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Office Pioneer Embraces Change

Melba Balentine adjusts after nearly six decades serving Louisiana officials.
When Melba Balentine works out at the gym, she hears retirees talking about working as long as 30 years for the same company. She just smiles. Balentine has served the Louisiana Network Ministry of the Assemblies of God for 58 years. And at age 79, she’s still there.

The youngest of five children in an AG family, Balentine completed a two-year program at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in 1960. That same year the network voted to hire its first office assistant.

Balentine, 21 at the time, needed a job. She knew then-Superintendent Lowell C. Ashbrook from church, so she inquired about the position. She didn’t get her hopes up, though, because other interested applicants had more experience. However, in October 1960, Ashbrook and his family invited her to lunch after church and he offered her the job.

She’s been there ever since, serving under five superintendents: Ashbrook, L.O. Waldon, Cecil Janway, Doug Fulenwider, and currently J. Scott Holmes. For 15 years she served as the only office assistant for the superintendent, secretary/treasurer, and youth director. She handled secretarial work, bookkeeping, mailings, camp registrations, and whatever else needed to be done. Officials who called out from their offices relied on Balentine to provide numbers she had committed to memory. Even now, Holmes says, “She can tell you addresses of churches from 40 years ago!”

The most obvious change Balentine has observed in nearly 60 years of office work involves technology. When she started, the office contained metal plates that printed the list of ministers’ addresses, rolls of postage stamps, and a ditto machine. Her IBM typewriter had no correction features.

Office clothing styles have changed, too. For years, Balentine wore a dress or suit, nylon stockings, and heels, in keeping with professional standards and conservative AG values — which also required male officials to wear suits and ties anytime in public.

She remembers key national events well, including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which she heard about on her car radio while returning from lunch. And in a Southern state, she saw the progress of the civil rights movement, including Louisiana’s first AG African-American credentialed minister, Theodore Hughes, a Southwestern graduate from New Orleans licensed in 1978. She has seen the district’s ethnic diversity continue to increase, including presbyters and other leaders. More women are credentialed. There is a growing Hispanic contingency, and U.S. missionaries with Intercultural Ministries have planted churches among ethnic minority and immigrant communities.

Balentine has adapted her work approach to reflect these changes over the years. She also has seen the network transition to a more team-based leadership style.

What hasn’t changed, however, is a commitment to support and encourage ministers and missionaries, a favorite part of her job. Having never married, she considers them her extended family. She particularly enjoys encouraging missionaries with a personal response when she receives their newsletters. She believes emailing these notes and updating ministry information electronically beats figuring international postage and waiting weeks for snail mail to arrive.

As Balentine gradually has turned the reins of office management over to younger colleagues, she has found a new avenue of network ministry that she’s uniquely qualified for: encouraging senior ministers.

Years of experience and knowledge of AG history, along with learning new technology and management strategies, help her bridge the generation gap. She understands the needs and occasional frustrations of older ministers, some of whom do not use computers.

“When I was growing up, my parents brought home the Pentecostal Evangel and spent Sunday afternoon reading it,” Balentine remembers. “After a stack accumulated on the coffee table, they were shared with others as a witnessing tool. But online media are the tools for reaching a new generation.”

“Melba makes the extra effort to stay connected to our retired leaders,” Holmes says. “But she also texts, she Facebooks, she Googles.”

Reflecting on God’s many blessings in her life, Balentine is grateful to have enjoyed good health. In 58 years, she has only taken five sick days. She stays active gardening and doing her own lawn maintenance — plus 6 a.m. gym workouts.

Last year, Balentine trimmed her workweek to three days. She enjoys the extra days off, but nobody wants her to quit completely anytime soon.

“She is an example of adapting to technology and different leadership styles,” says Holmes. “Melba’s core value has been to serve leaders for more than five decades, and she does that with excellence.”

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.