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Work in progress

THE TRIBUNE/JESSICA ST JAMES Caleb LaFond is the new pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Ironton.

Caleb LaFond is the new pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Ironton.

Caleb LaFond was only a year old when his parents went to the Dominican Republic as Methodist missionaries.

LaFond was too young to have any real memories of that time, but the experience still shaped his life indelibly.

“I firmly believe something was imbedded in me at that time,” LaFond said. “In that time we were in the Dominican, God stirred something in my heart.”

That something was a belief as a child, a teen and now as a 27-year-old he is to serve God through the church. It is a calling LaFond believed in from his youngest days.

“It was never a struggle,” he said. “I always knew being a minister was what I wanted to do.”

Last month LaFond was called to be the associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Ironton where he will develop programs for youth and young families.

Although brought up as a preacher’s kid, the life of a church pastor is not, however, the one LaFond believes he has been called to in the long term. He envisions himself and his wife, A.C., in the mission field.

“The local parish for us is a place to learn and grow,” he said. “We want to be as effective as possible when God calls. We want to do all we can to prepare for when God calls us and there is a need.”

Until then, LaFond is dedicating his efforts to building relationships with his new community and church family as a way to spread the message of the Gospel.

“I believe if there is not a pre-existing relationship you will not have an effective ministry … if you can’t prove yourself in a one-to-one relationship,” he said. “Part of the task of a minister is to help bring about well-being and growth in people’s lives. It is not just the spiritual side of things.”

LaFond was born in Alabama and spent the next year of his life in the Dominican Republic. When his family returned to the United States, they moved to Georgia, then Louisville, Ky.

He earned his undergraduate degree in Christian ministry and communications from Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. Then entered seminary at United Theological in Dayton. His most recent post, before coming to Ironton, was at Christ United Methodist Church in Sciotoville.

Whether in the church or the mission field, LaFond sees himself as a conduit for the message of Jesus Christ.

“How you contextualize the Gospel for people who come from all walks of life,” he said.

But it’s a journey that he believes those he is ministering must meet him part of the way.

“People who come hungry for change, that is when people become fired for God,” he said. “Sin is what prevents us from growing in our faith. It is about pleasing our savior who died on the cross, not society.

“It all comes down to an authentic relationship with people. We don’t have it all figured out. But I know a God who has redeemed me and I am a work in progress.”