If James Akins were ever to sit down and write a book, it could easily be a tale of two lives. The first life would be one marred by tragedy, poor decisions and a heart filled with hatred. That portion of his life would take a few chapters to explain. But they would not be the most important chapters of his life’s story.
The James Akins of today would rather fill the majority of his book with the story of his redemption, his care for others and his service to the Savior that he loves.
Akins’ life changed for the better on Feb. 22, 2017. That is when he arrived at The Ark, a local facility that takes in men in need of help and a place to live. It’s also a place where they learn of God’s love through a discipleship program. On June 17, 2017, Akins accepted God’s love, when he placed his faith in Jesus Christ and gave his life to serve others.
But how did a man, now 43, from Fairhope come to live at The Ark? Let Akins tell you about his journey, and you will understand why today, on Thanksgiving, his heart is grateful for all the things God has done for him, despite the tragedy and poor decisions that have marred a large portion of his past.
“My journey began when I was a child,” Akins said as he sat at a table in the dining area of The Ark – an area where he prepares the meals for the residents of the facility. “I was raised by a single parent, my mother. Between the ages of five and eight I was sexually molested by a neighbor. I never let that go. I was filled with a lot of anger, self-loathing and a lack of trust. Ultimately, that led to my addictions.”
The drug addictions took on many forms, and, try as he may, Akins says he couldn’t break away from them.
“I tried several of the 12-step programs, but they never took,” he continued. “I never really submitted to any of them. You know, forgiveness is hard.”
As his penchant for various drugs continued, Akins found himself in a situation he never dreamed could happen to him.
“My addiction led me to being homeless several times,” he said. “From the time I was 30 until now, I was homeless many times.”
His drug use also led to other problems.
“My addiction to drugs ultimately put me in prison, because of the choices I made,” Akins acknowledged. “I continued my addiction even while I was in prison.”
Akins’ first encounter with the legal system came through a conviction for use of a forged instrument. He was given probation instead of jail time. With just 16 days left on his initial sentence, he was picked up for possession of a controlled substance, which he says was not his, but, he notes, he took responsibility for it, since it was on him.
“I spent 10 months in prison at Ventress for the possession charge,” Akins said. “I had to take the substance abuse program. From there, I was sent to Elba Work Release, and I’m now off parole.”
His incarceration led to periods of introspective thought.
“I’d lay there at night and often wondered if I’d ever get out of the situation I was in,” Akins continued. “I wanted to be in a better place. I wanted to be a better person. I would pray at night to God to help me not to get high. It felt as if God was telling me that, if I’d quit buying it, I’d get over it.”
The hand of God brought Akins to Elba, where he met Chaplain Roderick Rider. Let Akins explain.
“As the time of my release approached, I had mailed off 20 to 35 letters to halfway houses in Alabama,” he said. “I didn’t receive anything from any of them. While in Elba, I volunteered in the chapel. That is where I met Chaplain Rider. He provided the acceptance letter to The Ark. I got here in February. If not for The Ark, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Akins says letting go of the past was difficult at times, but it’s a new journey he has readily embraced.
“I was told several times I had to forgive to be forgiven,” he continued as he spoke of his life since coming to The Ark. “I didn’t know if I could. I sat on my bed one night and asked God to help me forgive others so that I could be forgiven. I accepted Jesus Christ into my life. Things have slowly and surely changed since that night.
“I’ve done some horrible things to people and had some horrible things done to me. I blamed myself for what my neighbor did to me. But, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not to blame. It was very difficult, but my pastor’s wife at Grace Harvest helped me to work through the steps of forgiveness. I hope he (his neighbor) asked for forgiveness before he died. I don’t want to see anyone go to hell. I care more about the next person than I do myself.
“I want to be the hands and feet of Christ. I want to use the talents he’s given me to further his kingdom.”
Akins uses the talents he’s been given as a resident team leader at The Ark. One of his areas of responsibility is that of captain of the kitchen – a wonderful cook for the residents. It’s a responsibility he takes seriously.
“I enjoy it,” Akins said of his work in the kitchen. “I see these guys come in off the street. I feed them. I know they haven’t had a lot.”
He also wants to provide the best for the residents.
“When I first got in the kitchen, I worried about having the food to feed the guys,” Akins said. “But God has always provided. I don’t worry about the food anymore.”
Cooking, which feeds the body, is not Akins’ only role at The Ark.
“I facilitate for the guys,” he said as he explained his other responsibilities. “I take care of things they may need, like rides to work or mentoring some of the guys because of what I’ve gone through.”
While the past is a memory that is embedded in him, Akins says his focus is on what lies ahead.
“I’m moving on to the future God has for me,” Akins said as a smile highlighted the peace he is embracing today. “My mother raised me in a Christian home, in the Assembly of God Church. But I never really fully understood God’s love. When I got here, I was a boy in a man’s body. My pronouns have changed. It’s no longer ‘me.’ It’s ‘we.’
“God’s love and mercy washed away all of the hate I had in me. And, I now have a real good relationship with my father (who lives in southwest Alabama). I’ve apologized to him for the way that I behaved toward him growing up.
“The old man (nature) still lives, but, when I sin, I’m quick to ask for God’s forgiveness. God has protected me through it all.”
That protection, he notes, includes bringing him to The Ark.
“This is one of the best places I’ve been in,” Akins said of the new life he’s been given through the ministry of The Ark. “I’m thankful to be here.”