The Impact of an Invitation
Josh Johnson finds a post-military purpose through friends at church.Josh L. Johnson returned to Arkansas in 2015 after his fifth overseas military tour of duty in six years. He settled into a nightly routine of drinking a fifth of whiskey. Four of the military assignments had been to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where Johnson worked as a jet engine aircraft mechanic specialist in the 19th Maintenance Squadron.
Every time Johnson came back to Little Rock Air Force Base after a four- or six-month-stretch would be a rough period of adjustment with his wife, Ashley, and son, Kayden. When Johnson returned three years ago, his father-in-law, Tom Bostian, asked if he could take the then-5-year-old Kayden to a local Assemblies of God church in nearby Jacksonville. Although he considered himself an atheist, Johnson didn’t raise any objection. Ashley hadn’t been to church in years.
Johnson engaged in woodworking as a hobby, and Bostian commissioned him to make a picture frame as a gift for the church’s associate pastor. He asked Johnson to deliver it on a Wednesday night — just before Bible study. Johnson sat through the study and started attending services regularly; so did Ashley.
“At the time I was a bad alcoholic,” remembers Johnson, 30. “I wasn’t happy unless I was drinking. But I enjoyed hanging out with church people more than my drinking buddies.”
A year later, Ashley joined the praise and worship team and acted in the church’s Christmas play. At an altar invitation in January 2017, Johnson cried out to the Lord for salvation and was baptized in the Holy Spirit.
“The church has been a catalyst for what the Lord has done in my life,” says Johnson, who finished his 10-year military career in October 2018. Johnson, now a maintenance technician at a fitness center chain, has been sober for over a year. He also says the Lord delivered him from smoking and chewing tobacco. Johnson now plays guitar on the Bethel Assembly worship team.
Bethel is on the outskirts of Jacksonville, a city of 28,500 just 15 miles northeast of Little Rock. Bethel has nearly closed a couple of times in the past two decades. Cary Rosenbaum, who has been pastor for less than five years, is the second longest-serving pastor at the 77-year-old church.
Attendance has more than doubled since Rosenbaum, 48, introduced traditional Assemblies of God programs such as National Youth Ministry Fine Arts, Junior Bible Quiz, and Royal Rangers. Still, Rosenbaum figured Bethel would benefit from participating in quarterly two-day Acts 2 Journey seminars led by AG Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison. Rosenbaum went through the Acts 2 process when he attended First Assembly North Little Rock when Garrison pastored there in 1995.
“Acts 2 is dear to my heart,” says the bivocational Rosenbaum, who does appraisals. “It works. We want to be a healthy church, and no matter what stage you are in, there is always room for growth.”
Rosenbaum and his wife, Leann, earlier served as children’s pastors at McArthur Church, an AG congregation in Jacksonville pastored by Marc Bateman that attracts more than 700 people regularly.
Leann, who is a sexual risk avoidance program presenter in public schools, says Acts 2 has helped lay leaders at Bethel capture a new excitement for discipleship.
“A lot of what we’re learning in Acts 2 has translated in practical ways,” Leann says. “People in the church are understanding the direction we’re going.”
R. Doug Smith, 51, is a trustee at Bethel and he appreciates that Rosenbaum has taken the church through the Acts 2 process.
“I like the way he tells us we have to adjust with the times, that we can’t just stick with the old church,” says Smith, a retired Air Force engineer mechanic.