Heed the Call is an occasional series profiling local pastors and ministers. To nominate a pastor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mahlon LeCroix lifted the sleeve of his shirt and revealed the AA tattoo inked on his left upper arm.
“They said, ‘You’re an alcoholic and you’ve got to admit you’re an alcoholic,’ so I tattooed it on me because I wouldn’t believe it, even though I had lost my house, my job, my car and went to jail because of drinking,” LeCroix said of the Alcoholics Anonymous tattoo. “If God can change the life of a wretched man like me, a man the world pretty much locked up and threw away the key, God can do it for anybody.”
The 39-year-old Athens native, who went to rehab three times, spent a year-and-a-half in two halfway houses and underwent a transformation, returned to north Alabama in December to bring his message of hope, recovery, love and redemption to Priceville as the pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church.
“Some people get upset when I call myself a drunk. But, most of my life, that’s what I was, the drunk down the road. I know where I’ve been and I know what I’ve done. I'm not proud of it. I tell people about the bad stuff so I can tell them about the greatest thing that ever happened to me — being saved by God,” LeCroix said.
His long, winding journey with faith began in Athens, where he grew up going to church — several, actually.
“Jokingly, I tell people I’ve been sprinkled, splashed and dunked. I came from a split home and had several stepfathers, so wherever they went to church we’d go. I’ve been Presbyterian, Methodist, Charismatic and Baptist,” LeCroix said. “I believed in God and would tell people I was a Christian, but I didn’t live it. I didn’t get saved until I was 27.”
After graduating from Athens High School, he stopped attending church and only went on Christmas and Easter for his mother.
A lover of science, LeCroix attended Calhoun Community College, studied surgical technology and worked at Parkway Medical Center as a surgical assistant. There, his drinking steadily increased from one or two drinks after work to three or four a night to going to the hospital hungover every day.
“My hands would tremble. One day, I remember thinking, ‘The only way to stop the trembling was to have another drink.’ I began drinking all day. I lived in a state of blackout for a year. I don’t remember much at all. My mind was gone. My wife tells me I would stay on the floor of the house for weeks. I was a raging alcoholic,” LeCroix said.
He lost his job, his car, his home and was separated from his wife and newborn son. Thoughts of taking his own life entered his mind.
“I didn’t want to live anymore because, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t quit drinking,” LeCroix said.
Returns to church
Desperate, alone and feeling hopeless, LeCroix turned to the place he remembered being happy as a child — the church. It was a Wednesday night when he walked into Fairview Baptist Church — the place where he would be licensed into the ministry and ordained.
“When I walked in, I was drunk. I was never not drunk then. But, because that little country church in Limestone County opened their doors to me, my life changed,” LeCroix said. “I remember praying with the pastor and telling Christ, ‘I don’t have nothing to give you. If you want my life, you can have it, I don’t want it. If you can make something out of it, make something out of it.'”
With the little money he had, LeCroix bought a Bible and commentary and began studying one chapter at a time.
“I would read a chapter in the Bible and then I would read a chapter in the commentary to understand it. It was like, oh, that’s what this means. That’s how I started doing devotions. I was enjoying learning, and people were actually getting something from me. For the first time in a long time, I felt useful again. I believed God could use me,” LeCroix said.
To support his battle with addiction, LeCroix moved to Opelika, where he lived for a year at Harvest Evangelism, a residential recovery center for men. There, he woke up at 5 a.m., learned how to live a sober life, worked on being a father and husband and led daily devotions.
“Everyone had a rotation of doing devotions. A lot of guys didn’t want to do devotions. I didn’t have nothing else, so I volunteered to do their devotions. I wanted to learn more. My year there gave me a desire to do a ministry to help addicts and alcoholics,” LeCroix said.
Before leaving Harvest Evangelism for The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, LeCroix and his wife, Ashley, renewed their vows. During the ceremony, he washed her feet and promised to serve and support her.
At college, LeCroix, the man of science, medicine and physical proof, found reasons to believe in Christianity.
“I always knew there was a God, I just didn’t get into all the Christianity part of it. I thought it was like mythology,” LeCroix said. “At college, I saw there was evidence for it all. How can Paul go from being the most ruthless, evil person against Christianity to, overnight, becoming the greatest champion? That makes no sense unless he saw the resurrected Christ. How does a blackout drunk become a pastor?”
LeCroix became ordained as a deacon, taught Sunday school classes and filled in for the preacher before being called to pastor at Beulah Anna Baptist Church in Florida. Most recently, he served at Pleasant Ridge Baptist in Walton County, Florida, where the congregation grew from 40 people to more than 120 in two years.
Leaving Florida, where LeCroix helped coach football and tennis at the middle school and became part of the community, for north Alabama, where people remembered LeCroix as he was before becoming saved, was a difficult decision.
“Coming back was hard because I had all those memories. I was comfortable in Florida because people didn’t know who I used to be. Here, they do. That’s been a struggle for me. But I felt God pulling me back here and where God calls, I will follow,” LeCroix said.
In December, LeCroix moved to Priceville with his wife and children, Sam and Maggie. At Shoal Creek, 1077 Shoal Creek Road, LeCroix hopes to get involved in the community and expand the church’s outreach programs.
“We are here to serve on and love on the community. That’s it. We want to tell the community about the amazing things God is doing,” LeCroix said. “People love football here. When you see Alabama or Auburn win a game, you go tell somebody. Well, why not tell somebody about what God’s doing in your life and what he is doing at your church.”
What is your favorite verse in the Bible? My life verse is Joel 2:25, where the Lord says, ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.’ You know, the first time I heard my son speak, I was in rehab. The first time I saw him take his first step, I was in rehab. I missed everything. But, when the Lord blessed us with our daughter, I was there when she said her first words and took her first steps. God has allowed me an opportunity to get things back that I’ve lost. He’s done greater and more for me than I ever believed he would or could.
What character in the Bible do you relate to the most? Onesimus. He is the reason Paul wrote the book of Philemon. Onesimus was a slave that Paul told to go back to his master. He was told to go reconcile with the master and the master was told to reconcile with him and treat him as an equal. I have royally messed up my life. I’m now spending my time showing people what God has done and reconciling my relationships.
Who has guided you on your faith journey? George Whitten, pastor at Fairview, that little church that let me in as a drunk. They licensed and ordained me, but, most important, they believed in me. Aaron Johnson was my pastor growing up as a kid. I loved listening to him. He was a good man and a man I could trust. I believe remembering him and that there were people I could trust and were real is what drew me back to the church. Rick Hagans founded Harvest Evangelism where I really learned about the Bible. Also, there was Red Coleman, he runs a ministry for addicts in recovery. I met him during orientation at Bible college. I was sitting there with a whole bunch of teenagers and thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ when I saw Red. Because me and him were both old, we began to talk. It turns out he was a recovering drug addict and, here I was, a recovering alcoholic. We were both right out of rehab, both of us old and both feeling called into the ministry.