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Tuesday, August 19, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Youth pastor arrested on sex charges

MABANKFirst Baptist Church of Mabank youth minister Joshua Neal Ponder, 32, was arrested Aug. 13, for sexual assault of a teenager.

Mabank Police Chief Kyle McAfee said Ponder confessed to charges related to a 16-year-old male victim.

The assault allegedly occurred April 8 but was not reported until Aug. 8, according to reports.

The teenager is not a member of the church.

The Rev. Brent Tucker of First Baptist Church of Mabank, Chairman of the Deacons Randy Teague and Minister of Music Chris Sweet conducted a press conference at the church Thursday. The three released a statement on behalf of the church.

“We are deeply saddened by the circumstances that involve Josh Ponder prior to and during his employment at FBC Mabank,” the statement read. “We lift up in prayer his family and those who have been affected. The FBC Mabank does not condone these alleged actions. ...

“We have accepted the resignation of Ponder effective Aug. 14. We are in prayer for our youth and their parents at this time.”

Prior to his stint in Mabank, Ponder served as youth minister at First Baptist Church of Palestine from June 2001 to May 2007.

The Rev. Jay Abernathy, pastor of First Baptist Church of Palestine, was notified of Ponder’s arrest late last week and said the church would cooperate with police in the investigation, if asked.

“We are shocked and saddened by this incident, and are praying for everyone involved,” Abernathy said Monday afternoon. “We have made counselors available to our youth and families who may be hurting and will be available to anyone in our church and community who wants to talk.

“We are working to respond to everyone hurt by this.”

Representing the Palestine church’s deacon ministry board, Steve Jenkins mirrored Rev. Abernathy’s sentiments in a statement made by phone Monday.

“As a church, we are saddened by the news of (Josh’s) arrest,” Jenkins said. “We are thankful for the prompt response of the Mabank Police Department and will assist them in any way possible to see that justice is served.

“We respect the need for privacy and healing in the lives of those affected and pray that others will also.”

Ponder remains in the Kaufman County Law Enforcement Center charged with sexual assault of a child. Bail has been set at $200,000.

Mabank police are investigating possible instances of improper contact with other victims.