“A phenomenal program”: Johnny Payne’s ministry with the Friendship House of Jesus

Published 9:49 am Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Giving up one’s time, to the point of dedicating year’s of one’s life, to serve their community requires a good deal of heart. It takes true passion to give so much of oneself to others. One organization in Bainbridge where one gives their time back to help the community is the Friendship House of Jesus. Having been founded in 1996, the Friendship House provides after-school ministry services to the local youth.

Johnny Payne, the current program director at the Friendship House, has always had a heart to serve his community, especially kids.

“I’ve been dealing with kids for the last 30 years,” he said. Payne has previously worked at other similar groups and schools in Vidalia, Baxley and Tallahassee; while he was working in Tallahassee, he lived in Bainbridge. It was then that he became aware of the Friendship House, as he met Josh Paske, the organization’s current development director.

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“I ran into Josh Paske, and he and I connected,” Payne said. “I saw this building actually being constructed, didn’t know what it was about, and I started inquiring.”

With a degree in music, Payne uses this as part of his ministry at Friendship House.

“I use music as a tool to teach them scripture,” he said. “Any scripture that we learn, I create songs regarding that scripture and they learn the songs, so they learn the scripture.”

The Friendship House even has a small recording studio present, with which they’ve recorded a couple of CDs of Payne’s Scripture-based music.

Payne often finds himself with quite the crowd as well, with anywhere between 110 to 120 kids at the Friendship House on a daily basis. This is a rebounding numbers after the COVID pandemic, during which time attendance was as low as just 25 kids. The program is not just limited to after school either, also offering a summer program, complete with beach trips for the kids.

When asked, Payne described his ministry here as “phenomenal.”

“I’ve been here about 15 years, and I know the lives of the kids that we’ve touched has just been super-transforming,” he said. “Not only do we get the opportunity to impart God’s word into the kid’s lives, but as a result, we can touch the parents as well. The kids are taking what we teach them home, and it’s reverberating in the home.”

Payne hasn’t forgotten many of the kids that have come and gone through the Friendship House over the years. “We get kids who, some… they kind of make bad choices. But on the other hand, you get kids who will come through this program who have excelled, kids who’ve gotten their Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, even Doctorate Degree.”

The children likewise haven’t forgotten Payne, and have returned the kindness shown on occasion. One particular instance came after Payne was hospitalized from a motorcycle accident.

“I broke ten ribs. Naturally, my degree’s in music, so I bruised my lungs extremely bad… hard for me to breathe, hard for me to talk, hard for me to sing,” he said. “But the love that I was shown form the kids, that was motivation for me to keep living, to keep moving… to try to sing again, to try to play again.”

Despite the dedication Payne shows to his ministry at the Friendship House, he feels the program may go overlooked by the community.

“Surprisingly, as long as this program has been here in this city, a lot of people don’t even know it exists,” he said. “I would encourage individuals to come visit. Come visit, see what’s happening here, see the possible impact you could make by partnering with us.”

“It’s a phenomenal program, it’s impacting kids,” Payne said in conclusion. “We’re strengthening broken families through God’s Word, and the kids are a vital part of that.”