Nancy Cook has spent her life living out a faith journey around the world.
Cook, 77, embraced international travel in 1975 when her husband, Maurice, took a sabbatical from his professorship in N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The couple volunteered on missions in Bangalore, India, for a year through what was then the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board. Maurice taught at a university, and they did mission work at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital.
Cook loved life in India, but she and her husband had a young son and they decided to return to the United States when the mission ended.
“The year in my life I could gladly live over is that year in India because we met so many fascinating people, and I love the culture there and so many religions and languages that it has to be one of the most fascinating countries in the world,” Cook said.
On the way back, they stopped in Indonesia to see missionary friends, then went to Singapore, Japan and Nepal.
Cook said she believes the trip to India was the plan for her life all along.
After growing up on a farm in Harnett County, she spent one year studying business at Atlantic Christian College, now Barton College. Money was tight for her family, so she moved to Raleigh and began working for Carolina Power & Light Company.
In Raleigh she met and married Maurice and continued her education at Meredith College. One of her last classes introduced her to religions of the world, and she spent extra time studying India because it fascinated her so much.
She graduated from Meredith as a day student with an 18-month-old son, and it would be several years before she heard about the new Baptist mission program.
“We applied, and when we got a letter they said they needed someone with our credentials in India,” Cook said. “It was like God had been preparing me. I was so excited.”
Cook, who has worshiped at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh for more than 50 years, has now visited more than 50 countries and every corner of the United States.
“For a few years we traveled domestically to all 50 states and then we had the opportunity to do work in Poland with some Baptists there in agriculture, and we started going into Poland doing mission work and that expanded into Ukraine,” Cook said. “A lot of our travel has been connected with missions but also with professional meetings in different countries.”
No matter the reason for the trip, Cook said there is always a faith component.
“Trips give you a chance to talk to people about faith and beyond,” she said. “It would be thrilling to meet Christians from other countries. We’ve had opportunities to worship in so many different cultures. It’s interesting to see the different instruments people use and different ways people worship and yet we are all united through Christ. So that has been a great experience.
“People would often say when we were getting ready for a trip, they would ask if this was a mission trip,” she continued. “And I would say I consider every trip a mission trip because you meet people from different cultures.”
Her travels have taken her far from that farm in Harnett County, but growing up there was another important part of her journey.
“It was the 1940s, we didn’t even have electricity or indoor plumbing and life wasn’t all that easy,” Cook said. “But I wouldn’t give anything for that experience because I think I have a greater appreciation for what I have now.”
The Cooks don’t have the next big trip planned because they are getting ready to move into the new Waltonwood Lake Boone senior-living community. It’s no easy feat – they must pack 400 Nativity scenes Nancy has collected from around the world.
But this seasoned traveler says you don’t have to cross an ocean to get to worthwhile destinations.
“As fascinating and as happy as I am that I have had the world travel, I am so happy that we have had the opportunity to also travel in our country,” Cook said. “People don’t really realize that if you don’t travel from coast to coast, how diverse our country is and how beautiful our country is. You don’t have to go far from home to experience different cultures or see deserts or mountains or forests because we truly have a beautiful country.”
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