Eugene Leonard began preaching when he was 13, and became an interim pastor at a church in Dothan when he was 17 and still in high school. After receiving a “major sign,” Leonard moved back to Anniston to begin the Life Center Church, 704 Wilmer Ave.
Tell us about your background. I graduated from Northview High School, class of 1998. I went to college at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, where I majored in business management with a minor in psychology. A church called me back in Dothan, so I left college and started pastoring there for six years.
Did you stay in Dothan? I moved to Atlanta with my father to become his youth pastor. While there, a couple of preachers back here in Anniston and Hobson City would ask me to come back and preach revivals. When I would come back, I would see how the economy and the city would evolve from what I grew up in. When I was growing up, Anniston was the main attraction, but when I came back, it had switched with Oxford. When Fort McClellan shut down, it really adversely affected the city.
Why did you decide to move from Atlanta to Anniston? One night, I was preaching a revival, and God spoke to me and told me that he wanted me to come back to Anniston and start a ministry. Mind you, this was something I had seen done, but never done myself. We went back and forth because I was in a good situation and owned my own company in Atlanta, and my wife worked in the school system. I said, “You want me to leave this to go back to Anniston and start a church?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “OK, I am going to need a major sign.”
Did you receive a major sign? The job I was working was a telemarketing job, contracted out by AT&T doing outside business sales. One of my clients was the Woodruff Arts Center. They were building the Verizon Amphitheater. They called me and told me that they needed a major ethernet cable run; I looked it up and got the order set up. I did not know the commission of this sale; I figured it would be about $1,000. About 60 days, I get my commission check, and for that one sale, it was $10,000! I called them up to doublecheck that it was right (laughter). God told me, “This is your sign. Move.” Within 30 days, by September of 2009, we moved to Anniston and started the Life Center Church.
Tell us about the ministry. We have a 24-hour daycare. We have a 501(c)(3), “Project Life,” which houses our summer enrichment and afterschool program. We made our childcare and enrichment programs affordable for working and single parents. You do not need to be a member of the church to participate.
What is your goal in ministry? God sent me here to help the “outcasts:” the ones no one wants to help, or the ones people think are looking for handouts. People are not looking for handouts; they are looking for a hand-up.
People go by what they have seen; if people have grown up in a culture without drive, then you cannot expect them to do anything different without being taught drive. Most of us, like myself, had parents who were driven, and we had that drive instilled in us from the beginning. The goal for the ministry is to put that drive into people. You do not have to be what you grew up in. You can change the dynamics of your own life.
I want to be that role model that people can look to and say, “Hey, he grew up on 16th Street and lived in Hobson City in Section 8 housing. His mother used to leave food stamps as tips at Shoney’s on the night kids ate free. If he can come out, I can, too.”
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.