DUBLIN — A Bladen County native is paying it forward.
Paul Franklin grew up in Dublin and as a teenager, by his own admission, “did what a lot of country guys do who get their heart broke by a girl” and turned to smoking marijuana. When the former gateway drug proved inadequate to fill his emotional void, the teen added alcohol to his party menu.
“It got to be where ‘normal’ meant being high,” he recounted.
Franklin would spend the better part of two decades chasing women and chemical highs. When he was in his 30s, his wife left with the couple’s daughter, and, unable to cope, Franklin began experimenting with cocaine.
“Drugs are like boats with big motors. Once you get a boat with a bigger motor, you’ll never go back to something smaller,” Franklin commented, laughing at first. The smile dropped from his face, however, and he stared out the window of his Dublin home and added, “Hard drugs are possessive — they get hold of you and won’t let go.”
Franklin would experience times of sobriety, during which he would determine not to go back.
“I would see people caught up in it and wonder what I was thinking when I did drugs,” he recalled. “It’s like a love/hate relationship. On the one hand you love yourself so much you’re doing this for pleasure or as a way out of the emotional pain; on the other hand, how much do you have to hate yourself to ruin your life like this?”
In 2000, during one period of rehabilitation, Franklin wound up in California at the Dream Center’s Born Again Delivered Disciples, a free addiction center run by Dominique Garcia. There, an idea was born for a similar facility in Franklin’s home state.
However, like a black hole constrains light, so, too, was darkness reticent to release its grip on the Bladen County man.
“The enemy knows how to get us,” Franklin explained. “I’ve always had a weakness for women, for wanting to be loved, and every time I would bow my knee to that, I would get weak and fall back into drugs too.”
Franklin finally slipped out of the vise of darkness in 2005, but it took a life-altering struggle. On Aug. 19, Franklin, having just lost his third wife, was in the process of buying drugs from his dealer. When he questioned the dealer about the goods, the seller lost control.
“He just reached down and jerked the leg off the table and started chopping up my face,” Franklin remarked. “He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t change the expression on his face — my life wasn’t worth anything to him.”
He was driven to a secluded spot by the river and left to die, but a fisherman found him later and called for help. Every single bone in Franklin’s face was broken, and he spent a great deal of time — he’s unable to remember exactly how much — in the hospital in Durham. His entire face has been reconstructed using grafts, but it still bears witness to the terrible ordeal.
“It’s a really hard thing to lose your face,” Franklin commented, nodding his head and looking down.
Today, Franklin has turned his life around, or, more correctly, his life has been turned around. Having heard a message from Christian singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman about Cortés’ decision to burn ships on arriving in the New World to prevent returning to Europe, Franklin burned his own ships. Selling his new truck and quitting his job, he began taking in homeless and drug-addicted men and helping them back on their feet.
“I love these people, and it’s a full-time job just helping people — there are a lot of needs in Bladen County,” Franklin explained.
The need has become so great, in fact, that Franklin asked friend and fellow believer Gregg Allan Johnson to join him in the endeavor. Johnson currently lives in the home as resident counselor.
The men in the program attend multiple weekly services at area churches and have daily homework. Most weeks, they also attend a men’s breakfast in Lumberton where testimonies are given and the Bible is discussed. They are currently studying Neil Anderson’s The Bondage Breaker, Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer, and Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God.
Franklin and Johnson describe the program as a “disciple-making” one rather than a halfway house or drug rehabilitation program, similar to 12-step programs but Bible-based.
“A resident can be anybody who wants to turn (his) life over to Jesus Christ,” Johnson explained. “It can be an addiction to food, pornography, drugs, or alcohol, or it can be depression — anybody who needs somewhere to go to get out of a situation that’s got them in bondage.”
The idea of freedom from bondage is one that resonates with the former addict.
“We’re all in this battle over whether we’re going to let God be God,” Franklin remarked. “I was always a love junkie looking to be loved. It’s a battle to get through all the distractions — whether that’s TV, food, sex, or drugs or cigarettes — to get to that love of God.”
It’s about His work
In recounting his story and his work, Franklin struggled multiple times, and for various reasons. Decades of drug use, combined with an almost-fatal beating, have robbed his memory of some details of the past. The over-arching struggle, however, had to do with reputation, and the inner battle was clear.
Franklin doesn’t charge for the ministry he offers. All the men who stay there do so free of charge for as long as they need help. Durations of stay have ranged from a few weeks to five months, all on Franklin’s dime. Getting the word out about what he’s doing, while it could be beneficial, could also invite opposition.
“I’m worried that when people hear about this they may not like it, and they may try to shut me down,” he surmised.
In the next breath, however, he reminded himself, “God’s doing (this ministry) anyway. He doesn’t want me to look to these religious people but to look at Him, and I’ve just been praying about finances. Who knows who He might use to help us?”
He added, “It’s also private property, and all I’m doing is trying to help people.”
Franklin’s ministry is an established 501(c) and as such, receives discounts on food. The manager pointed out, however that “it’s expensive to feed four grown men three meals a day.”
Anyone wanting to donate to the ministry can reach him by calling 910-322-7796.
Franklin also voiced concerns about airing his past out, but in the end decided that if one person was helped by it, he would consider it worth it.
“This is God’s work,” he decided firmly. “Do I want to go through the shame of people talking about my past? No. But I did all that stuff for the devil and wasn’t ashamed. Why should I be ashamed now of how the Lord can use it for good?”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.