By TRAVIS HANDY
To most people, a trip abroad would seem like a vacation, but one local woman was looking for “more than just a vacation” when she joined a group on a mission trip to Thailand recently.
Kimberly Cook works as a legal assistant for Gilmer, Sadler, Ingram, Sutherland and Hutton, a law firm in downtown Pulaski. She recently returned from Mae Sai, northern Thailand, where she traveled with a group of other missionaries from Valley Harvest Ministries in Dublin.
Cook has been a member of Family Worship Center on Memorial Drive, Pulaski, over 30 years. When asked why she was drawn to going on a mission trip, she quickly went back to memories of an earlier trip to Haiti, which she took last year.
In Haiti, Cook worked with a medical team, delivering medications to villages, taking care of sick children and adults with malaria and other maladies. She simply couldn’t wait to go on another trip, and when she found out about the mission to Thailand, she jumped at the chance.
The trip to Thailand was focused more on construction. The group worked on building a missions training center in Mae Sai. They left Jan. 28 and returned Feb. 8, after two weeks.
“I love the idea of getting to go and do something more than just a vacation,” Cook said. “I want to go and do something where I can come home and say I left a part of myself… that I left something that is permanent. That’s why I like the idea of the construction, because if you go and you produce a building, it’s going to be there. It’s going to last.”
Cook said the team spent a few days working on piling soil and sand on the site of the training center so the concrete foundation could be laid. She learned how to bend rebar for use in concrete pillars—a trade she would normally never have learned working as a legal assistant in Pulaski.
Unfortunately for the construction project, but probably more of a fortunate situation for Cook, rain interfered with construction plans. There were several rainy days, which meant the teams spent time in ministry with the people of Mae Sai. Cook described her interaction with a group of children at a local orphanage.
“We went to the store and just bought some toothbrushes and some food and notebooks, and got some soccer balls. We made 40 bags for the orphans and we got to go on a tour of the orphanage,” she said. “Four of the kids there were too young to go to school, so they were there and we got to play with the kids and that was fun.”
While serving her own need to give to others in the name of God, one of the biggest lessons Cook gleaned from the experience is the feeling that her presence in the world makes a huge difference in the lives of others.
“When I went, I was feeling a little bit insignificant, I think, feeling like ‘one person doesn’t really make too much of a difference,’” said Cook. “When I came home, I realized that one person makes a huge difference in everyone’s life. I realized that each person that I even met on the team … I saw how each one of them impacted my life, so I know, in turn, that I must have impacted theirs. So that has really given me a lot to think about.”
She said the experience showed her how much we have in America and how so many people take for granted the things we have here at home.
“Sometimes I think I’ve had more difficulty coming back to America, because when we (come back here) I see that people just have so much, they just don’t seem to think about what they have. When we’re overseas and we see the people who have very little, they really do appreciate everything they have,” said Cook. “It makes me think about everything I have and appreciate it more.”
Cook said the experience was rewarding in many ways, affording her an experience which taught her more about herself than she expected.
“I learned that I care a lot, and that I’m a pretty strong person, and pretty adaptable,” said Cook. “A lot more adaptable than I think, because I really was worried about going to Thailand. I wasn’t too keen on going that far away and I found out that I did pretty well.”
Among some of her other favorite things from the trip, 40-year-old Cook named the food, which she really liked a lot. One of the things she was the most excited about having brought home from her journey was a marionette puppet styled after an elephant, which she bought there. She described her experience from behind a constant, infectious smile.
Kimberly said she felt she was permanently changed through her experience, from a personal to a spiritual level.
“I don’t think you can go through something like that and not be permanently changed,” she said. “I think the biggest impact that I got out of it is that the most important things in your life are your relationships, and that no matter what you do, you should always focus and put the most stress and time into the relationships in your life.”
Cook is happy she chose to go on the trip and share her experience with the rest of the group and the public here at home.
“I’m especially thankful that Valley Harvest let me go with them since I wasn’t a member of their church, because I know a lot of churches won’t necessarily let people go if they’re not a member,” said Cook. “And I’d thank the missionaries there, because it was actually Jeff and Verna (Willhoite) who asked the church if I could go with them.”
The Willhoites live and work semi-permanently in Thailand through their mission. When they are stateside, building up support, they attend Valley Harvest.
In a couple of paragraphs, Cook summed up some of the final highlights of her trip to Thailand.
“The food was great. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to like the food or not, but I really liked it a lot. There was so much that happened, and I think it’s amazing. And the jet lag has been a lot more difficult to get over than I expected.
“It was quite the journey. The traveling was a lot harder than I expected and everything, but it was an extraordinary trip,” Cook said.