Seated in his office at Brownwood’s Calvary Baptist Church, pastor Artie Woodcox easily ticked off the dizzying sequence of events that altered his life more than a decade and a half ago.
    Over a 12-month period from December 2001 to December 2002 — when Woodcox was serving as pastor of nearby Midtown Baptist Church in Brownwood — Woodcox finished seminary, met his future spouse, got engaged, got married and moved to Buckeye, Arizona to become pastor of First Southern Baptist Church. Buckeye is a suburb of Phoenix.
    That’s where Woodcox and his family — wife Rachael, sons Benjamin, Jacek and Nathan, and daughter Taylor Elaine — lived until this past May, when the family returned to Brownwood. That happened after events Woodcox termed “divine coincidences” led the family to Calvary Baptist Church, where he preached his first sermon as the church’s new pastor on May 28.
    The family’s journey seems to prove you can go home again, after all.
    “You can, yeah,” Woodcox said. “And I’ll tell you, it’s been wonderful. It’s been wonderful to see people I haven’t seen in years. … And I love Brownwood. Always have.”
    There seems to have been many such divine coincidences in Woodcox’s life as he tells the story of his journey from his days as a 7-year-old boy, when he knew he was going to be a preacher, to the Calvary Baptist Church pulpit.
    
Prodigal detour
    When Woodcox was a boy, he attended Avenue D Baptist Church with his parents. “I gave my life to Christ at (age) 7 and I told people I was going to be a preacher,” Woodcox said. “I came to Christ and said ‘I’m going to be a preacher one day.’”
    Woodcox recalled the day a man asked him if he was going to be a plumber like his father. “I looked at him, and I said ‘I’m gonna be a preacher.’ Now, I strayed away — and that’s a whole other story — as a teenager.”
    Woodcox played football at Brownwood High School for Coach Gordon Wood, and he recalled teammates including Carter Sharpe. High school was also the beginning of a short-lived misadventure into drug abuse.
    “I was a prodigal son,” Woodcox said.
    He forgot all about the time as a boy when he’d declared his future as a preacher.

‘The Lord rescued me’
    In 1989, Woodcox was 22 years old and working at Superior Cable. That’s when “the prodigal son came to his senses, so the speak,” Woodcox said. “I was just in a mess, and my life was messed up, and I called out to the Lord in desperation.
    “The Lord rescued me. He literally, in that moment, just came in and completely set me free from drug abuse.”
    Woodcox explained how it happened.
“I walked into this gym one night strung out – basically, had an anxiety attack and ran in the back room of that gym, and cried out to the Lord for help. I began to experience an incredible sense of peace right there in that gym. I picked up my bag and walked out of there, and I was set free from the mess I was in.”

Bound for the ministry
    Woodcox went to see Southside Baptist Church pastor Bill Johnson and told him what had happened. A few nights later, he went forward at the church after a Bible study.
     “I don’t know what he wants me to do, but I just want to do whatever it is he wants me to do,” Woodcox told the Southside pastor.
    “He prayed with me and turned me around and said ‘this is Artie Woodcox … and he’s just surrendered to the ministry,’” Woodcox recalled. “After that happened, the next thing you know, I began to have these thoughts coming back into my heart and mind about the time as a little boy, when I said I was gonna be a preacher one day.”
    Woodcox continued working at Superior Cable, but about four years later, the preacher-in-waiting believed it was time for him to go to school. He left Superior Cable in December 1993, attended Cisco Junior College for some basics and then graduated in 1998 from Howard Payne University with a degree in theology. He later graduated from Hardin-Simmons University with a master’s degree.
    
Midtown calling
    In 1997, Woodcox was attending Woodcreek Baptist Church, still working on his schooling. He was asked to consider becoming pastor of a small new congregation at what is now Midtown Baptist Church.
    At the time, Midtown was a satellite of North Ridge Baptist Church. Woodcox did not initially want to become pastor there, as he believed he was too inexperienced. And besides, Woodcox fit in well at Woodcreek, where he was associate pastor.
    But Woodcox agreed to pray about it, and he agreed to become pastor of what was then known as North Ridge Baptist Church, Midtown. Later, Midtown ceased being a satellite of North Ridge and became a separate church.
        
‘Who is that?’
    In January 2002, Woodcox was a 35-year-old single man, still serving as pastor of Midtown. He was finishing up school and also working part-time at King Music.
    Over the years, people had told Woodcox, “you’re going to turn around one day, Artie, and she’s going to be right there, and that’s what happened.”
    What happened was a woman named Rachael. She was 27, beautiful and a divorced mother of three. Her previous marriage had ended when her then-husband left her and never came back, Woodcox said.
    Rachael had grown up in Brownwood as Rachael Schultz, and returned to Brownwood after living in Longview. She was looking for a church and visited Midtown Baptist Church for the first time on Jan. 13, 2002. She brought her three sons — Benjamin, who was nearly 5, Jacek, nearly 2 and 6-month-old Nathan.
    Woodcox didn’t see her enter.
     “I distinctly remember stepping up on the platform to preach, and I turn around, and I see this beautiful woman sitting there, and I was like, ‘who is that?’” Woodcox said.
    They talked, they went for coffee, they dated and quickly became engaged.

New direction
    As his wedding day approached, Woodcox began to realize he couldn’t support a family on the salary Midtown Baptist Church was able to pay him.
    Woodcox called Brownwood pastor Richard Jackson — his mentor and former evangelism professor — and asked Jackson for advice. Did Jackson think it would be wise for Woodcox to take on a full-time job and become a bi-vocational pastor?
    Jackson didn’t address the bi-vocational question. Instead, he told Woodcox he’d just received a letter from a woman on a pastoral search committee from Buckeye, Arizona. “She wanted to know if I knew a pastor I could recommend, and I thought of you,” Jackson told Woodcox.
    Woodcox began talking with the Arizona church’s pastoral search committee in July 2002. He and Rachael were married on Sept. 7, 2002, and three months later, the family had moved to Buckeye.
    Woodcox went on to adopt Rachael’s three sons. Daughter Taylor Elaine, who is now 10, was born later. Sons Benjamin, Jacek and Nathan are now ages 20, 17 and 15.
    
Another new direction
    Last year, Woodcox,  experiencing what he termed a “holy discontent,” began to sense he and the Buckeye church both needed a change.
     Woodcox never expected to be a pastor in Brownwood again, but his perception began to change when he and Rachael visited Brownwood last Christmas to visit family.
    “Really through some divine coincidences, we ended up feeling led to put a resume in (at Calvary Baptist Church),” Woodcox said. “We came at Christmas and the Lord just opened our eyes to Brownwood, and the thought of coming back to Brownwood.
     “I told Rachael the only church I’m even aware of that might still be looking for a pastor was (Calvary Baptist Church).”
    Woodcox’s plan was to return to Arizona and call Jackson, his friend and mentor, as well as the Calvary secretary, Karen Mosqueda. Woodcox had graduated with Mosqueda from Brownwood High School, and her husband had been a football teammate.
    “Before we left town, we stumbled into both of them at different times,” Woodcox said, referring to Jackson and Mosqueda. “Next thing you know, we’re talking about Calvary. … we decided ‘let’s put our resume in and see what God does.’”
    Woodcox stressed there were no issues with the Buckeye, Arizona church. “I wasn’t running from a thing,” Woodcox said. “The congregation collectively mourned with us when we left.”

‘His grace is just amazing’
    When asked how he would sum up his life, Woodcox replied, “I just see that the Lord does have a bigger plan for us and when we walk with him, Proverbs 3 (verses) 5 and 6 says ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he was make your paths straight.’
    “I just kind of look back over my life over the last 20-plus years, and I see how God has woven things together, how he’s just worked things out. I always find that remarkable. I think his grace is just amazing, that he could take a guy like me and use me in ministry for these 20 years.”