If you have ever been on a mission trip with BFR, had coffee at The Rev, come to a fundraising event, or even followed along her blog then you have probably found comfort in Morgan Cooper’s bouncing curls, warm smile, and genuine, “Hi, Friend!” She is known for her acronyms; alliterations; sunshine and stickers; and planning and organization skills, but more than that she is known as an encouragement, a teacher, a listener, a friend, a wife, and a mom to 2 boys in Africa and a baby in Haiti. She is also known for her incredible relationship with her family – a relationship that has a firm foundation in Christ’s love, a relationship that God was able to use to bring hope to a struggling child all the way around the world in one of the poorest areas of Africa.
May is Better Speech and Hearing Month and this week, May 11th-17th, is National Stuttering Awareness Week. Amidst this, Morgan’s sister, Mallory, who has a speech impediment, is graduating with her Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Ole Miss. In honor of this, we want to share Mallory’s incredible journey and how Morgan’s mission trip to the other side of the world where she would meet a young man named, Sam would intertwine them in a way they never expected.
Sam also struggles with fluent speech….except he is living in an orphanage in a slum in Ruai, Kenya. The way his life has been interwoven with Mallory and Morgan’s is not only beautiful, but undoubtedly no coincidence. This story has brought tears to our eyes many times, and even still, we can’t do it justice. Because of this, we want Morgan, Mallory, and Sam do the talking, offering three beautifully unique perspectives in an attempt to show how these lives have been paralleling one another. Morgan always says, “God just used my willingness to go and Mallory’s gift of stuttering to give this young boy on the other side of the world, hope.” Their life is proof that God prepares us for our mission long before we ever begin working on it, and that He ALWAYS uses our past for a purpose.
My desire for this blog is for others to be inspired and encouraged to find and choose JOY in their journey. At the age of three, God placed someone in my life that continues to inspire and encourage me daily in my own journey. I became “Sissy” on January 7, 1991, and my life changed forever as I became the #1 fan and “protector” of this little person that I loved more than I could ever imagine. My little sister, Mallory, is someone that I have adored since day one. Although she is the little sister, I have always looked up to her, and she has always been my hero. Mal’s journey is one that speaks more than just words.
My Sister Speaks STRENGTH.
I was snuggled tight in my bed, dreaming the sweet dreams of a four year old while rocking my Alabama cheerleader pjs, of course, when my daddy rushed in my room, turned on my light, and told me to go get in the car. My heart pounds out of my chest even now as I type, because I remember that moment like it was just yesterday. I remember not asking any questions at all, but going straight to to the garage and getting in the backseat of the car. I saw my momma run to the car with Mal in her arms. Mal was thirteen months old at the time and had quit breathing. My mom had performed CPR on her, and after Mal had begun breathing again, they decided to take her to the emergency room. It was February and cold, and I remember riding in the floorboard of the backseat of the car as my daddy drove us to the hospital with the windows down to help Mal breathe easier. After a few days in the hospital, doctors confirmed that she had experienced a seizure. This event is what doctors say may have caused her speech impediment. Stuttering is such a mystery. There is no confirmed cause or cure. My sister has stuttered since she began talking. As a little girl, she talked ALL the time and did not even realize that she was any different. However, when she started kindergarten, she began to realize that she talked differently than everyone else. She began attending speech class at five years old. I would watch her go from giggling about trying to say what she so desperately wanted to say to getting so frustrated she would sometimes just want to give up. BUT, she never has. She defines STRENGTH. Even as a little girl, I knew that my sister was unique and possessed something so different from within. I decided from a very young age that I would always be close by… just in case she needed me. From meeting someone new, ordering at a restaurant, finishing her sentences, I would always be just a nudge away to be her voice.
My Sister Speaks BEAUTY.
Mal is now completing her Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology in May and is passionate about her future career as a speech therapist. Now from meeting someone new, ordering at a restaurant to giving speeches in front of large crowds, I have watched her grow into a BEAUTIFUL, confident woman who has found her voice and is a true inspiration to so many.
My Sister Speaks HOPE.
The day after Christmas in 2013, I was planning to travel back to Africa. Before I left Mallory’s boyfriend, Zach, had told me that he was planning to propose on New Year’s Day. He wanted me to know, so I could prepare a video and a little gift for her to be given after he popped the question letting her know that I knew and was celebrating with her all the way from Africa. Before I got on my last flight out of the country, I had to ask Mal why she loved this guy so much. You know as the big sister, I just had to make sure… So I asked her how she knew that he was the one. She giggled a bit and simply said, “That’s easy, he lets me finish my sentences.” Little did I know the impact that this simple statement would make just a few days later.
On this mission, I met Sam, a fifteen year old boy, who lives at Pehucci Orphanage in Kenya. After meeting Sam, I knew immediately that he would be a special boy to my family. You would only see Sam’s eyes when he was singing. If he was not singing, his head remained down and he avoided eye contact with just about everyone. While talking to Sam for the very first time, I noticed that he stuttered. I encouraged him to look at my eyes, then I told him that my sister talks just like him. He grabbed my hands, and said that he never knew anyone else that talked like he did. He then asked me, “How did she get healed from stammering?”. I told him that she continues to struggle sometimes with her speech, but has learned techniques that help her be more fluent. I shared with him how eye contact is very important to her and encouraged him to continue looking at my eyes while he spoke. He then asked me if he could practice “looking at my eyes” and tell me his story. I locked eyes with this sweet face and became completely numb as he told me his story. I listened as my heart and head tried to comprehend everything that he was sharing with me. When he finished, I told him that I would be returning the next day, so if he had any questions at all about his stammering, he could feel free to ask me, and I would try to answer them the best I knew how. Not even thirty minutes later, he returned with fifteen perfectly written questions about his speech. My heart was completely overwhelmed as I read through the questions and remembering moments when my sister had asked the same exact questions. Here are just a few: “How did you feel when you realized that you were speaking different than others?” “Do you believe that it’s God’s will for you being a stammerer?” “Have you ever blamed God for your stammering?” “Have you ever heard someone imitating you? How did you feel? What did you tell them?” “Do you pray to God to stop making you a stammerer or what do you tell God?” “Does your stammering keep you from doing things you would really like to do?” “Do you get nervous and embarrassed?” I knew that I had to get this boy answers to his questions. So, I took a picture of his questions and emailed them to my sister half a world away. I did not given her any details at all, but just told her to answer them as quickly as possible. She woke up to an email from Africa, answered each question, and emailed her responses immediately. After receiving her answers, I stayed up all night, hand-writing them, so I could give them to Sam the next day. I wept over her answers as I saw HOPE in every single response.
The next morning, after we arrived back at Pehucci, I hopped out of the van anxiously looking for Sam. I spotted him, ran to him, and told him that I had Mallory’s answers to his questions. His response I will never EVER forget: “I have been doing chores. I will need to go shower. I must be fresh for the answers.” A few minutes later he returned, and he and I sat in a classroom and discussed each question and her answers. After each response, he would just say, “Praise God. Praise God.” After we finished, I then asked Sam if he would like to see a picture of Mallory. I showed him the picture, he took it, and began to cry. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “She is so beautiful, and she stammers?” I said, “Yes”. He asked, “She has an education, and she stammers?” I said, “Yes”. He then asked, “She has a family, an she stammers?” At that moment, I was completely overwhelmed. It was January 1st, the day that Zach was planning to propose. And as I sat in that sheet metal classroom half a world away, I knew that God had used my willingness to go and her gift of stuttering to give this young boy on the other side of the world, HOPE. Mallory and Zach were married seven months later on July 27th, 2014. On that day, I passed the torch of “protector” to Zach who is now the one by her side for her to give the nudge to… just in case. Thank you, Zach, for letting her finish her sentences and being the brother I always wanted. Thanks to the BFR Kids sponsorship program, my parents are able to sponsor Sam, and he is now part of our family.
My Sister Speaks JOY.
Thank you, Mal, for choosing JOY in YOUR Journey! Thank you for showing me how to overcome adversity with humility and grace. The only thing better than having you for a sister is for my kids to have you as their Aunt Mal Mal. Thank you for singing, dancing, laughing, snorting, eating, running, crying, praying, dreaming with me through this journey. Thank you for pushing me and challenging me to embrace this journey that God has chosen just for me. Thank you for always being just a nudge away to be my voice and speak STRENGTH, BEAUTY, HOPE, and JOY into my life.
Exodus 4:11-12 “Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”
Mallory’s Perspective (written December 2014)
This time last year holds much significance to me and my family. My sister, Morgan, left a few days after Christmas for her 2nd trip to Kenya. She works for Be Free Revolution, who has contacts in Kenya and Uganda. They help with giving people an honest living and invest in many schools and orphanages. Be Free Revolution also has a program called BFR Kids where people here in the US can sponsor children through Be Free to pay for school tuition, Biblical counseling, and everyday needs like soap, clothes, shoes, etc.
After Christmas last year, I had the opportunity to visit my boyfriend (at the time) and his family for New Year’s. Before my sister left for Kenya, she called me from the airport to say her goodbyes. I was telling her that I thought maybe Zach was going to propose, but I doubted he would do it while she was gone because he knows how close I am to my sister. My sister said, “Well, what about him makes you want to marry him? Why do you love him so much?” I said partly joking but serious at the same time, “Because he lets me finish my sentences.” Morgan said, “Well, if he does propose, just celebrate as if I already know.” So then we said our good byes and I left for Georgia and she left for Kenya!
On January 1, I woke up in Georgia and had an email from BFR. At first, I was scared because you normally don’t have any contact with the team while they are away unless it’s an emergency. It was an email from my sister. It said, “Mallory, please answer these questions ASAP. God is working here in Kenya. I love you!” I opened the questions, and they were all about stuttering, and not just basic questions. They were deep, well-thought questions. Do you blame God for your stuttering? Do you believe that it is God’s Will for you to stutter? I thought that maybe someone on the team stutters or one of their children stutters. So, I answered the questions as detailed as I could. I spent over 3 hours trying to answer them honestly and not through “SLP eyes.” Later that night, on January 1 at Stone Mountain, Zach Bruce proposed to me! It was perfect and I could not wait to celebrate when my sister got back in the US.
Meanwhile in Kenya, my sister arrived at the orphanage/boarding school there that they partner with. The students greeted them with songs and dances. Morgan had been there times before so she knew most of the children. She noticed a new face this trip. He was sitting in the crowd and everyone asked him to sing. He lit up when he sang, but as soon as he was finished, he had his head down again. After the program, Morgan thought she would go and introduce herself to this new boy. They began to talk, and she realized that he stuttered. His name was Sam, and he was 15. She told him, her sister talked a lot like him. Sam immediately looked up at her and was shocked. He had never heard of anyone else who stuttered. He asked what I did to help with my stuttering, and Morgan told him things like eye contact, taking my time, etc. all helped me speak more clearly. Sam then said, “Can I practice looking you in the eye by telling you my story?”
He began to tell Morgan that he was beaten as a child by his father because of his stuttering. People in Kenya saw his stuttering as taboo or a curse and thought he was being disrespectful or he was crazy. He was taken away from his home and placed into a boy’s home. There, the head teacher sexually abused Sam and other boys. A few boys, including Sam, decided to run away. They jumped out of a window, Sam breaking his leg, and went to the police. Sam tried to explain to the police what had happened, but they put him in jail. Sam wrote out what had happened while he was in jail, and they then placed him in the orphanage where he is now. Sam is supposed to testify in court against the teacher at the boy’s home. (The court date was supposed to be this past summer, but their government is so corrupt, the date keeps getting pushed back.)
Morgan was overwhelmed when he finished. She went on to ask if he was saved, and he said that no one else but God has been faithful to him and it was only by God’s grace that he is alive. He is a Christian and has all his faith and trust placed in Christ. Sam asked Morgan further questions about me, regarding education, family, etc. Morgan told him that I was studying to become a speech therapist to help people like us. He could not believe that I had education, a family, etc. even though I stuttered. She asked him if he’d like to see a picture of me and he said yes. She showed him my picture, and Morgan said, that he took her phone and wept. His words were, “She’s so beautiful, but she stutters? She has a family, but she stutters? She has education, but she stutters? She has a husband, but she stutters?” Morgan said, “Yes, Sam, and you can have the same things and the same hope. And, you know what? Today, the love of her life is proposing to her and asking her to be his wife. Do you know what I asked her before I left home? I asked her, ‘Why do you love Zach so much?’ and she said, ‘Because he lets me finish my sentences.’” She told Sam that if he had any more questions about stuttering, she would try to answer them or send them to me and see if I could answer them. Morgan said it wasn’t 20 minutes before he ran back with a list of questions. That night is when she typed them out and sent them to me.
Morgan received my answers and stayed up that night hand-writing them so that Sam could keep them. They went back to the orphanage the next day and Sam met her at the gate. She told Sam that I had responded to his questions. He was so surprised and he said, “I must be clean for the answers.” He went to “shower” and change clothes. (Morgan said that what was so humbling was that the clothes that he changed into were clothes his friend had on the day before.) She began to read him my responses and Morgan said that all Sam could say was, “Bless God.” He now had hope. Before the team left that day, Morgan recorded a video of Sam singing just for me. The song said “He’s my guarantee” over and over. God is our only guarantee in this life. Sam also wrote me a letter that is so dear to my heart.
Morgan shared this with me once she got back in the states. It was such a powerful and overwhelming experience. When the team went back in June, he sent us another video congratulating us on our wedding and said to Zach, “I pray that you will take her as she is and love her forever.” His countenance in that video as opposed to the first one was completely different. He now has confidence, hope, and joy. My family now sponsors Sam. He is now 17 and is interested in engineering. Our hope is that one day he can get the education that he desires and become successful and live out his dreams. Hopefully one day, I can meet him face-to-face.
My goal in sharing Sam’s story is to show God’s Sovereignty and how can use something that the world sees as “bad” and turn it into good. It is simply to encourage others and show hope. To me, this is a picture of hope. Our profession of speech-language pathology is one that oozes with hope-giving. That is one of the main things that we do every day – give hope. It can truly change a life.
My name is Sam Cooper, I’m 16 years old now. I can’t recall really when I began stuttering, but I was still very young. Being young I thought it was normal but I really used to struggle in talking. I stuttered most in school. Growing further, it was no longer normal, I was totally different from others. I became afraid of talking where other people were. I end up hating stuttering and could sometimes go in a lonely place and cry asking my Creator to change me. But nothing changed.
Some people really seemed sorry for and others laughed when I could block on a word. When I block on a word, my lips trembled continuously and therefore I found it shameful to speak especially to people in a gathering.
But little did I realize that I’m not alone in the field of stuttering. There are many more stutterers. But it is always sad for me when I hear someone else stutter. I do stutter most while I’m excited, afraid or surprised.
I have been much encouraged since last year and early this year 2014 when I got to know about Mallory who is also a stutterer. She is the one who sent me this books of Stuttering Foundation of America.
And now I’m saying that stuttering is normal, don’t try to hide it, it makes it worse. I no longer have to be tense so as to make talking easily. Stuttering is normal, relax, while talking will be much easier. For the kids who have too written about their stuttering in this book; Anne Sebastian, Mathew and Eddies for sure;
Just don’t splutter,
Go ahead and stutter.
Just be bright
Stuttering is alright.
Thank you: Sam