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Ministry 'in the blood' of First Baptist's new pastor

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Melvin Blackaby, 43, did not grow up in Canada's Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his Baptist minister father, Henry Blackaby.

In fact, generations of Blackabys were ministers, going back hundreds of years to England. Blackaby's three brothers, and one sister, pursued some form of ministry at some point in their lives. He, on the other hand, wanted to do something that allowed him to make a fortune for himself, but the ministry was in his bloodlines, and God had a plan for the young Canadian.

When Blackaby was 19, he felt God's calling to become a minister, and that is the path he pursued.

He made stops as a pastor in Texas, and at two churches in Canada. On Aug. 10, Blackaby presided over his first service as the new senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. He came with his wife, Gina, and their three children. He replaces Dean Haun, who left in November 2007 to lead a church in Tennessee.

"A year ago, we sensed the Lord was ready to make a major change in our lives ... We just never imagined we'd be moving to the South," said Blackaby. "Over time, God made it clear this is where he wanted us to be. We told the lord we're willing to go wherever he sends us, and 10 churches from across the South contacted us.

"We were not looking for anywhere but where God wanted us to be," he added.

For the Blackabys, ministry is a joint venture. It was on a mission trip at Canada's 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Melvin and Gina, a native of Sacramento, Calif., met. He was a group leader, and she was a missionary on a six-month assignment from California Baptist University.

"For me, it was his heart for the Lord," said Gina Blackaby. "God drew our hearts together. Now, we're not supposed to date while we're on our mission trips, so I had to contact the program coordinator at my school and ask if it was OK. He said we were allowed to have 'friendship development,' but that was it."

Two years later, the "friendship development" turned into a marriage. They now do ministry work together, and their children, Christa, 14, Stephen, 12, and Sarah, 10, are involved in their parents' ministry work.

"We never considered it a job, it's just who we are," said Pastor Blackaby.

Ultimately, accepting the job at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro was a homecoming of sorts for Blackaby. His parents moved to Rex in the 1990's, and are longtime members of the church. As such, the church's new pastor visited his future congregation several times over the years when he visited his parents.

His previous assignments have been at small churches where he had to build a congregation and a staff to meet their needs, so he now has to adjust to leading a large, well-staffed, established church,.

"It's great to be a pastor, because you get to help other people develop personal relationships with God," Blackaby said. "I'm looking forward to building on the foundation that has already been established here ... I feel very confident this is where God called me and my family to be."