junction,” Louise said.

The first building was finished in 1996. Within the first year the church averaged 200 people per service, in the new barn. So plans were drawn up to further expand Cowboy Junction. The second part was finished the following year with the ability to hold a capacity of 600.

“After the second edition was added we started running about 450 people in the services,” Louise said.

A Place Where Families Could Come

In 2001 the Chuck Wagon Restaurant was built. The cowboy feel of the church was carried over into the interior and style of the restaurant. The atmosphere was like stepping back in time into the old west. Complete with wood plank tables, and chairs with the church’s cattle brand burned into them. Surrounding the dining area was an old fashioned saw mill, jail, general store, and a little white church front that led into the sanctuary.

“A lot of places you go out to eat, you have to wait in a bar or whatever, with your kids, for your table to open up,” Louise said. “We just wanted a place where people who came didn’t have to go through that, it would just be a safe place.”

Offering a family atmosphere is not the only policy the church holds for the restaurant. Most of the employees of the Chuck Wagon are people who have been out on their luck and just need someone to believe in them.

“Our focus is people with addictions, and who need help in that area, we think there’s a great need there,” said Marsha Hawkins, Cowboy Junction Administrative Officer, and daughter of Wade and Louise Markham. “Those people need to know you can’t be not good enough for God, he loves you how you are.”

The Most Devastating Day

“It was a Sunday, and after the service the whole family went out to our restaurant manager, Sandye’s house for lunch,” said Heath Hawkins, grandson of Wade and Louise Markham. “At 1:45 p.m. we got the call that the restaurant was on fire.”

On July 24, 2011, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the restaurant that quickly spread and engulfed both the church and restaurant.

“It was the most devastating day of my life,” Markham said. “I watched a dream burn, I watched the facility that was the last 15 years of my life burn up in ashes for seven hours.”

The fire was not just devastating to Markham but also to others closely affiliated with the church.

“I was away from church that day and got a call that there was a fire, I thought well they will get it out, but then it just escalated,” said Greg Highsmith, church member. “I couldn't get out to the church until it was pretty much gone.”

Watching the fire burn down the church left the family in a state of shock.

“My first thought when I saw the fire was, is this really happening?” Heath said. “I turned to my mom and said, “What are our employees going to do?”

As the fire raged on people showed up to see what was going on, however instead of standing around and watching, members of the church and the community banded together to try and save as much out of the school as possible before the fire reached it.

“I walked around the corner and there were probably about 200 people that had formed this line, and were getting things out of the school and loading it all into a semi to save the school,” Marsha said. “I lost it, I just sat there and bawled I couldn’t believe all those people. There were people who used to attend church here, people I knew went to other churches, there were friends, and then there were people I didn’t have a clue who they were. I was just in awe that there was just that much help and support.”

Due to the community’s overwhelming volunteer help everything in the school was taken out before firefighters shut down anyone from entering it. According to Heath, the entire process of unloading the school’s nine classrooms, computer lab, and office, and loading all of it onto the semis, took about an hour.

Something Better in Store

A year after the fire Cowboy Junction is still holding church services in the one 80 building at Emmanuel Church in Vinita, Okla. All office work has been moved back to the church’s original roots, the vet barn.

Ground was broke a month ago for the new church.

“We're anxious to get in the new building,” Cowboy Junction School Principal, Michelle Markham said. “We're looking forward to having a home again.

The new sanctuary, said to be finished by the first of next year, will seat 300 and be very similar in size to the previous building.

A difference in the new building will be the central check in with a canopy drive thru drop off, as well as a library for the school, something Michelle is excited to be getting for the children who attend.

All the excitement around the new building has given the family new hope and healing Heath said.

“It took devastation to have a restoration, we're excited to see what God has in store for our future,” he concluded. £