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‘There is a way out’: Ex-addict creates addiction ministry | Mississippi News

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By DAVID PANNELL, Daily Journal

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Tupelo’s Chris Payne said he knows firsthand what it’s like to feel trapped without an escape plan.

Payne, 36, was just 11 when he started using drugs.

“By the time I graduated from high school, it was weed, pills, booze and cocaine,” he said. “My drug of choice was ‘more’ – more of anything.”

Payne founded A Way Out Ministries with his wife Kayla in 2019. Fueled by his own struggles with drugs and alcohol, the Paynes are passionate about telling people locked in addiction that there is a “way out.”

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Payne said her own struggle was fueled by her search for love and acceptance.

“I grew up without a father,” he said. “I felt this emptiness inside. I felt unworthy and unloved, and wanted to do whatever it took to fit in and be loved.

Before leaving high school, Payne said he broke every promise he made to himself.

“In high school, there were three things I said I wouldn’t do: smoke crack, shoot, and steal from my family,” he said. “I ended up doing all three.”

After graduation, Payne’s addiction skyrocketed. Years of drifting in and out of rehab left a trail of broken relationships and two children. He said even becoming a father was no match for the power of addiction.

“I remember holding my one-year-old son in one hand and a crack pipe in the other,” he said. “His mother said, ‘Chris, which one is it going to be?’ In my state of mind, I chose the pipe and walked out.

Payne’s long journey to sobriety included six failed attempts at rehabilitation, multiple arrests and a suicide attempt, all over a six-year period.

“I prayed that God would let me die,” he said. “I thought I was better off dead, because I was never gonna beat this thing.”

Nine years ago, Payne began to change his life. He entered the Russellville Dream Center, a faith-based recovery program in Russellville, Alabama. It was there that he learned that faith could fill that void within himself.

“All those years, until I was 27, no one told me the answer was Jesus Christ,” he said. “I was running away from all the chaos I had created; I didn’t know that I was running to a father who was ready to welcome me.

As chaos set in, Payne said he began to put the pieces of his life back together.

“I had the responsibility and the structure I needed,” he said.

He got a cell phone, got his driver’s license, bought a car and rented an apartment.

“(I) learned to discipline myself,” he said.

For the first time in his life, Payne was thriving. When the six-month program at the Dream Center ended, he stayed for another five years, working on the center’s staff and ministering at the church he attended.

He said it was during this time that he first felt a sense of purpose and calling.

“I found a purpose and an identity,” he said. “I became the center’s men’s director and was ordained a pastor in my church. I discovered that I am someone, and it filled something in me that I had tried so long to find. It was the life I was looking for.

In response to a sense of divine urgency, Payne returned to Tupelo in 2018. He met his wife at Anchor Church, and the two began to build a life and ministry together. They now have full custody of Payne’s 11-year-old son and the two have a 6-month-old baby.

On March 4, Payne celebrated nine years of sobriety, a milestone he never imagined he would achieve.

“I didn’t think I would last nine days,” he said. “I was just a drug addict and a con artist, but God was talking to me, saying he would use the stupid things and the weak things to show others there is a way out. It gave me hope.

Payne works a “day job” with Home Healers Construction in Tupelo. But it’s the work he and Kayla do with A Way Out Ministries that gets him out of bed in the morning.

“I have a new joy and a sense of purpose,” he said. “I have such a passion for telling people there is a way out, because deep down people want something different; they don’t know anything else.

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