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Not Your Everyday Church Transformation

A few years ago, the citizens of Groesbeck, Texas, considered this AG church a pariah, a blight on the town map, that needed to be permanently removed . . . have things ever changed!

It’s true — fact can be stranger than fiction!

Over a decade ago, the pastor of the First Assembly of God church in Groesbeck, Texas, was removed from the church and ultimately the Assemblies of God. The small-town church, now leaderless, decided to fill the pulpit each week with a church member for a few weeks, which turned into months, then years — eight or nine years!

Over time, First Assembly dwindled to single digits, but the handful of remaining parishioners continued to pay the monthly bills and meet at the church. Meanwhile, the church building was condemned by the city as it was found to be structurally unsound. And due to the less-than-stellar reputation the church had been tagged with years ago, the city was more than ready to see this church just “go away.”

Into this unenviable situation steps John and Marissa Carabin.*

“When we were asked to go to Groesbeck to minister, no one knew whether or not a church still existed there,” John Carabin says. “We were fortunate enough to find the church, but we arrived unannounced [as no one worked at or for the church].”

As Carabin stepped to the pulpit of the church and its nine remaining members that May 2013 Sunday, he quickly discerned why the city had condemned the building.

“The ceiling was caving in, there were holes in the wall where a neighbor had used the building for target practice with his bow, and when I looked to my right, there was a gap in the wall so wide I could see the leaves outside waving in the wind,” Carabin says. Later, he would discover that the foundation was cracked and would take $20,000 to repair.

Carabin says that God repeatedly placed the words of Kent and Judy Anderson, Church Care Network Coordinators with Convoy of Hope’s Rural Compassion, into his mind. “They explained that in a rural community [Groesbeck’s population is 4,300 and is ‘dead center in the middle of nowhere’], you have to be valuable to the entire city, not just the people who attend your church. In other words, if your church disappeared, would your community mourn its loss? Unfortunately, at this point, I knew our community would have celebrated.”

“Jesus came to earth not to be served, but to serve,” Kent Anderson says. “At our rural pastors trainings we talk about doing church the Jesus way, and that is to serve your way into your community.”

Carabin, who attended the training, determined that the first thing he needed to do was give the church a new direction within the congregation and in the community.

“It is important to not just talk your faith, but live it,” Carabin says, “So, we decided to begin that by changing the name to Living Proof Church and become ‘living proof’ of God’s love to our town.”

Carabin says that Groesbeck has a poverty rate roughly 20 percent above the national average and an average income 30 percent below the state average, so there are plenty of those in need in the community. But the path to serving the community wasn’t as simple as might be expected.

“When we approached schools and city agencies to offer help, I either got a ‘horror story’ from that school’s or agency’s last experience with the church or they didn’t know who we were,” Carabin says. “We had to re-establish trust . . . and we really did have to become living proof to people.”

Carabin says they tried to work with the local schools to provide free shoes to kids through a partnership with Rural Compassion. “At first, none of the schools wanted us in their building,” Carabin says. “Finally, the middle school allowed us to come.”

Undaunted by the initial rejection, the church steadily worked at fulfilling its new mission of becoming living proof. They started sweeper teams that went out and swept businesses’ parking lots, they created “storm trooper” teams that went out and cleaned up people’s yards after storms, they started delivering cookies to teachers as well as school bus drivers each month. And Carabin himself became visible in activities throughout the community, leading prayers at events, becoming a chaplain for the fire department, and even training and becoming a member of the town’s volunteer fire department.

As the church lived up to its word, doors began to open. “This past year, we gave out 95 backpacks to kids in need of them and we’ve given a total of 1,100 pairs of new shoes to students — now all the schools want to partner with us to give shoes to the kids,” Carabin says. He also notes that as the perception of the church changed in the community, people were drawn to the church.

“We are now averaging about 90 people in service each week,” Carabin says. “What’s funny is, those attending the church are not those we have been helping; they’re the people who have seen us help others and they want to be a part of that.”

What’s unusual about the make-up of the Living Proof Church congregation is along with a number still “figuring out their faith,” fully one-third of them are volunteer fire fighters and their families. Carabin explains that the church simply once again lived up to its name. “We bought cards, individually wrote a personal note inside of each of them and sent them to the firefighters. Later, we got firefighter Bibles through Rural Compassion, had the firefighters’ names imprinted on them, and presented the Bibles to them. The impact and response has been phenomenal.”

“John has done a lot of things in our community,” observes Fire Chief Pat Samuels. “He has done a tremendous job as our chaplain, and was recently elected our quartermaster. About a year ago, I decided I wanted to see John in his natural environment as a pastor, so a bunch of us all took a truck to the church one Sunday . . . and we’ve been going ever since.”

Marissa Carabin has seen God use her as well. John explains that she heads up their new MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program, which is already a powerful success among young mothers in the community. “There are a lot of mothers struggling with the stress of a child,” John Carabin says, “and MOPS offers up that support and understanding these young women are so desperately needing.”

Other events the church have offered to or done for the community include a BBQ cook-off, fishing derbies, adopt-a-highway, providing police officers with Bibles, a Christian concert, volunteering at the police department’s national night out, providing Thanksgiving meals to local families, and more.

The church’s servant attitude towards the town has drawn the attention and appreciation of its citizens — as well as new members to the church’s door. “We’ve seen 80 people give their lives to Christ, and about 80 percent of our members are new believers or had been out of church for at least 10 years,” Carabin says. “And now, we’ve outgrown our building!”

“John is a genuine guy,” Samuels says. “He’s real and down to earth, and people can see that and want to be a part of what he’s wanting to do. We have a lot of people attending the church now with heart, they are like-minded — be there [at the church] on Sunday, but be out and share with the community every other day.”

And that $20,000 foundational issue with the church building? Well, the few remaining members of the “former” church had taken offerings all those years and had regularly deposited the money into a bank account. “There was $17,000 in that account when I arrived,” Carabin says, with marvel still tingeing his voice. “Then a lady from the community called us up, and she sounded angry, referring to us as ‘you people’ and saying how she’s seen us around town . . . the next thing you know, she’s giving us $5,000 because she likes what she has been seeing!”

“John and Marissa and their Living Proof church are truly living out Mark 10:45,” Kent Anderson says. “They are living out their faith in the streets of Groesbeck!”

However, Carabin knows that there’s no time to sit back and rest on what the church has done, so Living Proof Church continues to press forward, living up to its name. “People like what we are doing,” Carabin says. “We don’t play church. You either do the gospel right or you don’t do it at all.”


*At the 2015 General Council in Orlando, John and Marissa were honored as the Rural Pastors of the Year through Rural Matters and the Church Multiplication Network.

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.