PAWNEE—Masham Church in Cimarron Association doesn’t understand that it’s in the middle of nowhere and, in this day and age, is supposed to just exist.
For the past year, since Johnny Wagner took over the pastorate, the little church that couldn’t, has. It has grown from 12 to more than 40 in Sunday School and from 20 to around 60-80 in worship. Wagner has baptized 12, with three more awaiting baptism.
Young families are joining the church. Nine children were dedicated at a child/baby dedication service. New Sunday School classes have been added, as well as a men’s ministry and Bible studies. Members and visitors are coming from as far away as Morrison, Ralston, Perry, Skedee and Blackburn. The church, which is located 12 miles from Pawnee, has grown from the smallest to the third largest of 22 churches in a revived Pastoral Alliance.
“The church is 12 miles from the closest loaf of bread, so you have to have a reason to come this way,” said Wagner, who moved to Masham from Oklahoma City, Village, where he served as outreach
Although he gained a lot of experience at Village, he said outreach is a whole new life in this area.
“You don’t just go up and knock on doors, or you run the risk of being shot,” explained Wagner. “You have to become a part of their lives. For example, if you see a truck in a field, you get your gloves on and go to work beside them.”
On one occasion, to show their interest in the area, Masham members put a roof on a woman’s house, using materials donated from the Pastoral Alliance.
The Alliance operates a food pantry and, on Oct. 31, hosted a Trunk or Treat event in the Pawnee town square. It has recently begun a jail ministry in the Pawnee County Jail, as well as working with police and fire departments.
The Alliance holds worship services at the jail every Monday and Thursday nights, and recently baptized 18 inmates in a trough located in a garage at the jail.
“Inmate violence has almost disappeared,” noted Wagner who partners with Chan Ray in the jail ministry. “Every pod now is doing evening Bible studies on their own.”
Wagner said Masham Church was gaining momentum with around 100 in worship, and then “the accident” happened.
Wagner and his wife, Becky, had been on vacation in Red River, N.M., and were returning home on their motorcycle when, 30 miles west of Woodward, a 65-lb. dog ran onto the road, hitting the cycle and causing it to flip end over end, throwing Wagner off, with the cycle landing on top of Becky.
Both were taken to a hospital in Woodward, where Wagner was treated for a severe concussion, broken front teeth, and broken left wrist and ankle. Becky was in much worse shape and was flown to Amarillo with a two-inch skull fracture, bleeding on the brain, broken collar bone, seven broken ribs, punctured lung, right wrist in pieces, left hand smashed and skin torn to the bone on her right knee.
Wagner was patched up in Woodward, and against the advice of doctors, left for Amarillo to be with his wife.
“I was told for three straight days that Becky might not make it through that day,” recalled Wagner.
Wagner said they were fortunate that immediately after the accident, a semi-truck stopped, and the woman driver, named Jennifer, ministered to them. Before becoming a truck driver, she had been an EMT, and she performed emergency aid, using parts of the crushed motorcycle to brace Becky.
“We later found out she had just resigned from her job, and this was her last run,” said Wagner. “She has three small children and her husband is going blind, so she had to quit to take care of him.”
Wagner said Jennifer, who lives in Laverne, visited them in the Amarillo hospital, and they had opportunity to officially thank her and pray with her. He added that church members from Masham, Oklahoma City, Village and Amarillo, Texas, First visited them while they were in the hospital.
“People we didn’t know were there in the hospital waiting room praying for us,” he revealed. “God showed me a picture of what a church is supposed to look like.”
Although the Wagners were away from Masham only three Sundays (one vacation week and the 14 days in the hospital), the church began losing attendance during their absence.
“Our people were great,” emphasized Wagner. “They brought so much food after we came home that we had to tell them to stop. I gained 20 pounds.”
But, said Wagner, the church is again gaining momentum and they are relaunching ministries.
“This church is seeking the Lord and willing to do what it takes to reach the surrounding area,” he emphasized. “A church that was just existing is now active in the community. People are seeing something different and asking why we are helping them for free. Our people are enjoying working for free. They are having fun.”
Wagner said he is probably the only preacher in the world who has gone to a church with no committees and started some.
“We have bereavement, property, shower and decorating, church media and news, audiovisual, budget and benevolence committees, and enough people to staff them,” he pointed out. The church also has a volunteer worship leader, youth minister, pianist and organist, and three deacons.
Wagner added that the community might be described as “time-lapsed,” because it’s been shielded from a lot of modern distractions, but the people are “growing spiritually and coming to Bible studies.”
With the growth, space has become a problem, and the church was looking to add educational space until the Sept. 3 earthquake near Pawnee, which did about $11-12,000 worth of damage to the building, so those repairs have to be made before any new additions can be financed.
Wagner, who moved from Coweta to Oklahoma City when he was 8, said he never thought he would live anywhere but in a concrete jungle.
“I didn’t know how to do this, so I had to depend on God, who every day teaches me something new.”