Category Archives: My Story

November 6th

I, Jen Combs, was foolish, disobedient, led astray, a slave to various passions and pleasures, passing my days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3).   Before Jesus, my life was nothing, meaningless, and directionless. Honestly, I do not even know when I officially gave my life to Christ, but I know that I am His now and that is all that matters, right? Here is a little glimpse into my journey with Jesus.

I started going to church when I was five years old with one of my aunts. I grew up attending Awana. I could memorize verses with the best of them. I went from kindergarten all the way through to fifth grade. Back then, I used to believe that it was a prayer that I prayed that would save me and get me to Heaven eventually. I remember going into a room in that little Baptist church and someone leading me in a very specific and rehearsed prayer. However, that was it for me; I prayed that prayer probably hundreds of times over the years just to make sure it worked then I left God at the building and picked Him back up next Sunday. It most definitely was not something that I lived out. However, I believe in these years God was pursuing me. They were seeds planted in my heart.  I was always aware of Him and believed in Him, but He was not the Lord of my life that Romans 10:9 teaches. I tried to make deals with God, if I stop doing this, then I need you to make this happen for me. I was lost in moralism and compared myself to other people. I thought that as long as I am a good person and try not to do bad things, then I was good to go.

It was not until I was 17 years old standing alone in the Faith Church balcony, listening to Pastor Jim preach about Jesus, that I truly gave my life to Him.  In that moment I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me like never before telling me, you need to figure out a way to serve Me more.  You are going to do this with your life. I remember laughing and having a conversation with God that went something like this, “Lord I’m willing, but I don’t know how you’re going to pull this off.  I am a 17-year-old girl, with no idea how to do this, I have no experience, my family is kinda crazy, and do you know the life I lead? I need a neon sign pointing me out of my mess.”  He softly told me, “Don’t worry; I’ve got this.” Two months later, I met my future husband. Then I did some more laughing; I did not think there was any way his family would let him date me. God used Josh to rescue me, speak Godly truth into my life, and point me right out of my mess. For that, I am forever grateful. The end of that Titus verse is, “BUT when the goodness, loving-kindness of God our savior appeared, He saved me, not because of works done by me.”  I believe that day in the balcony Jesus saved me and commissioned me into ministry. Not because of anything I did, but because of His goodness and loving-kindness.


Jen Combs
Wife of Lead Pastor Josh Combs


November 5th

I came to my faith in Jesus at a very young age. My entire family was very active in our church, holding various volunteer and leadership positions such as deacon, elder, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, you name it. Sunday was always a day where we were the first family there. I remember that it was my job to shovel the sidewalks each wintery morning, and set out the nametags. I did this while my dad got the coffee ready before he and my aunt ran through what hymns we would be singing that morning. Being around so much weekly church activity kept me very immersed in that culture.

I still remember that every so often we would have a Communion Sunday. I was told I was not old enough to take communion and that you could not take communion just because your parents do. My parents used communion to show me the Gospel, why we do it in remembrance of what Jesus has done for us.

After trusting in Jesus, I wish I could say I had it all figured out. I still remember a time shortly after I was baptized that I made an intentional attempt to invite my neighbor Brian to a Wednesday night kid’s discipleship event. I was so proud when he decided he wanted to come, and his dad said it was all right. He was having such a good time. I was sure I was doing the right thing. However, when it came to lesson time the wheels came off, all of a sudden the teacher was so upset that she was crying. I was so focused on making sure my friend had a good time I lost sight of the reason for inviting him so that He could hear about Jesus! Instead of leading Brian to Jesus, I led him to church and thought that would be enough. I gave up being intentional when I walked in the doors. I treated my neighbor’s salvation as if it was my first day as a mailman, I had his soul in a little brown box marked “this side up” and I got him to the church, signed that delivery was made, and I clocked out.

After a long talk with my parents and a very embarrassing apology phone call to the Bible teacher’s house, it was clear to me that Jesus commands to reach people, teach people, and encourage them to obey Jesus was a way bigger investment than I was prepared for. Since then it has been my goal to focus on getting Jesus to people in their environment, not getting people to Jesus’ environment. They need to see how Jesus can change their lives right where they are. I believe that when they see that, they will be overwhelmed by the love of God, and their lives will be changed!


John Hubbard
Children’s Director

November 4th

I have always been part of the church family. My parents brought me to church for the first time when I was ten days old. It has always been a part of who I am. As a kid, I loved going to children’s church. It was there that I received Jesus into my life. Through my youth, I stayed involved in church as much as I could. I believe that is what helped me make better decisions despite the temptations going on around me. I also started working at the church at the age of 16 and had an enormous amount of good role models and leadership every day.

I married young at the age of 19 to an amazing man. We will celebrate 17 years of marriage this year! Even though I was involved in church and I worked at the church, I did not really understand what a relationship with God was really about. I have since learned that without God, life has no joy! In every aspect of our lives, God is evident. It is when we get away from God that we stop seeing Him in everything. My husband and I have two amazing children. I want them to grow up understanding what a real relationship with God is. My goal every day is to focus on what God has in store for my family and put myself aside. It is not always easy of course, but the goal is to try.

I am grateful for parents that brought me to church. I cannot imagine our lives without the love of Christ.

Larissa Hicks

November 3rd

It was a beautiful morning in New York City. Five-year-old Johnny and his younger sister were excited. Their Mom was readying them to visit their Grandmother, who lived on the other side of town. It was a warm sunny morning, and little Johnny was trying to get his mother’s attention to ask permission to bring his brand new Big Wheel riding toy along with them. If he could only get her attention…

Mom and Dad were in a serious “discussion.” Their exchange was not casual, but serious. However, to five-year-old Johnny, the body language went unnoticed. He earnestly begged for his Mom’s attention until, in utter frustration, she stopped to hear his eager request and responded “Yes!” completely flustered.

Johnny rushed to his room to grab his Big Wheel, when he realized the discussion going on in the living room turned to yelling, then to screaming, then into crashing sounds.

Johnny rushed out to see what the commotion was about, with Big Wheel in tow. What he and his younger sister witnessed was hard to decipher in their young minds. Mom was angry, smashing anything she could find on their father’s head with their father desperately trying to block and stop her emotional frenzy. It all seemed to happen in prolonged slow motion, though it probably only lasted a half-a-minute or so.

Young Johnny’s only thought was that their anger was over him because he wanted to bring his Big Wheel. He rushed back to his room, putting the toy back in its place, and raced to the living room where his Dad sat on the couch. Johnny and his younger sister watched as Dad balled up a sheet of newspaper to soak up the blood running down his forearm. The sharp edges of figurines and knick-knacks that Mom haphazardly grabbed in her anger had done their damage. To Dad’s credit, he never hit or hurt their Mom. However, the pain he inflicted was different, deeper… profoundly deeper. Broken vows and promises not kept. The sort of things a young wife would find unbearable to deal with.

As the weeks passed, Dad would be seen less often. He would not be around. Discussions about Divorce would be had with Johnny and his sister. Mom and Dad would go to great lengths to assure them both that their love for them would never change, despite the change of circumstances. Little Johnny would find some comfort in those words, as much as he could in his young mind.

In the months to come, the weekend visitations began. They began seeing Dad on weekends, and coming back home to Mom on Sunday evenings. Little Johnny and his sister would look forward to those weekends, but Johnny would dread the Sunday night shuffle back home. Not because home was a bad place, but it meant dad would leave again. And again. And again. Until one weekend little Johnny could not bear the pain. He broke down to his dad when he dropped him off. Dad did not understand why the “sudden” onset. All Johnny could explain or understand was that he had “too much fun” with dad that weekend. The truth was Johnny was afraid the circumstances would not change. Life would never go back to what it used to be. In the months to come, Johnny’s fears would be confirmed on the fateful weekend when dad came to pick them up – And take them to his home to meet his “new” wife.

I wish I could say the story above was fictional or even dramatized for emotional effect. However, it is not. Every fact and detail is accurate. It is a true story. It is my story.

Growing up in inner city New York, coming from a broken home was not the exception. It was common in the government-assisted rent districts of the South Bronx. However, the pain and emptiness was still real. Do not misunderstand me; I consider myself to have had a good childhood – pleasant memories. I am certainly not trying to paint a sob story. However, the emptiness of growing up without a dad is a reality I cannot deny. It leaves a sense of loss, incompleteness, and brokenness – to a degree beyond repair. As a young boy, I can remember lying in bed at night questioning my worth. Oddly, I found my mind wondering about God, my “Heavenly Father.” Wondering if I was “good enough” for heaven. Wondering if I would die that night, would I go to heaven?

Those haunting questions would be answered one day when, at the age of 16, I attended an evangelical church my uncle invited us to. That day the Pastor spoke on John 3:16, how God sent His Son to die for our sins and John 3:3, how we can know without a doubt we are destined for Heaven if we were “Born Again.” What was this concept of being Born Again? Becoming a part of God’s family? Growing up in the Catholic Church, the Scriptures regarding salvation were never opened up to me in this way. This was so utterly simple and right out of God’s Word. The realization that my broken past did not mean a broken future was in store for me. The Holy Spirit tugged at my heart in a powerful way that day.

After answering the altar call, I could only explain my experience as “Feeling brand new.” I understood what the Apostle Paul described in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Later, I would come to find the promise in Psalms 68:5, how God promises to be a Father to the Fatherless.  This was a promise that would be profoundly meaningful to me.

Perhaps your journey has similarities to mine. If so, have you experienced the healing touch of Christ? Have you come to know the power of a personal relationship with your Heavenly Father?

He is real, profoundly real. Ask me about it sometime. I would love to share Him with you!


John Sanchez
Deacon of Operations

November 2nd

“It happened for a reason”

It happened for a reason. I think if I am honest with all of you and myself, my story has been filled with a lot of hurt and anger. Hurt and anger that was not necessarily directed at a person or an organization but toward God. March 22, 2013, is the day my father was let go from his position as the connections director of our home church of over 15 years. He had been on staff for over five years but had been terminally ill since November 2012. So, since we spent countless days and weeks in and out of the ICU, ER, and hospital rooms, the church felt it best to simply let my father go and with our family as well. Naturally, I would have been angry at the church, but instead I was angry with God. Not only was He taking my father away from me slowly, but also the church had now turned away from us.

When I was in Kindergarten, my parents enrolled me in a private Christian school in Clarkston, Michigan called Clarkston Christian School. While at CCS, my teacher, Pastor Bonnie, challenged us to come to church. As any good five-year-old would do, I bugged my parents constantly to go to church. You see, CCS was also a church, Clarkston Community Church. Finally, after a couple of weeks of me bugging them, my father said we could go. We arrived late and grabbed the seats in the back, closest to the door of course! Even though my father had all intentions to leave early, we did not. It was that first Sunday, sitting in the back of the church and ready for any excuse to leave, that my parents found Christ; it happened for a reason.

As the years came and passed, my parents and I became more involved in the church. They loved serving alongside Pastor Bonnie in the children’s ministry, and I would help her any chance I could. Even though she started as simply my Kindergarten teacher, she quickly became our family pastor and one of the greatest blessings our family has ever received. When middle school came around, it was time to find a new school, since CCS did not go past elementary. After looking around at the schools in the area, I found myself in a new school all the way in Auburn Hills called Oakland Christian School; it happened for a reason.

The end of my sophomore year, OCS was planning to begin a football program for the first time in school history. My buddies and I were very excited and began training for the upcoming season. As the fall drew closer and we continued to prepare for the season ahead, the youth group at my church was preparing for a missions trip to Atlanta, Georgia. I was asked by a friend at church, one Sunday, if I had considered going and I had not. Not only was I not involved in the youth group, but also, I really had no desire to be either. However, I asked my parents what they thought, and they encouraged me to go. So, I asked the youth pastor the following weekend if there was any space available and he said someone had already paid for me to go; it happened for a reason.

After that trip to Atlanta, my eyes were opened, and I experienced the love of Christ in a way I never had before. While I was on the trip, I lied. In my foolish attempt to impress the girls in the youth group, I made it known that I was not only a football player but also a drummer. My father is an incredible musician, just as his father was. We had a drum set at home and I would mess around with it from time to time, but never anything serious, and I could barely keep a beat. However, word got back to the youth pastor, and the youth worship band was in need of a new drummer…me. There was clearly no way I could back down now, I was caught in my lie, and I either had to admit I could not play or ask my dad to teach me a thing or two so I could get by. I went with the later; it happened for a reason.

As my junior and senior year came and went, I got more involved in my youth group and in serving. My father was brought on staff part-time then full, and I spent almost every day of my junior and senior year at the church in some capacity. From playing drums in the worship band to leading Bible studies, and even being a counselor in training with the youth, I simply could not serve enough, and I loved it. As the time for college came, I only applied to one school: Moody Bible Institute. At first, I was deferred and offered a spot in Spokane, Washington, but I really wanted to go to the Chicago campus. Then, in April of my senior year, I received a final letter that I was not expecting, “Accepted to Chicago Fall 2010”; it happened for a reason.

Freshman and Sophomore years at MBI were awesome. I loved being able to study God’s Word and to continually become more equipped to serve Him full-time. Then Thanksgiving 2012 comes, and we take my father to the hospital only to find out that he has liver failure. The doctors gave him until September 2013, maybe Halloween unless he received a transplant. Over the next several months, we were constantly in and out of the hospital. On top of all this, my grandpa’s health began to seriously deteriorate. Although he did his best to keep fighting, on February 27, 2013, my grandpa went on to hang out with Jesus. Less than a month later, where my story began, my father was let go from our church of 15 years; it happened for a reason.

The year 2013 was off to an awful start. I was preparing to drop out of MBI, and the doctors told us that they would be surprised if my father made it to August. My mother was now in the middle of a legal battle over my grandpa’s estate, and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God. I was angry, hurt, alone, and hopeless. My grandpa was gone, my dad was dying, our church had turned away from us, and the last thing I felt was the love of Christ. As summer came, I always passed a church just off the Holly exit as I went home every day. For some reason, I decided to stop in one Sunday morning and filled out a communication card. Part of me honestly did not want a call from anyone on staff, so that I could prove the fact that all churches were the same. Come Tuesday afternoon I get a phone call from John Rigg. At the time, he was in charge of the community outreach in downtown Holly, and he just wanted to talk to me and see how I was doing. Somehow, during the conversation, me playing drums came up, and he kept it in the back of his mind. That Friday I got another call from John, and he asked if I would be willing to play drums for the weekend at church since the drummer they had could not play last minute; it happened for a reason.

That church was The River. That weekend was my first of an entire summer of playing drums for weekend and weekly gatherings. Over the course of the summer attending The River, hearing Pastor Jim, and beginning to get back into church again, my hardened heart began to break. I decided I would go back and finish my final semester at MBI. On August 8, 2013, we received a letter that my father had been placed on the transplant list and was finally in line to receive a new liver; it happened for a reason.

August 10, 2013, is a day that has forever changed my life. It was the day that I finally understood the reason it had all happened. I met with Pastor Jim for breakfast; however, we were only able to meet for 10 minutes. The reason our breakfast was cut short was that we had received a phone call on August 9 that they had found a liver for my father and needed him at the hospital at 6 AM on August 10. When I told Pastor this, he thought I was crazy for meeting with him, but my father told me that I needed to have breakfast with him. I briefly told Pastor this story. He then asked me what was next. I honestly said that I needed an internship for spring 2014 so that I could graduate and finish my degree. Without a seconds hesitation he told me that when I came back from my fall semester at MBI, an internship would be waiting for me at The River. Then, Pastor Bonnie picked me up and took me to Henry Ford Hospital to see my father into surgery. After a 10-hour surgery, the doctors came out to tell us that my father now had a new liver and more importantly, a second chance at life; it happened for a reason.

My story is not finished, and neither is yours. Looking back, I understand, I see why it all happened. However, none of it made sense at the time, and I was left angry, hurt, and mad at God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul writes this simple passage, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” If there is one thing you get out of all this, I want you to remember this passage. The road we are on and the story that is unfolding before us is not going to be easy. There are going to be many times when we do not understand why things are happening, but God does. He knows why and He knows that it is happening for a reason. At the end of the day, never forget to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks.


Noble Baird
Guest Services Director

Office: 8393 E. Holly Rd. Holly, MI 48442 | 248.328.0490 |

Copyright © 2016 The River Church. All Rights Reserved.