As the Rev. Rick Kyle and his family prepared to board a plane for the trip to their new home in Westerville, their concern focused on Samson, the Boston terrier.

As the Rev. Rick Kyle and his family prepared to board a plane for the trip to their new home in Westerville, their concern focused on Samson, the Boston terrier.

Kyle's 14-year-old son, Josh, had already been told the snake would have to be left behind in California, but Samson, too?

Brachycephalic-breed dogs, the ones with smooshed noses, have breathing troubles so the airline feared Samson might not survive the flight.

He did, and so did the Kyles, whose travels have taken them to places such as Poland and landed them most recently at Grace Fellowship Church of Westerville, where Rick Kyle is the new elder pastor.

About two years ago, Kyle said he literally awoke in the middle of the night repeatedly saying, "I want to preach."

"I really felt a calling to be a lead pastor," Kyle, 49, said. "So I really started praying about it and God opened the door. I saw this as a comeback church and I knew this was a church with a lot of heart and room to grow."

The church, at 3475 Paris Blvd., with a congregation of roughly 190 members, seemed to be the perfect fit. More than 300 were in attendance during his first Sunday on Jan. 8.

It's quite the contrast to the 11,000-member Shepherd of the Hills church in Porter Ranch, Calif., where Kyle served on the executive team and oversaw ministries covering birth to young adults.

Kyle stayed there for six years before leaving for Westerville.

"We spent two hours on the phone and really hit it off," said Craig Malcolm, who led Grace Fellowship's search committee for a new pastor. "He's a fun-loving guy and he's not above you. He's like you," Malcolm added. "The messages he preaches are very practical to everyday living and when he preaches, he touches people because he's talking about what they're going through today."

Kyle, having been born in Dayton, Ky., is familiar with the region.

The Palm Springs Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., became the first full-time home for Kyle, who served as a youth pastor and associate pastor.

While there, he married his wife, Linda, in 1991. His daughter, Katie, 17, was born in 1994.

A year later, he moved back to Kentucky and enrolled at Southern Seminary, where he completed his master's degree in Christian education. While there, he was introduced to Southeast Christian Church as a youth pastor.

His ministry took him on an important mission to Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland, where he oversaw the beginning and the completion of a church in that city.

The Kyles were there for nearly three years. He said it was an uneasy time for his children, who needed time to build friendships with those who didn't speak English.

But Kyle embraced the challenge.

"I'm a starter and it's great to watch things grow really, really big," he said. "It's a constant challenge. I want to reach into the neighborhoods around us now and find out what the needs are in the community. I want our church to be a place where people find joy."

Some are seeing that already.

A member of the congregation for more than 30 years, Marilyn Malcolm, the program director at Grace Fellowship, said the Kyles have "breathed new life into the church."

"We're already seeing that," she said. "It's phenomenal and we believe he's definitely a person who can make a difference."

Kyle hopes to make Westerville the last stop on his journey.

"I hope so," he said. "I did my first sermon and I jokingly said, 'one down and 15 years to go.'"