A new church being formed in Cowley will hold its first regular service this Sunday after organizing in recent months.
Pastor Johannes Slabbert has been leading a bible study at his home in Cowley and will hold the first services of the new Water of Life Church this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Rocky Mountain Elementary School.
Attendees will first gather in the school cafeteria for a combined worship service, then break out with kids going to the gym for children’s church and adults staying in the cafeteria for a preaching service, Slabbert said. Later, after a break, the children will return for a sharing time and fellowship, followed by breaking into groups for prayer and prayer requests.
MaryBeth Slabbert, the pastor’s wife, will lead the initial worship service, he said.
The Water of Life Church is a non-denominational church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Slabbert said the bible study will continue to meet Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in his home.
“Water of Life is the name our bible study group decided on,” Slabbert said. “This is based on the woman at the well (story) from John 4, where Jesus says, ‘but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ This woman found fulfillment for all that she struggled with and longed for at the feet of Jesus.”
He said the motto of the church is “Water of Life Church – Sharing the hope of the gospel with the world.”
“We are believers getting together to learn the word of God,” Slabbert said. “It’s a safe place where someone from any denomination or walk of life can come and worship. God changed my life, and there is no greater joy for me than to lead others into a close relationship with him and a better understanding of who he is.”
Slabbert said the church is very informal.
“It’s a come-as-you-are church,” he said. “I don’t want a rancher or farmer to not come because he’s in his work clothes. If you want to come with your irrigation boots on, you will be accepted. It’s an easy-going, come-as-you-are church.”
An ordained minister, Slabbert said he grew up in the church in his native South Africa, noting, “Our parents took us to church.” After moving to the United States, he said he didn’t know where to attend until he started dating a pastor’s daughter, MaryBeth, and started attending faithfully with her.
He came to the USA to train horses in 2003, planning to return home, where he had worked in sheep ranching and training show horses.
“My goal was to go back home and train saddle bred horses to export to the U.S.,” he said.
He moved to St. Charles, Ill., then to West Virginia for an assistant training job. There, his farrier – now his brother-in-law – set him up on a blind date. He and MaryBeth later married, and in 2008, while providing relief help during the flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Slabbert became saved. He later quit training horses and moved into the ministry.
“God humbled me and brought me to him,” he said. “I haven’t always been the man I am today. He’s still working on me. I started pursuing the Lord and got closer to him. A friend invested in me.
“If 10 years ago someone had said I would be a preacher, I would have said, ‘No way!’ I started building a relationship with him and six years ago he called me into fulltime ministry. There’s nothing else I can do in life. I’m just a country boy who loves the Lord. I know I’m called to serve him.”
Johannes and MaryBeth moved to North Carolina, where he worked in landscaping and she worked for Samaritan’s Purse. He soon joined the organization as a procurement specialist.
A few years ago, while in West Virginia for Christmas, his brother-in-law shared with Johannes that there were opportunities for church planting and shared the lifestyle.
“I knew that’s what God had been preparing me for, with my background in farming and ranching,” he said. “I started working on getting out here.”
He moved his family to Casper in October of 2015, where he served an apprenticeship with a Casper church, praying about where the Lord wanted him to serve. He then moved his family to Cowley in October of 2016.
“When we drove to Cowley, we both knew this is where the Lord wanted us,” Slabbert said. “We fell in love with the town and the surrounding communities, and we invite them to join us. I’m here for the long haul.”
Slabbert quit horse training 11 years ago but said the Lord later told him to bring horses back into his life, so today he breaks and trains colts and problem horses. He said he was given and is enjoying a Pryor Mountain wild mustang named The General. He also helps out on local ranches with brandings or moving cattle, “whatever is needed.”
Johannes and MaryBeth have four children: Vivienne, 8, Hendrik, 6, Victoria, 4, and Joshua, who will turn 2 in January.
Slabbert said Water of Life Church services will focus on the Bible, initially working through the Book of Mark.
By David Peck