#OURVOICES: Pastor Anthony Payton
When you read the story of Anthony Payton on the church website and other outlets via online, you truly do not get the full measure of the man….
His life, as he tells it, is transparent and open for all to see. Like our elders would say back in the day, “the covers laid bare!” And to the Senior Pastor of Come As You Are Community Church in Fort Wayne Indiana, Father, Husband and Mentor to many that is important. Because without doing so, how can you truly connect to one another?
From his ministry here in the states, to his heartfelt “second home” which is the ministry he leads into Brazil. His flourishing shoe company and various projects that echo his mission statement, Pastor Payton reaches each individual, to get beyond the good, and welcome the great. Our interview lead into spirit lead discussion and reflection on many of the things we take for granted in life, and how the power or prayer prevails.
So let’s learn more about this amazing brother and the work that he embraces.
CW: Good evening how are you this evening
AP: I’m doing very well sir, how are you?
CW: Doing great! We thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and chit chat with us in regards to what you have going on, as well as to give words of encouragement to us and our readers this evening.
AP: Well I appreciate everything that you all are doing; making sure that the community gets the truth and encouragement. And I appreciate your time as well!
CW: Thank you! Well, we want to share with our readers about the pastor Anthony Payton, and how that things, as well as blessings, don’t come naturally or a snap of the fingers just like that. That there is a message of how you came to be where you are right now and the ministries you have. Can you please share with our readers?
AP: Sure, I’d honored. I agree with you 100%, I tell people that we don’t understand the metanarrative of our story, so therefore we don’t communicate it like we should. My story is dramatic but it’s common to everyday people. I was raised in Mississippi by my Grandmother, lived in New York for a number of years early on, and my step-father and his brother got me involved in some illegal activities. So my Grandmother decided that I needed to come there (Mississippi) and stay. Unfortunately for me, that seed of “lifestyle” had already been planted. Without a relationship with my biological father, certainly no relationship with my step-father, I became involved with drugs and alcohol at a very young age, and I tell people I became my best customer. I dropped out of school, was a heroin and cocaine addict, sleeping outdoors, in and out of treatment centers for drugs and alcohol. I was the only child of my mother’s and the eldest child of my grandmother, so they had high expectations that I totally blew off in context. I ended up with a three year grand larceny charge which I was sentenced to do. I escaped before finishing those three years and was a fugitive from justice for five years, and my heroin and cocaine habit just continued to intensify until one day I got sick and tired of the lifestyle and the pain and all of that. And took a 3cc syringe full of synthetic heroin and cocaine, what we called “keys and blues” back then and tried to kill myself. Upon shooting that into my arm, did I realize that I didn’t really want to die, in an old abandoned house on Coric Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I begged God to give me another chance and take the habit away. The next day I was at a treatment center, a familiar place I had been. Six days later I was back in Mississippi visiting my grandmother who was dying of Parkinson’s disease. But at this point that was it for me. I was tired, so I went back home to say my apologies to my grandmother, why she could still understand. I knew that I was a fugitive, but I needed to be there to apologize.
After being there for maybe thirty days, I was downtown picking up some medications for my grandmother and the police pulled me over, they thought I was somebody else. Upon checking my social security number, they found out who I was and locked me up. They gave me three years for the original charge and five years for the escape charge. During that time there was a Gideon, a Southern Baptist Gideon that came to the jail for Chaplain duties, had bible studies. And so one evening I stayed behind and asked him what he meant by being “born again.” And he led me through the Roman’s Road of Salvation, and I was free for the first time in my life. I was about twenty-three going on twenty-four and at this time this whole drama started when I was about seven. He (the Chaplain) believed it was more than just a jail house confession. He pulled together several of his friends who were business people in the community, and this was in Hattiesburg Mississippi. All of them white and he asked them to sign a petition and take it before the judge. Eighteen of them signed the petition, along with my aunt, my grandmother and my mother, and took it before the judge. The judge took those eight years and turned me over into the hands of those men who decided to mentor me. So I walked out of jail only doing nine months of an eight year sentence. And they (the men) mentored me for about two years. I then decided it was time for me to go to Fort Wayne to go to school. They gave me a one way ticket to Fort Wayne, where I went to Fort Wayne Bible College and met my wife here in Indiana. I joined a local church and became the Christian Education Director at that church. I became a Mental Health Counselor, as a matter of fact, my first office as a Mental Health Counselor was the same office I went to when I wanted help years earlier for my drug and alcohol addiction.
I worked there for about seven years, it was something I enjoyed doing. Before that I worked as a Plant Manager at an engineering company, started off as a machine worker, and the owner of the company made me Plant Manager. I went from a strung out junkie to a plant manager at an engineering company, to a mental health service worker with probably the largest caseloads in the department, to Pastor at Come As You Are Community Church where I served for twenty-one years. I’ve travelled from Israel to Brazil doing leadership conferences …God has been good!
CW: That is truly impressive! From being down at your lowest to where you currently are now. It’s amazing, nothing but God!
AP: I know I can say that with you. I went to those same treatment centers and sat on those couches and told my story and it wasn’t until I said “Ok God, this ain’t working for me!” “I’ve tried counseling and I’ve tried this and that, take this away from me, and I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” And man, I tell you, I’ve had a fantastic life, now it’s been a little over thirty=five years…I’m fifty-nine years old. I still have scar tissue on my arm to remind me where I came from. From all the needle marks and from all that. It’s amazing that I didn’t die in those streets, from 14th and Key St in DC to Liberty City in Miami. It’s only by the grace of God that I’m alive, and mind you I dropped out of school and I went back and got a GED through the help of some friends who encouraged me to go back and get a GED.
CW: One of the things, when I got a chance to look at your website and it was so profound that you noted: “We exist to recognize, inspire and promote the purposes of God in individual and collective life.”
AP: Yes, that’s my personal mission statement.
CW: When I read that, I felt as though that came from a very deep place within you to share with others as well that maybe are going through, or have went through certain trials and tribulations that you went through.
AP: You’re absolutely right! After I got saved and started working at the mental health hospital, I also had a private business where I did pro social groups for Fort Wayne Community School as well as East Allen County here. I went and taught young people what we call life skills. I had done that for about two years, and I realized that I was missing a component. I was able to give them principles, but principles without a purpose didn’t mean anything to them. So I took a sabbatical, and started reading and praying and seeing what I could do, what was the hook going to be for this generation. So I read a book by Laurie Beth Jones, she’s a Christian motivational speaker whose wrote several books, such as “Jesus in Blue Jeans” and “Jesus Christ CEO” and a number of books. But the book I had read was “The Path” and she articulated a story in there where her grandfather had told them if a soldier served a period in the night and could not articulate his mission, then they considered him an enemy. That resonated to me, because it said to me that there was a number of young people that I was attempting to give principle, but they didn’t have a mission! They didn’t know why they were here. They didn’t have a purpose, and so I spent some time examining my own life and saying “okay, what is my purpose?” At that time I’d done a number of things, but I was still more reactionary than proactive. So after prayer I came up with this whole idea of this being my mission statement: “I exist to recognize, inspire and promote the purposes of God in individual and collective life.” And the first thing I did was to come back to that class and I helped them to frame a mission, what they felt that their purpose was. Man, I’m telling you that changed my life, that became my personal mission statement, even long before it became a webpage. It helped me guide those young guys and girls at that time to a sense of direction. I never forget, five years after that class in the city I was out west in a whole other area of Fort Wayne, and I heard somebody calling me. “Mr. Payton, Mr. Payton!” And I turned around and it was this white kid running toward me, and I yelled “stop, stop, you’re going to run in front of that car!” At this time he’s about twenty-five, and he stopped then was on his way over, and he said “there you go again Mr. Payton, saving my life! I want to thank you for everything that you taught me in that class.” “My father and I have a good relationship; I’m now living in Miami Florida with him. I just want to thank you for all that you did.” I’m telling you man, if that doesn’t float your boat, nothing will!
CW: We should have a mission statement, without it, we too would have no sense of direction!
AP: A personal mission statement helps you filter through all that, and it reminds you that you didn’t get to where you are by yourself! I think personal mission statement keep us humble and keeps us from saying yes to so many good things that rob us from the best for us.
CW: Many of what you mentioned is very prevalent in your book Leadership Reflections….what prompted you to write that book?”
AP: I was going through a tremendous, painful season in my leadership journey. I don’t think you really know the depth of your leadership until you’ve gone through a painful season. I had went through a painful season; people I had trust, people I had vested in, paid their bills, treated like my children, basically lied and conspired to destroy me. I was ready to go back and get a secular job, leave the pastoring alone and I had went to Mississippi for a conference and this church there offered me this building in Jackson MS. It was everything that I dreamed of; at one time it was the largest Southern Baptist church in the state of Mississippi. The community around it subsequently becomes African American, Hispanic and poor White, so the church itself had not changed with the community so they moved out. So here you have this building with a gym, a sanctuary that would seat 1500, a smaller chapel, a television studio, a recording studio, all this in the building and they said, “You come, it’s yours.” And I’m coming back and I’m going through this turbulent time here in Mississippi not because I had done anything. I hadn’t cheated on my wife or stole any money. People just lied, and I was just tired of it. So I was on my way back with my wife and I said “oh, we’re gone! We’re leaving! “And she says to me “is that you, or is that God?” I said “You just don’t want to leave; you just want to stay here!” She said “well, we know that you haven’t done anything, people are just lying.” So I said “ok, I’m gone” and Laura said “no you can’t leave, you can’t leave.”
So I’m sitting in the basement of my house, and my house is like in the woods, a wooded secluded area. I’m in the basement, don’t want to go to church, don’t want to do anything. And I hear these voices outside, and I go outside and it’s the men of the church circling my place and praying “Lord help us encourage our pastor.” “Get him out of this depression; get him out of this funk.” And they are hand in hand, they are coving sixteen acres, all over the land, praying! And so that old Negro spiritual goes; just when I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off! So I just started writing, I went to the Dominican Republic, hadn’t been there before. I got a room there and I just started writing. I started journaling my life and leadership, the things I’ve done and the things I’ve been through, and how it applied to leadership. And that became my book: Leadership Reflections. The first chapter deals with my wife and what she was and is to me, and the last chapter deals with my son and what I want him to be.
CW: How do you allow AP Shoes (Anthony Payton Signature Shoes) to reflect your ministry and everything that you’ve learned during your journey in life?
AP: Man, you.. (pause) I am so glad you asked that question, and here’s why. I had this dream of a shoe company and designing my own shoe line when I was nine years old. My grandmother and my mom put together their money to buy me a pair of shoes when I was moving out of the ninth grade. I still have those Florsheims today. I kept them through my various drug addictions, selling everything else. The only thing I kept bruh, were those shoes. When I lost everything, the only thing I had, which was a connect to reality for me was that pair of shoes that my grandmother and my mother put their pennies together to buy me. So seventeen years ago I went to Brazil, and didn’t want to go, but glad I went. And out of that has come this shoe company. But here’s the heart of Anthony Payton Shoes it’s in this program. Anthony Payton Shoes is not just a company, yes I believe in social entrepreneurship. I consider myself a social entrepreneur, I do things, I create things, whether it taking old buildings and converting them and leasing them out, which is part of our ministry. I do it so I can do some social ministry projects that I want to do, and here’s where Anthony Payton Signature Shoes fits into that.
My goal in the summer of 2017 from Anthony Payton Shoes is to take a group of inner city boys to Brazil, all expenses paid. They will spend their summer there, they will work alongside my designers and my manufacturing company, and their goal is to come up with their own design of shoe. It has to be a dress shoe, I don’t want a tennis shoe, I want them thinking “dress.” I don’t want them thinking Nike, Timberlands, all that, I want them to think suit and tie. So they will work on that line, and bring it back just before school starts here in Fort Wayne. The city will have a big greeting with various churches in the community and various businesses in the community, and they will give a presentation on their design. What inspired them, they’ll talk about their experience, and the community then will vote for the best design, presentation, etc. That young man’s show will go into production, and 25 percent (from sales) will go towards his college education, another 25 percent will go towards his local charity. I’m trying to get them to plug into their community; they have to identify a charity that they want to help. And 50 percent goes to continuing this program for the next group of young men, so we build it and it becomes a national program.
Now, they may never become a shoe designer, that’s not the point. The point is to tap into that creative side of them, tap into that business side of them. To grasp it at an early stage and say, “ok even though you may not like designing shoes, but you do like corporate business. You will get a structure here that helps you to understand what it means to take a product from dream to reality. And at the end of the day, that fits my mission statement; “We exist to recognize, inspire and promote the purposes of God in individual and collective life” and that fits my ministry!
CW: Full circle! Love it! How can our readers learn more about you, follow you, sow seeds into your ministry or get words of encouragement?
AP: We have several outlets that people can visit to get in contact with me, to stay involved and see the work that we are doing.
To me, this was more than an interview. After ending the interview and further discussion, one could truly see that this brother is an example of what it means to be rebuilt, restructured, and following in the steps that God has placed before him. During our interview, he mentioned that at a Gideon Conference that he spoke at, three of the eighteen men that signed his petition was still alive and present at the conference. One of them spoke to him and told him that out of all the men that were presented the opportunity to change and give their life over to Christ, he was the only one…..
Anthony Payton’s story makes you wonder, how many opportunities have we missed over the years, when we simply could have let go, and let God!
Thank you brother!