Home. The word evokes m e m o r i e s , good memories for some as the place where family gathered and shared life, where children were nurtured and grew, where the benchmarks of life were celebrated. For some, home evokes different memories, difficult memories of conflict and loss, the catalysts for leaving home. Even still, home is the place to which many return – eventually. For T. Austin Huggins IV, pastor of Christ Evangel Christian Fellowship, Navarre was home. His family moved here when, in his words, “Navarre was the tree-gap between Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach.” Huggins’s home life was not ideal; his father left, and a harsh stepfather took his place. The spiritual influence in his life was his grandfather, T. Austin Huggins Jr., known to him as Papa, a bear of a man whose massive three-hundred-pound frame sheltered a tender heart. Huggins recalls how Papa would weep through the hymns at the church to which he would take young Huggins on occasion. The desire of this big man’s heart was that his grandson would come to faith in Christ. Huggins’s mother began taking him to First Baptist of Navarre where, at the age of 12, he made a profession of faith and was baptized, but admits that his profession was not genuine. His faith remained in himself. At 18, he left home to join the Navy and became a submariner. He excelled as a sonar man which stoked his faith in himself into an ugly arrogance. Life on a submarine wreaks havoc with a person’s circadian rhythm; Huggins turned to alcohol to cope yet continued to perform his duties with competence. Nonetheless, he admits that he was dying on the inside; trust in oneself has a short shelf-life. Huggins’s selftrust was hit with another salvo. Eager to return to civilian life, he learned that an earlier thyroid problem had not been cared for properly; his service was extended so a Navy doctor could treat him. Meanwhile, he received news from home that his mother had lung cancer. After being discharged, his life sank even deeper into alcoholism pulled down by the ballast of insomnia and utter helplessness over his mother’s worsening condition. Huggins found work as a safety officer at a shipyard in Panama City fitting in well with his hard-living co-workers. But even they recognized something was wrong the day he, their safety officer, stood unaware beneath a massive weight suspended from a crane. He was in a fog having just learned that his mother’s cancer was terminal, and his live-in girlfriend had left him. The boss sent Huggins home. That night, his self-trust in ruins, it came to Huggins’s mind to pray, something he hadn’t attempted in a long while. He scrutinized God, and God scrutinized him. “It wasn’t pretty,” Huggins said. That night, he surrendered his life to God putting his trust fully in God’s provision of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. For the first time in years, he slept soundly. The sun rose on a new day and a new Huggins. His weekly routine became working six days at the shipyard then driving two hours to Navarre for worship services Sundays at First Baptist. He had come home. Huggins eagerly shared his newfound faith in Christ with his workmates. He devoured the Scriptures, came to know them well, and took them to heart. To his surprise, he was asked to fi ll in as teacher for the young singles class. Soon he was made the permanent teacher. There was a change of leadership at the church at that time, and the interim pastor offered Huggins the position of associate pastor. At the advice of a trusted mentor, he accepted and became the associate pastor providing leadership for the young singles and the youth. It was while on staff at First Baptist that he met a young woman who worked in the church offi ce and would become his wife. Eventually, Austin sensed it was time to leave the “nest” once again. In 2017, the Huggins, with a group of families who value his teaching and leadership, formed a new church, Christ Evangel Christian Fellowship. The Huggins family had moved to Bagdad, Florida, a few years earlier for more affordable housing, however, the other church families live in Navarre. So, Thursday nights, Christ Evangel meets in Navarre in a member’s home and Sundays they meet in Bagdad at the Huggins’s home. The long-term goal is to fi nd a permanent, public location in Navarre. Christ Evangel maintains close friendships and partnerships with various churches in the U.S. and abroad. The church supports and is actively involved in mission work in Philippines, Nigeria, Nepal and Kenya, through FirstLove Radio (firstloveradio. org). Locally, Christ Evangel hosts the protestant services at The Beacon, an assisted living center in Santa Rosa. They also minister to the drug and alcohol addicted at The Mission of Hope in Alabama. Those interested in meeting times and locations for Christ Evangel Christian Fellowship should call 850- 564-4348 or visit the Welcome page on the church’s website (christevangel.org) and complete and submit the message form
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