Jack Shelby, 87, a giant in Illinois missions and ministry, died Oct. 19. With his wife Avah, whom he married in 1959, Shelby served the Foreign (now International) Mission Board (IMB), from 1968–99 in Europe and Asia before returning home to Illinois, where he joined the Illinois Baptist State Association staff from 1999–2006 before retiring again.
Shelby made a Kingdom impact throughout Illinois and the nations, but perhaps his most lasting legacy is in Eastern Europe. IBSA missions director Shannon Ford, a former missionary to Ukraine — one of the countries where Shelby helped establish missions work — said while he never served with Shelby, his call to the mission field was helped by Shelby’s pioneering efforts.
“Jack laid the groundwork for everything IMB missionaries are doing in Eastern Europe today,” Ford asserted. “I was at the SBC in Houston, Texas in 1993 when I felt the call to missions to the former Soviet Union. Jack’s push to get missionaries and volunteers to that area of the globe captivated my heart and many others.”
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Love for the nations
Phil Nelson, senior pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church Carbondale, Illinois, and Shelby’s son-in-law, wrote that he saw the “love for the nations and a love for the gospel” in his in-laws. The couple would go on to serve in several countries, learning the Cantonese, Hindi, German, Malay, Mandarin, Russian, Tamil and Thai languages to enable them to better share the gospel.
Nelson wrote of Shelby, “I am a better man and pastor because of your influence.”
While serving with the IMB in Asia, Shelby was a lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University (1969–71) and the Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang, Malaysia (1972–78, 80–82), in addition to serving as the seminary’s acting president in 1981. He also was acting secretary of the Malaysia-Singapore Baptist Convention from 1974–76. In India Shelby was the national Indian ministries director from 1983–86.
Moving to Wiesbaden, Germany (1992–94) and then Moscow (1995–97) after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Shelby became volunteer coordinator of the Europe area where he oversaw planning and coordinating of work throughout the former Soviet Republics and Central Asia. The couple would spend their last two years at the IMB back in Wiesbaden (1998–99) researching unreached people groups in Western Europe and assisting missionaries in strategies to reach those groups with the gospel.
After retiring from the IMB Shelby returned to Illinois. The Harrisburg native had earned a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry and communications from the University of Illinois in Carbondale in 1961, and a master of divinity degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California in 1965. Early in his ministry career Shelby pastored two churches in Illinois — First Southern Baptist Enfield (1957–59) and Ledford Baptist Harrisburg (1960–62) — and three in California before departing for the mission field.
Shelby was IBSA director of missions and men’s ministries from 1999–2005, including work with student camps where he helped influence the next generation. In 2006 he was named associate executive director and team leader for missions mobilization. He retired again later that year but served on contract in various capacities through the 2010s, including as Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief director.
He is survived by his wife Avah, daughter Melanie, sons Mark and Scott, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.