Jenks couple’s obedience to God gives hope to those in need with the Pearl House
Jenks residents Steve and Courtney Bullard were living a good life.
Both were in the youth ministry and active in their community and church, but a series of events made it clear their ministry was to stretch well beyond Tulsa.
The year was 2008 and Steve was the Youth Pastor at Southern Hills Baptist Church, while his wife Courtney was heavily involved in the church and the youth group as well.
Steve, who was in the youth ministry for 18 years, was planning a mission trip for his youth group to Kenya, but a civil war breakout forced a change of plans. The mission trip was switched to Ghana and the Southern Hills Baptist Church youth group headed to Africa to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
The initial trip was a success. Connections were made and relationships were forged that would allow for future groups to come back to Ghana and spend time showing love and sharing the gospel to anyone who would listen.
In 2010, Steve returned to Ghana for the second time with his SHBC youth group and this time, his eyes would be opened, and his heart would be impacted even deeper than in 2008.
“A local minister took me into the city, and I saw a group of young girls who were living in poverty and were in need,” Steve said. “I felt God pulling on my heart to help these girls. I immediately started asking a lot of questions.”
The girls were roughly the ages from 9 to 11 years old. Some of them were sent to the streets by their families and some of them ran away to the streets to get away from their families.
Following the trip, Steve expressed concern to Courtney about what he saw on the streets of Winneba, the town they were visiting in Ghana.
Courtney said she immediately felt a strong pull to do something to help these girls.
“It just tugged at my heart,” Courtney said. “I just told God, ‘Whatever it is that you’ll have us do, my yes is on the table,’ it was kind of scary, but you have to be obedient.”
God answered several days later.
“It was the middle of the night,” Courtney said. “The Lord just woke me up. I remember it sounded like someone was in the room. I actually looked around to see if there was. God was telling me that he wanted us to build a home in Africa for these girls living in poverty. I woke Steve up immediately and told him about it and he was on board.”
Courtney had never been to Africa, but knew she had to make the trip across the pond to see what had to be done to accomplish the mission God had put on her heart.
According to Courtney, the trip did not go as well as she would have liked. The challenges of building a home for these girls in need in Ghana was going to be a difficult road, but she stayed positive knowing it was God’s plan.
“I remember I was on the plane back to the United States and I said we need someone there 24/7 running this home and making sure everything is running smoothly, but finding someone who is willing to do that would be tough to do.”
Several days after Courtney returned home from Ghana, Steve took his youth group on another mission trip, this time to Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis is one of the few cities in the country with a center that will take refugees from other countries. The refugee camp is where Steve and his youth group were going to do their missions work.
“On the first day, it was a really nice day outside, so the kids were playing soccer with some of the African refugees at this camp,” Steve said. “I was talking to one of the leaders and he introduced me to a woman named Courtney Garland, who was also a youth pastor at a church in Memphis. She told me she came up to the refugee camp quite a bit to volunteer because she had a heart for Africa, especially Ghana. She informed me that she also took her youth group on mission trips to Ghana annually and she would love to live there and run a house for young girls.”
Steve said he couldn’t believe what he had just heard.
“I asked her to say that again just to make sure I heard her correctly,” Steve said. “She affirmed it. I immediately called Courtney (Bullard) back home in Tulsa and told her about it. I put the two in touch and the rest is history.”
Courtney spoke to Garland and they suddenly realized this was not a coincidence.
“She was telling me about God waking her up one night and telling her that she is supposed to move to Africa and help with a house for girls,” Courtney (Bullard) said. “The night that happened to her was the exact same night God had woken me up and told me to build a home for girls in Ghana. It gave us both chills. We honestly couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Garland uprooted her life in Memphis, sold nearly all of her belongings and officially moved to Ghana in July of 2013.
The Pearl House was officially opened that same year.
“We were planning for just five or six girls to start out with, but the van showed up and 10 girls got out,” Courtney said. “We were like, okay well that is double the amount that we said, but we said okay, we can make this work. Then, another van showed up and 10 more girls got out. We were a little overwhelmed, but we made it work.”
None of the original 20 girls at Pearl House spoke English or had seen running water.
Now, six years later, all 20 original girls speak English and have reached amazing heights in the education world and work force.
Clara Brown, who is a 2013 Jenks High School graduate and was also a part of Steve’s youth group at SHBC, decided she wanted to go intern at the Pearl House following her high school graduation, so she spent a year in Ghana working with Garland and the girls in helping them with their education and adapting to a new way of life.
Following her intern year in Ghana, Brown returned home and attended Oklahoma State University, where she got her bachelor’s degree. Following her graduation from Oklahoma State, Brown decided her heart was in Ghana, so she moved back and is now the Programs Coordinator for Pearl House.
“I was in Steve’s youth group and went to Ghana three times on mission trips,” Brown said. “I was not ready to start college right out of high school and I talked with Steve and Courtney about becoming an intern for Pearl House and they agreed. While I was in college, I went back twice and I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college in 2017 when I graduated. Courtney Garland offered me a job teaching at the Pearl House Academy, so I took it and moved back. I taught science and creative arts and then in March of 2019, they named me Programs Coordinator. It is an amazing experience. Getting to know these girls on a personal level is incredible. I am so thankful for the relationships.”
There are now 41 girls at the Pearl House. The Pearl House Academy opened its doors in the fall of 2018, and it is within walking distance of the Pearl House. The academy is open to both boys and girls.
“The Pearl House Academy is staffed by 40 Ghanaian employees,” Steve said. “They are all really sharp teachers. We had a lot of applicants, so we were able to choose some really good, high-quality teachers.”
The Pearl House also has recently partnered with Jenks Public Schools. Teachers from the Pearl House Academy and Jenks Public Schools will collaborate once a month and ask each other questions, so they can learn from each other and help each other be better as teachers. The groups use Skype to collaborate with one another.
On top of the Pearl House and Pearl House Academy, the Bullards also opened a Pearl House Career Center in another village in a different region in Ghana.
“The career center is for girls, who are a little older,” Steve said. “It is more of a vocational school. This will help them learn a craft like sewing and make it easier for them to find employment. It is a two-year program. There are currently 19 girls in the program. We also make sure and have Bible teaching as well as vocational training. Our goal is to have an impact in every region in Ghana and these career centers may be the most feasible way for us to accomplish that goal. The first group will graduate this coming May and our gift to them for graduating will be a sewing machine.”
The Bullards have started another Pearl House Career Center in Accra, Ghana with 10 girls.
“When we opened the facility in Accra, they had a ceremony and we were told, ‘Because you have come, they now know God has not forgotten them,’” Courtney said. “I was asked why I was doing this, and I said, ‘because God told me to,’ this doesn’t happen without God.”
The Pearl House is fully funded by donations and support from churches, both locally in the Tulsa area and across the country, and other individuals and groups who are supporters of the mission the Pearl House is aiming to accomplish.
“None of this could happen without our donors and supporters,” Courtney said. “God has been so amazing.”
When asked how to best describe the mission the Pearl House is trying to accomplish, Steve quoted an African Proverb.
“This is the best way I can describe what we are trying to do in Ghana,” Steve said. “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”