Aug. 31, 2010
By Tyson Mathews
UAB Athletic Media Relations
Jhun Cook had been in the hospital for a year.
Since being admitted at age 8 with an undiagnosed internal sickness, he had undergone chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplants and blood transfusions. Doctors still had not been able to determine exactly what was wrong with him.
Then, alone in his hospital room one night, he experienced something that changed everything.
Cook recalls, "I just remember an appearance of Christ came and asked, `Do you believe you can be healed?' I said, `I believe.' And within a week, I was released from the hospital. To this day, it still is a mystery."
A mystery to the doctors, maybe, but not to Cook, who already had a well-established faith in God at his young age.
"That time in my life is when I was compelled into my personal relationship with Christ," he says. "Knowing that he was there with me, that he was faithful to his word that he would never leave us nor forsake us."
The experience was one of several that guided Cook, now 26, into a life of ministry and ultimately into his current position as UAB's campus director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program and chaplain for the Blazer football team.
A former UAB receiver, he re-joined the football program in a full-time capacity a little over a year ago. He's constantly around the team, attending meetings and practices and traveling to road games. He organizes group activities, one-on-one lunches and runs a Monday night Bible study.
"I've seen our players grow leaps and bounds just in the year that he's been here," UAB head football coach Neil Callaway says. "He is a genuine person who walks what he talks every day. We're very fortunate to have him as a part of our team, and he's done a tremendous job."
Connecting with the players comes naturally for Cook because, as a former player, he's been where they are.
And Cook, a Birmingham native, has experienced a lot. When he was released from the hospital at age 9, he started to take a more active role around his church - even menial tasks like picking up trash and scraping gum out of the carpet. When he got older, he drove the church bus.
He also saw the unfortunate and ugly part of life. In addition to his illness, he was a victim of hold-ups at gunpoint twice before he even reached his teenage years - once while at a restaurant in the Birmingham area with his mother and older brother and once while walking to his aunt's house after school.
The Huffman High School product credits God with getting him through those circumstances. That's why he is so eager to share his message with students at UAB. And that's why, in January, Cook founded a church in Birmingham called CBF Ministries International.
"The very thing that hurt me was the thing God called me to come against," Cook says. "That's why I'm so passionate about ministry here on campus, so when guys leave here they don't become the people that are doing that stuff. We represent what they should be doing: being great leaders, great fathers and great humanitarians in society once they leave school."
If his experiences early in life encouraged him to follow the straight path, Cook's time as a student-athlete at UAB confirmed his purpose. While playing football for the Blazers, he became deeply involved in the organization he now leads.
"On my 21st birthday, I was off at FCA camp," he says. "I knew then the Lord had really given me a heart for ministry."
Still, he couldn't have known then that he would wind up where he is now. Like many of the players he works with, Cook had aspirations of playing the sport he loves professionally. He pursued those dreams wherever they took him, from training camp with the Washington Redskins to the Alabama Steeldogs of Arena League 2.
In 2008, Cook turned his attention to a new professional league called the All American Football League. A spring league based mostly in the South, it would have six teams and be open only to players with college degrees.
Cook was selected in the AAFL draft by Team Arkansas, even chosen ahead of some former NFL players. But, one month before kickoff, the league canceled the season.
Out of football, Cook again found himself in Birmingham, working as an accountant for the Social Security administration.
"It was great money," he says. "But my heart wasn't in it."
That's when he received a phone call from UAB athletic director Brian Mackin about coming back to his alma mater.
"We started talking, and I started praying about it," Cook says. "That's when Coach Callaway called and said, `Whatever we need to do to get you here, this is what the guys need.' My heart was always here on campus, and now the opportunity was here and the window was open."
So Cook is back at UAB, serving as an example of how to do things the right way and encouraging Blazer players to strive for a higher purpose.
"Looking back over my life, it gives me passion for God," he says. "The passion that he had for me to get me to where I am gives me the passion now to reach and save everybody that I can."