By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
GLEN BURNIE, Md.—Justin Hannekin, youth pastor of Taneytown Church, was still sleeping when he received a call from his dad very early one Saturday morning six years ago asking Justin to come baptize him. Gary Hannekin, a member of Faith Church, Glen Burnie, had been saved for years but hadn’t been baptized. Gary said that while working at the church that morning he heard the water in the baptismal bubbling. He asked God who the water was for and God told Gary it was for him.
“Justin came running down the aisle and jumped in the water with me,” Gary said laughing.
Gary recently returned from spending 42 days in the desert of Zin in Israel. That’s where the Holy Spirit told Gary to go minister. Justin returned from a life-changing trip to Ethiopia where he worked with orphans and even got to meet the child he and his wife Karena sponsor through “Food for the Hungry.” Both men travel throughout the world ministering and as they go they pray for each other.
Back home, Gary’s younger son Matt takes care of his dad’s business and ministers locally as he goes from job to job.
But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when turmoil reigned in the Hannekin family.
When Gary and his first wife divorced, the family plunged into a crisis. Young Justin’s world fell apart. He and his siblings stayed with their mother and Justin was angry with his father.
“I felt like he ruined our lives,” Justin confessed. He struggled through his teens. “I drank often for two years and was arrested for stealing car stereos when I was 16.”
“We were a broken family,” Matthew Hannekin, Justin’s younger brother, said. “Justin and I didn’t get along. There was a huge division between us,” he said.
But God was moving in the family’s life, bringing circumstances together to glorify Himself.
Justin’s world changed when his best friend, Ben Hickock, who had moved out of the area, returned. Hickock had accepted Christ. He showed up at Justin’s door and said, “How is your relationship with Jesus Christ?” Justin rejected his friend, but Hickock returned three more times before Justin gave his life to Christ.
“He (Hickock) discipled me ‘hardcore,’” Justin said. “We studied the Bible a lot.”
Within a few months of Justin’s conversion, his father was going through a crisis. Gary, who had remarried, had just walked away from a lucrative job and was feeling shaky. He was driving home along Furnace Branch Road in Glen Burnie when God intervened.
“God took the car. He literally took me to Faith Baptist,” Gary said.
A mission team from Alabama, along with Faith members, was working on the roof of the then brand new family life center. Everyone was friendly to the newcomer. Gary chatted with the workers and a couple from Faith shared Christ with Gary. Coming from a different denomination and regularly taking Communion, Gary thought he was okay. The Holy Spirit opened Gary’s eyes.
“Being polite, I walked around the corner and fell on my face and said, ‘Jesus is the Son of God,’” Gary said.
Matt said at first his dad’s exuberance and his struggles as a new Christian were a little intimidating and at times created more havoc in the family. Gary became unabashedly, unashamedly a follower of Christ. He was the one bouncing to the music in the back of the church, the one on his knees at prayer time and the one laughing and bubbling with joy in everyday conversation. He began calling God “Daddy” and started driving an eye catching P.T. Cruiser wrapped with “Jesus”, three crosses and the words “Fueled by the blood of Jesus, powered by the Word of God and driven by the Holy Spirit.”
Gary also started a free Jesus t-shirt ministry with the simple message of “Jesus” on the front and “To God be the glory” on the back. He has already given away nearly 5,000 shirts all over the world.
Matt accepted Christ as a teen at Centrifuge while praying with his then youth leader Darrin Benning. “That was when my life started to change,” he said. He gave up the “futile” activities in his life and began to feel the desire to testify to God’s goodness.
Both sons have been with their dad on mission trips. Justin and Matt follow God’s leading around the world. Matt felt God’s calling to work with his dad and to stay close to home so that Gary can minister where the Holy Spirit leads him.
Gary’s wife, Cathy, had accepted Christ as a child. Since Gary accepted Christ the couple have been growing in their faith. His daughter, Krysten, accepted Christ while on a mission trip.
“She wasn’t supposed to live for more than 12 years due to her bout with Cystic Fibrosis, however, she is 18 years old and a beautiful walking testimony to God’s glory and healing power,” Gary said.
“Christ has restored our whole family,” Justin Hannekin said. “To God be the glory.”