Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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March 6, 2014

Mission field on shores of Cedar Creek Lake

Athens — Way back in the woods off of U.S. Highway 175, across the street from the boonies, and just a block away from the middle of nowhere, sits a city that many saw as one of Henderson County’s dirty secrets.

It squats on the shores of Cedar Creek Lake, hiding behind the scenery that attracts vacationing movie stars and sports heroes from all over the nation.

This is one of the areas that put Henderson County on the map for teenage pregnancy, methamphetamine production, domestic and child abuse, and a host of other practices that would make our more “reputable” citizens shudder.

Ten years ago, God directed Allen Hobgood, a youth pastor in the neighboring city of Eustace, to venture into this uknown area and start a church.

From everyone he met, the response was the same: “Why would you put a church here?  Do you know what this place is like?”

According to Hobgood, they found that the people of Caney City and Log Cabin weren’t the typical gospel-hardened type you would expect to find in the Bible Belt.

They were more like a foreign mission field, ignorant of classic figures like David or Noah or even Jesus, and they were right in the backyard.

After outgrowing their initial meeting place in the Hobgood’s living room, they moved their church down the road, repurposing a local bar.

Hobgood is fond of saying, “We had The Lord’s Supper on tap.”

Eventually they relocated again to their current location, next door to the local gas station, motel and general store.

Over the last decade, they have worked tirelessly to bring transformation to hearts, homes and lives in the area with the love of God.

Perhaps most indicative of the effect this group is having is their thriving youth group.  Every Wednesday night, close to 75 kids swarm the church (whose Sunday services usually cap at 100), filling the air with shouts and laughter.

Most of these kids come from impoverished homes. And for some, the free meal offered is the only one they will get that day.

Many live with single, drug-addicted parents, or extended family that was willing to take them in when their parents abandoned them.

Ten minutes with the kids will show that they crave just what the people at Caney Creek Baptist Church, or Caney, as it is called, have to offer. That includes  love, acceptance, encouragement and a measure of stability.

Hugh Roberts and his wife, Charlotte, along with the Hobgood family, are primarily responsible for the unprecedented size of the group.

One student, Josh James, a local husband, father and sometimes youth pastor, grew up in the youth program and summarized it’s impact: “There’s three men who have made me who I am today, and two of them are at that church.”

“I thought I was destined to be like my dad,” James says, “An alchoholic, a druggie, a junkie, basically. He had a kid, then joined the military, and didn’t care about me.”

“I was afraid of being that person. I was scared and full of anger. But the love that they showed me helped me out of that.”

Early in his childhood, his family had several run-ins with Child Protective Services. Rather than let James and his younger brother be sent to an unknown family, Roberts, Hobgood and the other families at the church opened their homes, welcoming the two boys for several months, until they were allowed to return home.

“If you reach the kid, you might reach the family,” Hobgood says. “My thing is building families. If you reach the families, it’s huge. The dynamics completely change in a household.”

Step, by faithful step, the group over at Caney is reaching families. Walking out into the darkness, they find the lost, the lonely, and the broken. And with a smile and a welcoming hug, they walk with them into the light.

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