by Josh Oakley
I’ve shared a bit about our family’s journey to Grace Church in a previous blog. Since that time, the Lord has continued to do amazing and unexpected things in our lives, the most recent of which I’d like to share with you all.
Back in the summer of 2018, Ashley and I were presented with the opportunity to buy a home back in Cleburne on some acreage that her parents had just bought. After much discussion and prayer with friends and family, we decided to take the offer.
Later that fall, Pastor Ryan and I began discussing church re-planting and re-vitalizing as possible options for ministry in Cleburne. Pastor Ryan reached out to a friend in ministry and asked about any churches in the area that were looking to potentially re-plant or re-vitalize. His friend mentioned a few in Burleson and one in Cleburne called Lone Willow Baptist Church- a quaint little country church that just so happened to be a mile down the road from our new house.
Pastor Ryan then reached out to their Pastor, Tony Tawater, and began talking about where they were and what they were looking for in terms of re-planting or re-vitalizing the church. After a few initial conversations, the holidays came and they both agreed to break from conversations to pray about what might be next.
Then on Monday night, January 7th, I received a text from Pastor Ryan asking if I would be willing to preach at Lone Willow the following Sunday. He informed me that Pastor Tony was about to go in for heart surgery and that he had offered to send someone down from Grace to preach while Tony was recovering. I told him I’d be more than happy to do it.
The following Sunday as I stood up to read the call to worship on that little stage, in that old building, in front of about a dozen people I had never met before, I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotion- thinking back to feeling called to preach in Cleburne. It felt weighty, surreal, worshipful. There I was about to preach my first sermon in Cleburne. It didn’t look anything like what I had imagined, but it was beautiful and amazing.
Pastor Tony went in for surgery and though the procedure went well, he ended up having a stroke during recovery which affected his ability to speak. His wife asked if I’d be willing to stay and preach while Tony was in recovery and from that point to today, I have had the privilege of preaching and serving with the wonderful people of Lone Willow.
As the weeks went by, Pastor Tony continued recovering and eventually came back. Shortly after, he asked if we’d be willing to stay at Lone Willow and help re-vitalize the church. Pastor Ryan, Pastor Tony and I all talked and agreed to pray for guidance on what the next step might be.
Since that time, Ashley and I have felt more and more strongly that this situation has been providentially orchestrated by the Lord. It has been humbling and worshipful to see just how intricately involved the Lord has been in all of this, guiding our every step, steering our every decision, putting us in the exact right places at the exact right times. The manifestation of God’s sovereign hand in all of this has been astonishing.
And so, here we are praying for the Lord to continue leading us in this journey to spread the fame and glory of Jesus in the city of Cleburne. I hope that what I have shared will encourage you and lead you to pray with us about not only what is next for our family but also for the hearts of those at Grace and in our area whom the Lord is or may soon begin stirring. We love you all very much. We have missed you all very much. Being away from Grace this long has been hard but we are comforted knowing that our Good Shepherd who has guided us up to this point will continue faithfully leading us on to whatever lies ahead- for our good and the glory of his name.
Soli Deo Gloria.