Making Waves for the Kingdom
Though her youthful voice confirms her still tender age, Georgia Cook articulates her perspective on God, relationships, and profession with the maturity of a young adult. But then again, Georgia is not a normal kid. Born and raised in Franklin, Tennessee, she is gaining accolades as one of a new generation of surfers in the southeastern United States, paving the way for the preteen’s ultimate career goal — becoming a professional surfer.
Born and raised several hours from the closest oceanic shore, Georgia first learned the sport during a family vacation in Hawaii. She entered her first competition in 2009. By 2011 Georgia’s super talent had earned her several first, second, and third place prizes, showering her with the kind of attention many preteens would love to receive. But as a growing Christian, Georgia takes surfing — and the recognition it affords — seriously. “I try to redirect the attention to God,” she says, understanding the eternal implications her public platform holds. “We should do everything for the glory of God.”
Realizing her talent is a vehicle for more than self-promotion, Georgia explains, “When I go out in the water, there are a bunch of people I wouldn’t typically walk up to and say, ‘Hi.’ They smoke and cuss like sailors. But surfing gives me a connection to show them love.” Realizing fellow surfers’ philosophies are not always congruent with her Christian convictions, Georgia says the common ground of practice creates a perfect environment for sharing her beliefs. “I’m able to reach people through surfing. I’ll encourage them to paddle hard for a wave or give them tips on a trick they are working on,” she says, modeling her missional mind-set. “I make it about showing them the love of God.”
One way Georgia shows her care for others is through “Surfers Church,” a makeshift gathering her father, John, leads during weekends at the beach. “We invite everyone,” Georgia shares excitedly. “It’s easy to ask people to come because it’s really laid-back, and all you have to do is show up!” Having earned the admiration of fellow athletes through her dedication to the sport and natural talent, Georgia says surfers are receptive to what she has to share. “We are all the same in the surf. They ask me questions like, ‘Do you ever get afraid?’ I say, ‘I’m doing it for God.’ It’s all about respect in surfing. They respect my belief in God.” And though Georgia’s gift on the water is unique, she is the first to admit she is only one member of a bigger team called the body of Christ. “Everybody has a purpose in the kingdom of God,” she states, encouraging others with a confidence that supersedes her age. “God gives us talents to show others His love. No matter what special talent you have, you can help impact the kingdom of God.”
Wanting to expand her reach beyond the beach, Georgia looked for other opportunities to make a difference. When she and her sister, Sadie, 9, learned children in Africa needed shoes, the Cook girls decided to act. “My sister and I thought that this is something we want to do. We want to buy some shoes,” Georgia remembers. Using a portion of competition scholarships she received in 2010, the sisters teamed up with the Swahiba Youth Network (http://swahibayouthnetworks. org) to purchase shoes as Christmas gifts for their international peers. “Shoes show them love,” she explains. “If they get a cut in their foot and step in something, their foot will get infected and they will get a disease. We give them shoes so their feet don’t get dirty. Their shoes get dirty.”
But shoes were not the only solution the Cook family had in mind for their African neighbors. Georgia’s parents, John and René, had been discussing ways the family could make an international impact when Peter Abungu, Swahiba Youth Networks director, told them about Kenya’s biased higher education opportunities, specifically in the slum of Kibera — and even more specifically with girls. Education in Kenya is government funded through eighth grade, cites René. The majority of kids who can afford to continue going to school after that are boys.
Having learned and witnessed first-hand the lifestyles a lack of education propels girls into, the Cooks decided to build a secondary school facilitating further education for Kibera. Rene’ states, “Sixty to seventy percent of the students will be girls who can help break the cycle of poverty. We want to impact not only this generation but also the generations to come. Because John and I have three girls, I think God placed a focus on girls in my heart. If you change their education, you not only change their lives, but the lives of their entire family.”
“God gives us talents to show others His love. No matter what talent you have, you can help impact the kingdom of God.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Georgia has a list of resourceful ideas still to accomplish in her plight to help the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). She plans to continue raising money for kids in Africa through a car parking business on Tybee Island, Georgia, where she spends most of her time surfing. This summer, she will encourage youngsters across the country to see the world through kingdom eyes on CentriKid Camp 2012’s big screen. No matter what project comes next, Georgia isn’t letting her youth — or the fact that she is different from her peers — get in the way of living out big ideas. “If I wasn’t different,” she says, “I wouldn’t be able to get others’ attention and tell them about God.”
And as long as the tide rolls in, you can bet Georgia Cook will be sharing God’s love at the beach and on the water. “Surfing is fun because you meet people you typically wouldn’t meet,” she reiterates. “And I’m good at it. If I work hard, and God is with me and wants me to do this, then I’ll keep doing it. Surfing lets me be me.”
Although they take the responsibility of parenting their girls quite seriously, John and René Cook say Georgia has taught them a few helpful lessons about life. “Georgia keeps a kingdom focus,” John says. “She understands there’s more to the world than what she sees. She keeps us balancing what we have and want to do versus what God wants us to do in having a kingdom impact”. René says, “Georgia reminds me that being ‘you’ is a good thing. Georgia is fine being different. She is not afraid to be who God made her to be. It is good to have her remind me that God made us all unique for a reason.”
This article originally appeared in the May, 2012 issue of ParentLife. Subscribe