LEESBURG, Fla. (BP) – “Would God put somebody on this earth to be nothing but a drug addict and to die in that sin?” That was John Draxinger’s first question when he heard the Gospel in a jail cell around July 4, 2013.
Draxinger had assumed he would always be an addict, surely dying from the Hepatitis C he contracted during 10 years of heroin and opioid abuse that resisted six sobriety attempts and 15 jail stays.
Freed in November 2013 from his last jail sentence, he literally begged to be accepted into a Christian drug rehabilitation facility. He applied a few times before the Men’s Care Center, a residential drug rehabilitation program birthed by First Baptist Church of Leesburg, could accept him.
“When I got out (of jail) in November I already had five months where I felt like God was trying to move in my life and do something in my life. I just knew that I couldn’t go to a secular rehab,” Draxinger told Baptist Press. “I’ve had a lot of attempts to try and get clean in my life.”
He carries in his Bible a newspaper clipping reporting on a new Hepatitis C treatment that has since cured him of the illness. Just the knowledge that Hepatitis C wasn’t a death sentence gave Draxinger the desire to repent of his sin and find healing from his addiction nearly a decade ago.
“It was, I felt like, one of the first answers to prayer in my life, and it was enough for me to commit and surrender to God,” Draxinger said, “and trust that He would do what He needed to do to get me wherever He wanted to have me.”
Today, Draxinger directs Samaritan Inn, the Christian Care Center’s (CCC) housing ministry for homeless men. From 2019 until March 2022, he also served as middle school teaching pastor of First Leesburg’s downtown campus.
Draxinger’s testimony made him a good candidate to direct Samaritan Inn, CCC Executive Director Bill Jones said.
“John had a background that was very similar to a lot of our residents,” Jones said. “And so he could really relate to them in a way that no one else previously could.”
Draxinger is one of many men who have found sobriety and salvation through the Men’s Care Center, one of seven CCC ministries serving Leesburg and Lake County, senior pastor Cliff Lea said.
“I’m a sucker for a powerful testimony,” Lea said April 6, “and this morning, there was a man who’s graduating who gave his testimony, and it was just amazing. He struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for decades. He finally got to the end of his rope and a family friend told him about the Christian Care Center.”
Lea began serving at the church in 2007, about a year before First Leesburg expanded its CCC to include Samaritan Inn.
The saga of how First Leesburg founded Samaritan Inn – buying an abandoned motel that was attracting squatters and drug users – is the plot of the new film “No Vacancy,” opening nationwide May 9.
The church has transitioned the CCC to a nonprofit ministry with a separate board and separate funding, leasing the CCC a six-acre downtown plot and facilities for $1 a year.
Comprising CCC’s ministries are Samaritan Inn, the Men’s Care Center, the Children’s Shelter, the Pregnancy and Family Care Center, the Women’s Care Center, the Fresh Start Job Program, and the Benevolence Center housing the largest food pantry in Lake County.
In cooperation with a local hospital, the CCC oversees the Community Medical Care Center, a free dental and primary health care.
“All eight of those ministries work together in a very holistic way, to meet physical needs and share Christ while we do it,” Jones said.
About a fourth of the CCC’s budget comes from a donation comprising 4 percent of every dollar given to the church, and about 30 percent of the budget comes from the church-operated thrift store.
“Overall, through the church efforts, it provides about 55 percent of our budget” Jones said, “and the other 45 percent is other churches, other civic groups, foundations, businesses, organizations, individuals that partner with us financially.”
The work is a vital service to the community, he said.
“It’s always a measure, if we were to leave, what would we leave? And the work that we do, there’s no one else doing that work in our area,” Jones said. “The Bible is clear that we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus; we are to care for those that are considered the least in our community.
“We want to do the very simple things that God’s Word tells us to do and to care for physical need, but while we do it, we don’t want to forget about their greatest need, which is their spiritual need and a relationship with Christ.”
Draxinger, a husband and father of two sons, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Louisiana Christian University. He resigned his associate pastorate to concentrate more fully on Samaritan Inn, he said.
“It’s a special job to me,” he said. “I think first and foremost, I don’t ever lose sight of the fact that the church took a chance on me. … They put me in such a high position, coming where I come from. It was something that I really took a lot of pride in, and I ran with it.
“The Bible talks about how God will use every piece of our life to honor and glorify Himself, even the pain the suffering.”
At Samaritan Inn, Draxinger embraces opportunities to serve those who are suffering as he has suffered, encompassing homelessness and petty crime.
“It’s just put me in a position to relate to these folks in a way that I don’t know most could.”