Karen Culler’s legacy is not one of perfection; it is of faithfulness. Through many trials and challenges, she prayed, rolled up her sleeves and went to work – uncertain of God’s plan, but confident in His calling. “I learned to trust God each step of the way…not giving in to asking ‘why,’ but simply keeping on keeping on,” Karen said. “They will see us when we fail and fall short, but if we determine every day, anew, to live according to His standards, it will show that our lives are being transformed.”
Living the American Dream
By the world’s standards, Karen Kohn lived a picturesque, American life. She grew up on a farm near Bethel, Missouri, in a strong Christian family. Through her daily life on the farm, she developed a strong work ethic, the courage to try many things, and a deep personal faith.
A month after her high school graduation, she married her sweetheart, Gale Culler. Both had good jobs and looked forward to a house full of children. In 1967, the couple was blessed with their son, Troy.
Karen and Gale yearned to be used more by God, but without having a formal Bible-college education, doubts crept in and they struggled with what their mission was supposed to be. They kept praying for direction and serving where they were.
A Life Spared for What?
In 1971, Karen’s pressure cooker exploded while she was canning peaches in her kitchen. Her body was severely burned, but her face was spared because her double oven had prevented the lid from flying all the way off. During her long hospitalization, she nearly died from infection. Gale and Karen both felt that God had spared her life and He must have a purpose for doing so.
Was it children? For years the couple tried to grow their family without success. They endured several miscarriages, and after the birth of Troy, they had been told by their doctor that any more children would be unlikely. How could God leave this overwhelming desire on their hearts?
Learning of an adoption option at Cookson Hills, the Cullers took a trip to receive a baby that needed a home and family. At the last moment, the baby’s mother changed her mind and canceled the adoption. The Cullers were heartbroken.
Yet, the journey was not in vain. They were touched by how children were being loved for the Lord through Christian childcare families. The seed had been planted. They knew this was something they could do: take care of and love children. This feeling was confirmed when a friend called telling them about a need for houseparents at a children’s home in East Tennessee. Soon after, the Cullers packed their car and headed south to start what seemed might be a dream come true.
“Love Them for What I Can Make Them”
In Tennessee, the dream quickly became a nightmare. The family ministry they envisioned was more an institutionalized setting. Gale and Karen were house parents for 13 teenage girls, all of whom did not want them there. None of whom seemed to have any desire to change. They did everything they could to get the family to give up and leave. It brought the Cullers to their knees.
“I have never been exposed to anything like this in my life,” Karen cried out to God in anguish. “How can I live with them under my own roof? How can I love them when they are so unlovable?” God’s answer transformed her: “Love them for what I can make them, not for what they are today.”
Gale and Karen came to realize that each of those hurting young people had been through more in their short lifetimes than they could ever imagine. The Cullers’ rules, discipline, and even fortitude would not tear down the walls that the girls had put up to protect themselves. As one girl put it, “I never wanted to love you. Anyone I ever love leaves.” The girls had to choose to lower the walls. By reflecting God’s unconditional love, trust could be formed. With trust, the walls came down, relationships were built, and a family began to bond. Those lessons from Tennessee would prove instrumental in the next step of the Cullers’ journey.
“It’s Got Potential”
Ray Gipson, the Executive Director of Show-Me Christian Youth Home, had for years tried to court the Cullers to come see the Missouri ministry. Finally, on their next vacation, the Cullers visited Show-Me. At first glance, the struggling ministry in La Monte wasn’t much to look at: three facilities that cared for six children, one calf, and a badly built barn. Still, the Cullers both felt with certainty that God was opening another door. Gale phrased it best, “It’s got potential.”
In 1977, they rolled up their sleeves and went to work. In addition to caring for children, Gale oversaw farm operations and Karen did the bookkeeping. Six months later, Show-Me had 18 children in residence and Gale was asked to become the Executive Director.
Their experience in Tennessee had shown them how an institutional setting wouldn’t work as effectively as the rural-family structure in which they had grown up. Working together in a farm setting, the children would be taught a good work ethic, build character, and see God at work in their lives in spite of all the struggles of the past.
From livestock to houses, from children to staff, Show-Me grew and grew for the next 20 years. Each day began early with family prayer and devotions, then out the door to start chores before heading to school. The children were responsible for assisting Gale with the care of the animals, which included cows, chickens, and pigs. Karen worked with the girls throughout the day, cooked and cleaned, and spent late nights doing the book work and publicity.
Things were never easy, but God met them every step of the way. With limited resources, Show-Me tried to help as many kids as they could. Tight finances, uncertain futures, and dealing with kids during their “rough times” were facts of life. “The Lord is keeping it that way so we’ll never forget to totally depend on Him,” the Cullers would say.
Show-Me…Where Love Grows
Nevermore would that statement be personally tested than over the last 25 years of her life. The Cullers leaned heavily on the Lord through the loss of their only biological son, Troy, in a car crash. Karen would face the failing health of loved ones, Gale’s cancer and dementia, and finally her own battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He would be with her as two of her grandchildren and Gale, her dear husband of 54 years, preceded her in death. Through it all, Karen remained faithful.
In 2011, Gale and Karen passed the baton to the next generation, having established a six-home campus with a Christian School, ball stadium and office complex, as well as satellite homes across the state of Missouri. Over 50 children were raised in her home and thousands under her leadership. She remains endeared by the staff, community, children, and the childrens’ children, as well as everyone who knows her simply as Grandma Karen. Through their passion to meet the needs of hurting kids, the Cullers established an extensive network of support and provision of resources.
Ever faithful, Karen pressed on with the eternal work the Lord called her to do to make Show-Me a place “where love grows.”
The Fires & Refinement of the Class of 2021
How would you survive if you were bounced between 30 different foster care home or had dozens of siblings? Imagine being forced to go to a new country where no one speaks the only language you know. What would you do if you had the responsibility of caring for five children, all under the age of five years, without the most basic of resources? What if, in the blink of an eye, an accident causes you to suffer a near fatal brain injury that leaves the majority of its victims unable to ever speak or walk again? To any adult, these tasks would be daunting. To a child, they would seem impossible to overcome. For the Show-Me Christian School Class of 2021, these are challenges they have faced and came out victorious. Battles that have not broken them. Trials that have strengthened, refined, and inspired them to set out on a mission that God has uniquely designed each to complete.
From a Junker to God’s Classic
For most of his life, Michael thought of himself as a junker car that was ugly, dented, and unwanted. Born to drug-addicted parents, Michael bounced between 30 different foster homes before he was adopted at the age of 5. He acted out trying to be “cute” as he desperately worked to earn his new parents’ affection. His “cuteness” may have gotten him noticed as little child in the foster homes, but his antics created more negative effects as he got older. At school, kids would pick on the childish, short, skinny kid who was always trying to get the teacher’s attention. The bullying made him afraid to talk to other kids or make friends. It led to a vicious cycle of problems and isolation. Michael struggled in school, each year falling further behind. For eight years, Michael constantly worried that his adopted family might not want him either. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, Michael would lie, telling the adults what he thought they wanted to hear. As he got older, his sadness boiled over into anger, then depression. Feeling lost and without purpose, he tried to take his life in 5th grade. His parents felt helpless. If the years of counseling and trying everything they knew didn’t help, what else could they do? Someone told them about Show-Me in 2014. They realized that the structured daily routine, positive Christian atmosphere, and one-on-one teaching style was an environment in which
Michael could thrive. “I thought it was going to be a vacation from home – boy was I wrong” Michael laughed. “It isn’t easy, but Show-Me is a fresh start for us kids coming here.”
When 13-year-old Michael sat down for lunch on his first day, he realized there was something different about this place. Miguell, an older 8th grader, sat next to him and started to talk with him. Michael didn’t have to do or say anything to earn his friendship, this guy wanted to be his friend. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t feel lost or alone. Over the next few years, Michael learned to accept the love of family. Focusing on his studies and with extra help, he caught up in school. He discovered his mechanical gifts and learned the value of hard work by assisting his houseparents with hands-on projects – gifts he hopes one day to use in his own automotive shop. The biggest change came the day he heard Pastor Alan talk about what Christ’s sacrifice meant. It not only showed God’s love for us, but it was proof that each of our lives have purpose.
Trusting in that love and believing for the first time that his life truly did have purpose, Michael asked to be baptized. Michael no longer worries about earning God’s love or being wanted. He knows that he is a child of the King of Kings. In his senior devotion message this March, Michael used the illustrations of cars to explain to his classmates how God rescues and restores each of our lives. Michael knows that he
is not the worthless junk car he once believed he was. He is a classic Mustang that God is in the process of restoring.
Hope in Hidden Answers
Ever think having a brother or sister can be a lot to deal with, try having 42! Sadie has been a part of Show-Me all 18 years of her life. Never the oldest and rarely the youngest, she learned to be very observant, keep calm, and find organization in chaos. The details of each siblings story’s may be different, but all share a common factor – they are children caught in the crossfire of struggling families. They are broken lives who don’t understand how or why they ended up in this situation. Many are angry because so much is out of their control and fearful their life is destined to turn out like their parents. Sadie saw that the thing her brothers and sisters were really searching for was hope: hope for their future found in answers from their past. It is that hope that compels Sadie to seek a career in criminal justice. “The love, loss, and hope I’ve learned and gone through has taught me to want to fight for hope for others,” stated Sadie. “Working for a federal crime fighting agency, my wish is to give hope to the families and loved ones of the victim by finding answers, solving cases, and preventing the suspect from
destroying more lives.”
Failure Leads to Success
When Jonas arrived in Missouri to meet his adoptive parents, he could only speak and read in his native Ethiopian language of Amharic. Communication was a great challenge since no one else around him could speak it. Without words, how could he let people know how he was feeling or what he needed? Even though over the next few years he would learn English, his difficulty in communicating snowballed into more problems. Jonas began his education three grades behind. The language barrier made
learning extremely slow and frustrating. Despite putting in many extra hours of work, Jonas fell more and more behind in school. His inability to communicate left him feeling angry and alone. He began to believe the lies in his head that he was a disappointment to everyone, he would never be good enough, and he could only count on himself for help. His anger grew more out of control each year, even to the point where he needed to be physically restrained to calm down. Finally, realizing Jonas needed more help than they could give him at home, his parents reached out to Show-Me. The new environment was good for Jonas. The individualized school program allowed him to go at his own pace. The smaller
class sizes and additional help from his teachers gave him the means to understand. He finally had the tools he needed to catch up in school and graduate. Yet, if you ask Jonas what led to his success the most, he will tell you it’s “failure.” In his endless failed attempts to be “good enough,” he realized that no matter how much he accomplished or how many people liked him, he was never going to be worthy in everyone’s eyes. It is an impossible task to achieve. “Nothing matters except how God sees you,” realized Jonas. “God loves us for who we are, not what we accomplish or what we have. If God considered me – flaws and all – worthy, maybe I could, too.” Jonas began listening and trusting the people that God
was sending to help him. In failing on his own, He learned success could be found in trusting God and the community of support He sends for guidance.
A Rough Start for a Greater Cause
Ana never really had a childhood. The oldest of five siblings, Ana became the caretaker early on while her mother was out. There was no time to think about what Ana wanted or how Ana felt, she had a job to do. Her siblings needed her. That all changed in 2010. Two ladies from a Vacation Bible School told her mom about Show-Me. The next thing seven year-old Ana knew, she and her five younger siblings were
living at Show-Me. Her old job was taken away. Her new job was to be a kid. “I was overwhelmed because I didn’t know what to do since they didn’t want me taking care of my siblings,” Ana recounts.
Over the next few years, Ana saw how God had always been watching out for her. She remembered how an unexpected- person seemed to pop into their lives at just the right time when they needed food, a place to stay, or some other kind of help. She realized how God had protected them from the bad people
Seeing that the God of the Bible, who was always there for His people, was the same one in her life, Ana accepted Christ. “Jesus used my bad life for a greater cause: my growing and maturing in Him (my Savior),” Ana stated. “Jesus led, not by forcing others to follow, but by being the model that made others choose to follow.” Desiring to be that positive role model, Ana heads this fall to college to become a social worker. She hopes to shows young people, who look like her, that they can beat the odds, too. “I want kids, who feel broken like I did, to see that they can overcome their past,” Ana said. “They can find another way to succeed, and not become the statistics society says they will be.”
Focus on God Can, Not “I Can’t”
Brendan’s life changed in a instant that day in 2016. Playing tag, he ran into a volleyball net, which caught him by the face and slammed his head against the hard floor causing his skull to fracture. He was life-flighted to Children’s Mercy Hospital. The doctor’s warned his traumatic brain injury (TBI) might
cause him to never be able to see, walk, or talk again. His only chance was to have an emergency surgery to remove the blood clot on his brain and put in two titanium plates. Over the following months, the physical pain slowly decreased but the emotional struggles increased. To give his brain a chance to heal, the doctors told him he had to eliminate most physical activity for the next two years. Thinking about all
the things he could no longer do made Brendan become more and more depressed. How could God let this happen? Maybe he should just give up and accept that he could no longer ever have a “normal” life as an independent adult.
Then, Brendan made a decision. He would not give up! He would focus on what he could control and trust God to take care of the rest. Philippians 4:13 became his life verse. Brendan might not be able to do certain things, but through Christ’s strength, he could do what God wanted him to do. He focused on his school work and strengthening his muscles a little every day. Over the next four years, Brendan’s dedication and faith revealed a bigger picture that he had once missed. In rehab, he saw other young men, who had suffered TBI injuries. These men could not talk, walk, or do basic life functions. Seeing Brendan and the progress he was making gave these men hope. Those men helped Brendan realize that God didn’t abandon him in his injury. He shielded him, sent people to encourage him, and be with him
through every step. Instead of being upset about what he couldn’t do, Brendan is now grateful for all
the things that he can do.
Choosing the Refiner’s Fire
A few years ago, the members of the Class of 2021 might have written their life’s stories a little
different if they had the choice. Now, they are grateful for each moment of their testimony. In the
refiner’s fire their eyes were opened. In the flames they saw how they are not alone. God was and will
always be there with them through every step. He uses experiences the world wants us to believe
can only destroy a life to strengthen and refine His children into the change agents He will use to
transform for good their families, communities, and world. As the Class of 2021 has shown, we
only need to be brave enough to trust Him and the work He is doing.
“I never believed this day would happen,” Amanda stated. “Most of my life, graduation felt like an impossible dream.” Her diploma symbolized more than just completing high school, it was the reassurance that her fear would NOT come true. Unlike what she was told growing up, she would not end up like her mom, who as a young teen became pregnant with her and dropped out of school.
With the support of her Show-Me family, she is on a path to get her CNA certificate in order to serve the elderly and help children like she once was – in need of a little extra attention to reach their God-given potential. “I never would have gotten here if it wasn’t for Show-Me,” she explained. “The school allowed me to catch up to where I needed to be and the teachers were always there to push me to strive and accomplish my goals!”
School Sets The Stage for Life
Growing up, Amanda called many places home. She attended numerous schools as she bounced from family to family. Moving so often made it hard to trust others, build healthy relationships, or keep up with her peers in school. Math was especially difficult for her.
She was placed in special education classes to try to help. Although only behind in math, being labeled a “Special Ed” kid made her believe she was an overall failure with little hope for a future. These feelings ate at her self-esteem leading her to increasingly become isolated, which made her more vulnerable to negative influences in her life. Things came to a boiling point in 2015. Soon after, she soon came to Show-Me.
Uncommon Solutions to Common Problems
Life didn’t magically get better when she arrived and joined the Watkins family. “At that point, I didn’t have much hope for myself,” Amanda said. “I didn’t care for anything.”
Despite having been in the 7th grade, she was at a 3rd grade level in Math and English. She was behind multiple grades in the rest of her subjects. Her situation was a familiar one to Show-Me, where it is not uncommon for the kids that find their way here to be four grade-levels behind where they should be. The battles that they face at home make keeping up with the rest of their class a struggle. Public schools do not always have the necessary resources or time to give the extra attention needed to help them catch up. Feelings of failure, depression, frustration, and anger can arise if the cycle continues and the gap widens.
In 2000, after being forced to dismiss too many children because they were suspended from the public school, Show-Me created a private, Christian school option to try and overcome some of the unmet challenges. Using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) Program, each student is evaluated subject-by-subject to create their own academic path to complete their studies. Students learn at their own pace while working to reach daily goals. This approach empowers students to own their education and success. Many kids who were falling behind in their former schools are able to catch up and graduate high school on time.
The ACE program identified the subject concepts that Amanda missed. She began to show progress and pass her subjects as she followed a targeted approach using PACEs, the ACE program’s bite-sized workbooks designed for self-instructional thinking skills and the mastery of a subject. Whether at home or in class, there was always someone available to help her understand when she got stuck or confused since many of the houseparents also worked in the school.
The Show-Me Christian School (SMCS) went beyond helping her in core subjects like math, English, literature, science, and social studies. Interwoven into each lesson was a Christian world view with Scripture and one of 72 Biblical character traits – all designed to help develop moral character, a sense of accountability, and wisdom in her life. It was changing the way she thought of herself. “Here we are all the same, nobody looks at you different. For the first time, I never felt rushed or uncared for,” stated Amanda. “Having the freedom to go at my own speed made me want to try harder. I found an inner strength I didn’t know I had.”
Finding Her Stride
She discovered a number of talents and interests by participating in extra-curricular activities. She sang as part of the praise team for the weekly chapel services. Being around the animals in Leadership U (LU) provided safe emotional connections. “Horses and dogs don’t judge you, they are really good listeners,” she joked. She found that the concepts taught in LU applied to her life, too. “To accomplish my goals, I needed to calm down, have confidence, try harder, and above all never give up,” stated Amanda.
That same determination would carry over to success in sports. Amanda gained confidence as she played volleyball, basketball, and was part of the team that took first place in track at state. “There, I forget about everything else,” she said. “To play well, you can’t let doubt and fear follow you on the court.” She was named to the MOKAN all-conference second team in basketball and took top state honors in volleyball. But, her teammates were her biggest motivational factor. “If I wanted to play, I knew I had to find a way to do well in class,” she recounted. “I couldn’t let my team down.”
In the Path to Purpose Program, she learned key life skills like how to make a budget from the Dave Ramsey’s financial courses and how to drive. Job shadowing at local hospitals confirmed that she wanted to be a nurse and work with the elderly or kids with special needs.
Taking on a New Identity in Christ
Slowly, but surely, becoming an adult didn’t seem so scary when she realized that she was a part of God’s bigger family. At the age of 19, she decided to make the change official when she changed her name and asked to be adopted by the Watkins family. “My parents helped me succeed by believing in me, not giving up (even though at times I thought they would), and showing me how to love and be part of a family,” Amanda said. “I’ve learned that when there seems to be no one else, there is always God to rely on.”
“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.” – Luke 2:10 Immanuel, which means “God with us,” changed everything. Hope arrived in Jesus. God had personally come to live among us, teach us, rescue and restore us, die for us, come back for us, and live in us through His Holy Spirit. Amazing! Inspiring! News we have to share!
In 2015, Show-Me shared that good news with a hurt, 16-year-old atheist who felt afraid, alone, and with little hope for a future:
Journey couldn’t fathom a God who loves and yet lets one of His children go through the awful things she endured as a child. If He was real, He was far away. That belief all changed at Show-Me. “God came to me through the people here,” stated Journey. “They didn’t just tell me about Him, they showed me Him by how they lived.” Seeing it through actions and not merely words, she began to believe. A few months later, she asked God to live in her heart and was baptized. This spring she will graduate and plans to go to college in the fall to study graphic design. God came alive to her at Show-Me!
YOUR continued support is a witness to Journey and the world that God is real – and He is WITH us – as Immanuel!
Here is one last opportunity in 2018 to share with children a “God with us” message. A group of donors just set a new Matching Gift Challenge to MATCH every gift given NOW until December 31st, 2018 – up to a total of at least $30,000 that is returned in the enclosed envelope or given online at https://www.showmehelpingkids.com/give/! I say “at least” because this challenge continues to grow as additional supporters step up to increase the matched amount.
Thank you for extending a hearty “God with us” message to the awesome kids at Show-Me! YOUR prayers and contributions ring the truth of Immanuel to young lives anxiously waiting to be rescued and restored.
Grateful for you,
Chad Puckett, Director
PS: Remember, your gift is DOUBLED and will have TWICE the impact
in response to this challenge! Make sure to postmark your gift by December 31st for 2018 tax benefits!
Double the Blessings for YOU and our children