With fingers skimming across the thin pages of a bible, Pastor Carson Johnson comes across the scripture that would one day bring him to his home at Abilene Bible Baptist Church.
Pastor Carson spent 46 years in the pews of ABBC finding a home within his congregation, Abilene and the Kansas wheat.
Before his journey began as a Pastor, Carson grew up in Indiana where he met his future wife, Rebecca, through mutual friends. Pastor Carson completed his obligatory military service with the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Once he returned to U.S. soil, Pastor Carson worked at Fort Riley and his family moved to Abilene where they began to attend Abilene Bible Baptist Church.
After his release from the military, Pastor Carson and Rebecca went to Greenville, South Carolina where he attended Bob Jones University in hopes of becoming a history teacher, until he hit his junior year.
“While I was in my junior year of college and doing my daily devotions, I was reading the verse Romans 1:16, for the Apostle Paul talks about the gospel,” Pastor Carson said.
“He says, Brian, the shape of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that verse, it says, ‘first of all to the Jew and then to the Gentiles.’ Well, the Lord gave me peace in my heart that I was to preach the gospel with hopes to go into the ministry.”
He can still remember the feeling of switching his major to religion and finding out he needed to take an extra year to graduate, but he wouldn’t trade the stress of studying for anything.
“What my college experience was, they didn’t tell me what to believe,” Pastor Carson said.
The program instead gave him the tools to find out his beliefs and how to share the word of God with his future congregation.
In 1975, he graduated with no idea where God was leading him post college, so he tried to find a job as a barber. Before the military, Pastor Carson had found work as a professional barber.
“I couldn’t find a job, but I never had a problem before finding a job in all my life,” Pastor Carson said.
In the end, Pastor Carson and his family visited their friend, a pastor in Clay Center and that became the start of a lifelong adventure. At first when visiting Kansas, Pastor Carson and Rebecca could not dream of ever creating a home in the Great Plains. But, as the days passed at their friend’s home, they started to change their view-point about Kansas.
“We honestly consider Kansas,” Pastor Carson said. “In that discussion, we realized we decided on faith that we would come out here. We had no job, no place to live. Now I know that sounds really irresponsible, but when the Lord leads in your heart and you know you are supposed to do something, you do it.”
“We hesitated about coming here because we wanted to make sure it was the Lord’s will and we didn’t want to just come here because we had friends here,” Rebecca said.
“So, we just really, really prayed about it and wanted to make sure that we were doing what the Lord wanted us to do,” Rebecca added. “Apparently we did.”
Through all the family moves and life changes, Rebecca never found herself forced to follow, but instead her perspective was she was holding Pastor Carson’s hand through their life adventure and together they would move forward through the hurdles.
“I felt like I’m just as much a part of everything,” Rebecca said. “I never have felt any less or different about it. It was my calling just as much as it was his for us to come. We always felt like we were in this together …whatever was ahead, we just felt like it was a bit of a new adventure, a new chapter of the book.”
So, they moved to Abilene and learned about a house they could move into right away from their Pastor friend. Following their move back, Pastor Carson would get a call from Abilene Bible Baptist Church to come preach at their church and by the following Wednesday the congregation voted him as the new Pastor.
As the new leader of ABBC, Pastor Carson took on the important duty of serving his followers and teaching them the words of the Lord.
“For the Pastor, he is a servant first and that’s the most important thing that you must remember, you’re serving God and you’re serving other people,” Pastor Carson said.
Pastor Carson became a fixture — a family member and teacher — in his congregation’s lives from birth to growing up to relationships to death. He found his role in guiding them to finding their hope and their relationship with God even when the world got dark in their eyes. But, Pastor Carson had his own helping hand through it all.
“Behind every good man is a good woman,” Pastor Carson said.
While Pastor Carson took on the duty of serving God and his congregation, Rebecca took on her own duty as his support, follower and as a helping hand to church members. She balanced those duties with her responsibilities as a mother and educational sign language interpreter for the deaf in nearby schools.
“I feel like the biggest job I have is just being a good support for him,” Rebecca said. “I learned what I’m supposed to do by reading God’s word and that tells me how to live as a Christian and that is going to tell what I need to do. I tried to be as available as possible.”
Rebecca completed her work for the Lord by being available to people who needed a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a hand to guide and an open home for those seeking shelter.
“We love keeping people, so I always tell people just give me five minutes, just give me five minutes to go down to tidy up, you know, in the apartment, in our house,” Rebecca said. “That’s been a real joy.”
Rebecca told of a military family, with a car full of kids and pets driving up and down from Abilene to Salina, trying to find shelter from heavy rain. Rebecca and Pastor Carson open their home immediately taking everyone in, down to the littlest cat.
She also made herself available to join Pastor Carson when he is called upon as a Police Chaplain.
“Whenever I was available to do that, I always tried to make it whether day or night doesn’t matter because tragedies don’t have working hours,” Rebecca said.
When asked their favorite memories of their time with the ABBC people, both Pastor Carson and Rebecca could not put a finger on one specific memory.
“Being a farming community, I’ll use a phrase gardeners use ‘Some days you don’t know where to stick in the plow’ Pastor Carson said.
“God has given us a good congregation, so good people,” Pastor Carson added. “We know we’re not perfect … So I think one of the personal highlights is watching people come into the Lord as a personal Savior, watching them grow and serve the Lord and contributing to the community in a positive way. I think by doing that it makes our community a better place to live. As my wife has said, Abilene is a great place. Great place to raise your children. We’ve been privileged to do a lot of traveling and we were blessed in Kansas. We really enjoyed it, but there’s just so many things that it’s hard to say.”
“Because we’ve just had so many precious moments with our people over the years,” Rebecca said. “We’ve raised four kids here…they’re doing quite well and we feel like that is because of the friendships that they made here growing up in this church. I remember one time, one of our kids said ‘Oh, do we have to do this or have to go to church again?’ … I said ‘You know what, we would be living like this and doing this and coming to church and being just as involved, if your daddy was a barber, we would still be living like this’.”
“We’ve met some wonderful people over the years,” Rebecca added. “We’ve just had so much fun with our people. We always kind of had a little personal philosophy that we said, no matter what we did we’re going to have fun.”
With 46 years spent leading and serving Abilene Bible Baptist Church’s congregation, Pastor Carson plans to retire after his last day on Dec. 31. He finds it is time to move on to a new adventure in life as a grandfather with his family in South Carolina.
“I have no regrets,” Pastor Carson said. “With management, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I have no regrets. I have no regrets and am serving the Lord and I want to continue to serve. He just put us where we need to be, used us to do what He wanted us to do and He has done amazing things in this ministry… One of our goals for this ministry is always to do everything, debt free. This ministry is debt free. We don’t owe anybody anything. It was a great lesson that I had to learn years ago…I committed to the Lord, Lord to help us do this. This church will never be in debt again. I give God the glory for that.”
Pastor Carson and Rebecca wanted to share words from the Bible that they seek out in times of change and when life moves people forward to the future.
Pastor Carson calls to Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not count myself to have attained, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press towards the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
“If you keep that in mind, I think wherever you go, you’re going to do that will help you to move on,” Pastor Carson said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, because we’re taking a lot of wonderful memories with us, that’s what we have. We sum up the ministry, how would you take this in spirit, because it is not meant to be prideful. We are satisfied with the 46 years that the Lord gave us in this ministry. That’s what the Bible says, what happened to us, if we keep on moving forward for the Lord, we will be satisfied.”
Rebecca calls on Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
“Whatever situation, mess, good or bad or whatever I’m in right now,” Rebecca said. “I know that he sees it. He knew it was going to happen that morning and then I quoted that verse. I know to be of good courage and he will strengthen my heart.”