Michael Cohoon | Chippewa Falls, WI
My classmates and neighbors that I grew up with, are still in Chippewa Falls. Being in a place for so long, you have roots in that space and community. You develop a sense of belonging and grow to love and appreciate that space so much that you want to give back.
Faith has always been an integral part of my family growing up. When I was a child, my family attended a church in Chippewa Falls, which is now Landmark Christian Church. Our house was next door to the parsonage. The paster allowed me to grow as a leader in the church and had an influence on my current career in ministry work. Church members, who were my Sunday School teachers then, still go to the same church as me.
My calling to ministry work in the church started in 2001, one year after our first child, Melinda, died from cancer at the age of twelve. After my daughter’s death, it was important to me to be of service to this age group. I saw how much Melinda grew to know God and Jesus during her time with us. I discovered that students at this age are just beginning to develop and explore their religious faith. I now mentor sixth through twelfth graders in their faith and challenge them to make a difference in other people’s lives. As a result, I get to see them mature as a person because they were stretched beyond their comfort level.
Through Landmark Christian Church, I have led many domestic and international mission trips, including to Alaska, Mexico, Thailand, Haiti, and Free Port Bahamas. We have packaged more than one million rice packages and sent them around the world to communities in need. We have also built walls for houses, which were later used to build homes in third-world countries.
One recurring mission trip that has a special place in my heart is in Khunyuam, Thailand. Some local members of Landmark Christian Church in the late 1990s were Hmong, and they connected me to a Hmong group in Thailand. We visited the village and met a man, Somphet Krongmadee, who ran a youth hostel for students in kindergarten through 12th grade to live there and attend school in the community. He wanted to learn English and pursue his master’s degree in the United States. The church made his dream a possibility and sponsored him. Over the years, our youth groups have returned to the Khunyuam village and built a chapel, cafeteria, kitchen, and two dormitories for boys and girls. My wife, Cathy, and I have sponsored twenty children at the youth hostel and stay connected with them up until they graduate high school. Every spring, she and I sponsor two high school students to come to Chippewa Falls and show them what life is like in America.
My experiences in these various places have taught me that issues of homelessness, hunger, and poverty are not unique to these areas but also very much alive in our own local communities. One of my best friends in high school came home from the military for a home visit and got into a bad car accident. He was in a coma for six months. Life has not been easy for him since the accident, causing him to experience homelessness. I wanted to help him and many others experiencing similar hardships, and so I joined various local agencies and organizations that made these issues a priority.
All of these experiences give me an outlet to advocate for our neighbors in need. One project important to me is Hope Village, a non-profit organization that builds tiny houses to shelter individuals and families in need of a temporary place to stay. Since its inception in 2016, local volunteers and I have built nine tiny homes and distributed them to local churches to host at their location; a tenth tiny home is currently under construction. Recently, Hope Village purchased a former oral surgery building, which sits on two acres of land. Pending city council decisions and rezoning permits, our plans are to relocate the tiny homes onto the property and renovate the former dental office into a community building with resources and services for our residents.
Our residents and community neighbors appreciate receiving any help that they can get. For the past sixteen years, Landmark Christian Church organized a community clinic with free services to help anyone in need, such as tax preparation, chiropractic care, family photos, oil changes, haircuts, and warm food. The idea is that if we can save families some money with these free services, they can take that money and do something nice together.
I have learned that if you can show love to people and help them and help their circumstances better, that is like bringing heaven to Earth for them.
This story was produced by Jesse Yang.