Our first 30 years – Community Christian Fellowship
In the mid-to-late 1970s a Sunday morning worship service began for the staff and students of The Agape Force ministry in Garden Valley, west of Lindale, Texas, and soon, other area residents began to attend. Agape Force’s founder, Tony Salerno, was leading the meetings at the Agape Force campus but he wasn’t called to be a pastor so he delegated that role to others in their ministry, including Gordon (Gordy) Peterson and Gabriel Arosemena. The newly unincorporated church came to be known as Community Christian Fellowship (CCF).
David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge (later World Challenge) was the first of the ministries to set up operation in the rural community of Garden Valley in 1974, buying about 400 acres of land on Farm to Market Road 16. In 1980, Wilkerson sold the Twin Oaks property to Youth With A Mission (YWAM) which had already been in operation near the airport in Tyler, Texas, and he established a smaller World Challenge ministry base, also in Garden Valley, off Hwy. 110.
Keith Green and Last Days Ministries arrived in Garden Valley in September 1979, and many of their staff also began attending CCF’s Sunday morning meetings. In 1981, the singing group 2nd Chapter of Acts moved into the area and some of them began attending the meetings as well.
Tyler Morning News June 26, 2016
By 1982 the Agape Force cafeteria (now Mercy Ships’ Oasis) was outgrown, so the predominantly Agape Force congregation moved to the gymnasium at Youth With A Mission to make it more of a community church. Wayne Snyder, a pastor from Montana who had YWAM training, was the acting pastor at that time, and the small group went by the name Garden Valley Community Church. Wayne became terminally ill and soon resigned as pastor, dying shortly thereafter in March 1984. Around that time Garden Valley Community Church fragmented. Some of the group started a congregation at Kaleo Lodge, and others met at David Wilkerson’s gathering at World Challenge. Also at that time many of the people started meeting again in the Agape Force cafeteria with Gabriel Arosemena as the pastor. On occasion, Winkie Pratney, Leonard Ravenhill and other preachers would deliver messages on Sunday mornings.
On March 15, 1984, the Agape Force Lindale church was officially incorporated, using the name Community Christian Fellowship, with the initial board of directors being Gabriel Arosemena, Conley Brown Jr., and Kenneth Turley, all members of Agape Force. The Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of Texas on March 28, 1984.
On May 4, 1984, CCF purchased our current propertynine acres and a 14,000 square ft. buildingfrom The Agape Force for a quarter of a million dollars. The metal building was built by Agape Force in 1975, the year they had arrived in Garden Valley. It had been used as a warehouse, dormitory, office & school facility.
On July 1, 1984, Gabriel Arosemena resigned as CCF’s first official pastor, and the board of directors selected Dallas native Don Crum (formerly with Agape Force) to fill that role. Don led the newly incorporated church as an anointed preacher and along with Sonny Jaynes and others also led worship. In those early days the meeting room was much smaller and the chairs were all facing north where Pastor Don stood to preach. For a time during Don’s pastorate, praise & worship singer/songwriter John Sellers was CCF’s worship leader. The congregation at that time was under 200 people, and the church elders were Sonny Jaynes, Tracy Hansen, Ron Garrison and Bracy Greer.
In 1976, the year after The Agape Force arrived in Garden Valley, a private Christian school was established for the children of ministry & local community families. The school was first known as Agape Force Prep School but in February 1985 the name was changed to Garden Valley School. The school held classes in what is now the CCF sanctuary which was divided up into classrooms and a cafeteria. The first principal was Will Fields. Conley Brown served as principal for three and a half years through August 1985, and later Robert & Dana Rhodes ran the school through the late 1980s.
Don Crum served as pastor of CCF for three and a half years from July 1, 1984 to January 30, 1988. In July 1988, Don, Cheri and their two children moved to the foreign mission field in Nigeria where they served faithfully for seven years under the ministry name Africa Missions.
In January 1988, CCF’s elders called on Albie Pearson to serve as pastor. In his younger years, Albie Pearson had been a professional baseball player for the California Angels. He and his wife, Helen, had moved to Garden Valley from southern California in 1987 to minister to some of the Contemporary Christian Musicians in the area. Albie functioned as a pastor to the musicians and staff in 2nd Chapter of Acts, Dallas Holm & Praise, Harvest, etc., leading a weeknight Bible study for them every week. Pastor Albie was a relaxed, soft-spoken teachernot a preacher and rather than standing behind a pulpit he sat on a stool and ministered the love of the Father. During Albie’s tenure as pastor, CCF’s elders were Sonny Jaynes, Tracy Hansen, Ron Garrison, Steve Aubuchon, Charlie Moore and Bill Cooke.
In 1988 & 1989 Albie Pearson & Tracy Hansen led the congregation in praise and worship during the Sunday morning services. Kim (Garrett) Denson, member of the singing group Silverwind, played keyboard and occasionally led worship herself, as did Ed Kerr of the singing group Harvest. In November of 1988, Christian singer Kelly Willard and her family moved to Garden Valley to be with Last Days Ministries. Musicians, Paul and Rita Baloche, who had toured with Kelly, followed her and her family to Garden Valley and began attending CCF. They too began participating with the worship team.
On December 3, 1989, after serving as pastor of CCF for just under two years, Albie Pearson resigned as pastor, and he and Helen moved back to California. At that time Tracy Hansen took over where Albie left off. Tracy was not only gifted as a preacher, but also in carpentry as well as the arts. When not doing his pastoral duties, he could often be found swinging a hammer as the church expanded its facilities. From time to time Tracy would perform a skit during his sermons, putting into practice his gift of drama.
Just prior to Albie Pearson leaving, he and Tracy were talking with Paul and Rita Baloche in his office. Paul and Rita were considering serving as youth pastors, but Tracy felt that Paul should be CCF’s worship leader, and Albie whole-heartedly concurred. Considering himself only a guitar player, Paul resisted at first, but before long he was leading worship, with Ed Kerr accompanying on keyboard. Soon Ed and Paul began writing songs together, having both signed contracts with Hosanna! Integrity. On June 26, 1992 Paul recorded his first of many live worship albums this one in Dallasand many CCFers participated.
In 1993 Cindy Ward, formerly with Agape Force, began directing the newly established children’s ministry and Sunday School. She served faithfully for five years and then YWAMer Sue Haines took over as director, beginning in the Fall of 1998.
By the mid-1990s CCF’s congregation continued to grow, and Sunday morning services were becoming crowded. Further expansions were soon undertaken by removing classrooms along the outer western walls. A smaller, core group of CCFers were also meeting for midweek services on Wednesday evenings. There were also Care Groups in homes at different times during the 1990s.
By September 1996 CCF’s elders consisted of Sonny Jaynes, Charlie Moore, Ron Garrison and Burt Forney. On August 30, 1997, Tracy Hansen submitted his letter of resignation, effective at the end of November. After having served as pastor for eight years, Tracy and Connie soon moved back to Idaho to care for Tracy’s aging mother.
After much prayer and fasting, CCF’s elders selected Longview native, David Hickey to take Tracy’s place as pastor. David officially became CCF’s pastor on Sunday, December 8, 1997. David, LuAnn and their five children had been attending CCF for several years, although because of his overnight job, David himself was unable to attend very often. He had served as pastor of several Baptist churches in the past, but after he and LuAnn experienced a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit, a sabbatical ensued. Leading up to being asked to pastor CCF, David Hickey pastored a small home church, and held overnight jobs as a stocker at Wal-Mart and a truck driver driving to and from Dallas, delivering newspapers.
During the first decade of David’s tenure as pastor, CCF began to steadily grow again. David’s history of solid Bible training equipped him for practical, down-to-earth and to-the-point sermons. And where there had previously only been Sunday School classes for children, adult classes were established. Our massive mortgage and other debt began to be whittled down, and finally, in the spring of 2002, the debt was completely paid off, culminating with a Mortgage Burning celebration on May 19th of that year, held in Mercy Ships’ cafeteria.
During the 2000s, CCF’s congregation continued to grow, requiring more expansion and building projects. Due to the crowded conditions in our sanctuary, CCF began having two Sunday morning services on March 12, 2006. During that year a large, two-story addition with a fellowship hall, industrial kitchen and lots of classroom & office space was built onto the west side of the existing building, all done without going into debt, thanks to the generosity and faithfulness of the CCF church body. In November 2006, a large modular building was donated which was renovated and used as a High School youth facility. Further expansions of the sanctuary took place in 2008 to make room for our growing church family.
By the spring of 2011 the men serving as elders were Steve Miller, Herb Haines, Burt Forney, Ben Davis, Russell Bailiff, Kevin Karrenbrock and Randy Willmon, Ron Garrison having gone to be with Jesus on July 22, 2010.
In early 2015, Paul and Rita Baloche moved to New York City after having been an integral part of CCF for 26 years. Taking Paul’s place as CCF worship leader was Josh Langer, a German-born YWAMer who had already been a part of the worship team.
Community Christian Fellowship has experienced the faithfulness of God in many ways throughout the past few decades. We serve a wonderful Father who deserves our whole-hearted praise, worship & devotion. As our church motto states, we want to keep Reaching Up to know the Father’s heart, Reaching In to build Godly lives and healthy relationships, and Reaching Out to our local community and beyond with the hopeful message of Jesus. As the Lord continues to write CCF’s history, come be a part of our future.
Written by Roland Heddins (revised May 2022)