Jonathan Carl of Hodgenville has served his country through his time in the U.S. Army and the spiritual needs of his community through his roles in church leadership.
Although Carl no longer serves in the military, he said he might not have chosen a life of ministry if it weren’t for his initial service. Carl is the lead pastor at South Fork Baptist Church in Hodgenville and is now in his eighth year at the church. Before his time at South Fork, he held various roles at Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown.
Originally from Houston, Carl attended the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, after graduating high school in 1998. He graduated from the academy in 2002.
Carl said he was a senior at West Point during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and said he and fellow students could see the smoke from the World Trade Center from West Point.
“We had that real-time opportunity to serve our country,” he said.
Carl moved to Fort Knox for officer basic training in 2002 and moved to Fort Hood, Texas, six months later. He then was deployed to Iraq for the entirety of 2003. He returned to Fort Knox in 2004 and joined Severns Valley Baptist Church.
Carl attended seminary and earned a masters and doctorate in divinity. At Severns Valley, he pursued outreach and evangelism, was an interim student pastor and hosted Sunday school classes. He worked with Severns Valley from 2004 to 2011.
Carl said he was inspired to pursue church leadership after witnessing the hardships Iraqi citizens endured.
“We’ve got it good here in America,” he said. “There’s suffering all around us.”
Carl returned to the Middle East in 2014 to take part in independent humanitarian work. Mission work has been a major factor in Carl’s life since joining South Fork, visiting East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and more to help with medical, educational and spiritual needs.
“I love being with a small country church that goes all over the world,” he said.
As lead pastor at South Fork, Carl serves as a leader for one of the oldest churches in the state. Founded in 1782, one of Abraham Lincoln’s family members on his mother’s side once were members of the congregation, Carl said.
In addition to his obligation of providing sermons to the congregation of South Fork, Carl provides spiritual support for church members and takes part in hospital and prison ministries through the church.
“You get to love people who are hurting and that is a real privilege,” he said.
Caleb Phelps, worship arts and discipleship pastor at South Fork, said Carl has brought unique and compassionate leadership to the church.
“Jonathan’s leadership style is rare. It’s the wild mix of passion, direction and actual, legitimate care for the people he watches over,” he said. “Having known and worked closely with him for years, I can say he’s the real deal when it comes to integrity and calling. The amount of leaders of his caliber are few and far between.”
Outside of South Fork, Carl also partners with Neil T. Anderson and Freedom in Christ Ministries out of Knoxville, Tennessee, providing web content and managing social media for the ministry. Carl also helps produce video content for South Fork.
“One of the good things about video is that if the story is good, it can reach all ages and it can transcend boundaries,” he said.
Carl’s international compassion also hits home. His daughter Alia was adopted four years ago when she was a toddler and his daughter Mia was adopted in April at age 11. Both children were orphans from China.
Carl said it has been a blessing to provide them with a loving family.
“God adopts us,” he said. “That’s the picture of God loving us.”