Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

October 23, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Catherine Grove: 'I desire to stay here'

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

WELLS — Catherine Grove, whose parents claim she is being held against her will by the Church of Wells, said Tuesday she has been baptized into the church and has no intent of rejoining her family in Arkansas.

Breaking a months-long silence, the 26-year-old former nursing student told the Jacksonville Progress in a personal interview that she is in good shape, good spirits and very much looking forward to the future as a church member.

She stated she is not going to join her parents, Andy and Patty Grove, who have been camping out in an RV in Wells for three months, and isn't even sure if she wants to speak with them again.

"I have the right to stay here and be with these people," she said. "The Lord has blessed me with very many people here who live the word of God here and love each other. … I desire to stay here. My whole life is for God. This time on earth is so short. I am just glad I don't have to think about these things anymore. I can rejoice and be glad I'm going to heaven."

Her parents launched a campaign to bring their daughter back to Arkansas shortly after she left the family home in Fayetteville in early July. They have publicly denounced the Church of Wells, a small Evangelical congregation, and its leaders in local and national interviews.

Patty Grove has said she and her family are worried for her daughter because of “what is going on behind closed doors” with the church.

The three elders of the Church of Wells --  Sean Morris, Ryan Ringnald and Jake Gardner --  were not present during the Jacksonville Progress interview with Catherine Grove. But they videotaped her recent baptism and Morris said the church plans to share the tape with the news media.

Tuesday's interview with Catherine Grove took place in the living room of the home in Wells where she is staying as a guest. She described herself as finding salvation at the Church of Wells and that before joining the church she was a "sinner" and "an enemy of God."

 The Cherokee County Sheriff's department has questioned Catherine Grove on three separate occasions about her tie to the Church of Wells and each time she has told them she is involved with the church of her own free will.

The sheriff’s office, in turn, has told her parents that there is nothing it can do about their concern because the daughter is an adult and does not appear to be an unwilling participant with the church.

Catherine said she has talked with her parents three times about her decision, and still they insist she come home with them. She said she considers herself a member of the church and plans to stay in Wells. She said the church is helping her repay debts, including her student loan.

Catherine smiled when she spoke and took long, thoughtful pauses between questions. Nearly all of her answers centered on her newfound Christianity and belief system.

"I am just thankful I have the Lord Jesus Christ living inside of me," she said. "I am no longer someone who just thinks they are Christian. This is Jesus Christ talking. It is not me. He is living inside of me."

She said her parents have been dead set from the beginning against her connecting with the church.

"They just didn't want me to have anything to do with the church, especially my dad," she said. "He called me 'mentally ill' and was just totally not understanding.”

Catherine said her interest in the Church of Wells began years ago when she met a church member at a seminar and the young man gave her contact information on a piece of paper. She said she set the information aside for more than a year.

“About a year and a half later, I found this piece of paper after I started wondering how I could talk to these people,” she said. “I saw their website and I realized this is how I could find them again. I couldn't stop thinking about them. So I got on their website. … But it wasn't until three years later that I actually came here."

Making and paying for her own arrangements, Catherine said she traveled 13 hours by bus to Lufkin, the largest East Texas town to Wells.

"They (church members) came to the bus station," Catherine Grove said. "We only knew each other from a couple of emails. Before I came I was very deceitful person …I came to God as a deceitful person. That's how you come to God.

"You must come as a sinner and when God shows you as a sinner he's telling you who you are," she added. "That's who you are until God raises you up from the dead and puts Christ inside you."

Grove said she tries to repay her church hosts by spending her days helping around the house with duties such as cleaning and babysitting. There is no television in the home so she said she spends her nights reading her bible.