Written by 9:00 am Rural Interviews

The Forgotten Cotton of North America

Deep in rural America lies towns labeled “forgotten,” and “overlooked”…
"...look on the fields, they are white ready to harvest" John 4:35

The unseen potential in rural West Texas went untapped for generations, until one passionate rural pastor decided to look past the surface. 

by Hope Mayes

Deep in the heart of rural America lies thousands of towns labeled “forgotten,” and “overlooked” because of their small population or perceived lack of potential. John Murdoch, pastor of Christian Life Assembly of God in Lubbock, Texas, sees towns with a small population in a different light. Murdoch’s passion comes alive in these unlikely places; as if each small town contains rich soil just waiting for seeds to be planted.

Born and raised in a small town, Murdoch has lived in some of the most rural parts of southern United States. Today, his background fuels his passion for planting Pentecostal (Spirit-filled) churches in every rural town in West Texas.

God gave Murdoch a passion for the spiritual needs of small towns without a Pentecostal church, “they lack a source of hope in Jesus.” He developed a metaphor-based on his observations of cotton farming over the years since his youth. Cotton fields found all across West Texas remain an essential part of the farming industry. On the edge of these cotton fields, where the crop becomes a little sparser, lies what Murdoch calls, “cotton turn rows.” “These turn rows are just as strong as the rest of the field but when machines make their way around the field, four or five stocks on the end are missed. For some, it is not worth it to go retrieve the turn rows,” observed Murdoch.

In his eyes, the forgotten turn rows of the American church, the small towns, remain left behind. Many desire to work in the big fields, often forgetting the random patches of cotton or rural towns.

God opened doors for Murdoch to reach these “turn row” towns in the last ten years. His obedience to the call resulted in the establishment and growth of eight Pentecostal churches in the most rural parts in West Texas. The once overlooked fields became centers of hope and testimonies of the possibilities for all people who reside in rural places. “When God opens up a door, you go” declared Murdoch.

8 Churches Planted in Rural West Texas

The desperate need to plant churches for the thirty nations represented in West Texas became a wide-open door. In order to meet the spiritual needs of the international community in the area, Murdoch plans to plant each immigrant church with the capacity to double as an ESL training center. This will provide an opportunity for more people in the West Texas area to first to hear the gospel, and second to learn English. Murdoch planted the first refugee church in Dumas, Texas, and believes for ten more in the near future. The Dumas Refugee Church continues to grow in number and disciples, like the other seven daughter churches Murdoch has planted in the last ten years.

Celebrating anniversary of church plant.

Celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Dumas Refugee Church.

Canadian River Cowboy Church  lies deep in the country between Skellytown and Boger and an astounding number of around 150 people attend weekly; making their smallest community the one that contains the largest of the eight daughter churches. The cowboy church provides a summer camp for children that includes evening services and afternoon horse activities. At the end of the week-long camp, usually about fifteen to twenty kids are baptized in a horse tank.

Springs of Life AG church in Roaring Springs lies within the second smallest of Murdoch’s eight communities, population 213 people, and contains a countless number of testimonies of God’s faithfulness. Springs of Life now has made a lasting impact on one country school ten miles into the Texan countryside. By developing an ongoing relationship and ministering to over half of the students in the school on a weekly basis, Springs of Life has shown the school that God has not forgotten their rural community nor one of their 100 students.

Despite the odds, this small rural church in Roaring Springs also runs a one-year residential, discipleship program for young men and women and has sent multiple students to college to prepare for a life centered on Christ. Some students enroll at Christ Mission College, while others attend major universities and get plugged into the local Chi Alpha. Chi Alpha successfully tapped into the mighty potential of students from these “turn row” towns. The abundant fruit continues to multiply.

Future Rural Mobilization

By mobilizing more rural leaders, Murdoch sees strong potential in the future of rural church planting; “To [be a rural minister] you can’t go to a smaller town and plan on being there for only two or three years and then move somewhere else. Rural places need people that go and say, ‘I could be here the rest of my life. I have got to develop a relationship and a friendship with the people of this town’ because gaining their trust and living life with them [opens doors of ministry].”

Murdoch observed the opportunities for young people with a desire to do rural ministry are “wide open!” With eight churches already planted and many more on the way, Murdoch described a wide array of opportunities in his area alone, “So much potential for harvest lies in rural fields and the best part is, the field is wide open.

The next industrious rural leader could be the young person trained at a Christian college, a dedicated member of Chi Alpha, or the young man or woman who has grown up in the rural church and possesses a willingness to serve. Pastor Murdoch says it takes an open mind to see the vision, a willingness to go to the “turn row” towns, and a desire to draw forth the potential that has lied untapped for generations. “Planting rural churches is almost like doing a puzzle. In the beginning, you see nothing. Slowly the pieces start to come into alignment and when it’s over, you see the beautiful picture God put together,” explained Murdoch.

John 4:35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!

The fields of John 4:35 remain in every American town that lacks a Spirit-filled church. In every one of those towns, Murdoch recognizes the desperate need for workers to commit to rural American harvest fields. It takes someone willing to look at a rural town and see the heart and soul of individuals; someone willing to spend the rest of their life picking cotton in the “turn rows” of America. Those that possess these qualities can follow in Murdoch’s footsteps piecing together puzzle pieces that once aligned form a newly planted rural church.

Both young and experienced leaders can learn much from Murdoch’s mindset. Rural places need willing hearts and open minds to go to unlikely places. As for Murdoch choice, “I am going to the turn rows and picking cotton.

Reflective Engagement:

  1. What seeds have you sown in the rich soil expecting to bear a harvest?
  2. Where should “turn row” churches be planted in your region?
  3. Who will plant a Pentecostal church in the “turn row” communities?
  4. Who could you disciple to become part of the great harvest team?
  5. What steps will you take to develop pastors for the “white harvest fields” John 4:35?
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