WILMINGTON – Before Kristy Shelton found Haven Ministries, she had lost everything.
Shelton, now 41, started out as a Fayetteville hair stylist, married and raising two children. Then came the drugs.
“My husband was an addict,” she said. “He was using a lot. ... I started using to block him out.”
She became an addict herself, spending a decade using cocaine and pills. She lost her business and her family, and spent time in jail.
Before he came to Haven, Luke Duggan was hooked on OxyContin, a powerful medication originally prescribed for him after a bad accident.
Now both are discipleship leaders at Haven, a Christian-based program that provides mental health and substance abuse care to people who need it, regardless of ability to pay. It’s housed in an office at 20 S. 16th St. leased from St. Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian Church.
The ministry and psychiatric clinic was founded by Dr. Dwight Lysne. Like his clients, he lost much in the journey that took him from teaching and practicing psychiatry in North Dakota to his present post.
The Fargo, N.D., native spent 10 years as a prosperous doctor and child psychiatry professor before asking, “Is this all there is?”
“This isn’t the fulfilling life I thought I would have,” he recalled thinking.
He began attending a Bible study group and realized it was the only time where he felt peace.
“My perspective changed. Making money had become an empty pursuit,” he said. “That’s when things started to change for me. I found myself led to seminary.”
He moved his family in 2003 to Winston-Salem to accommodate a teenage daughter who wanted to dance at what then was the N.C. School of the Arts.
He later served as medical director of Wilmington’s Yahweh Center, which provides psychiatric services to children traumatized by violence or abandonment.
Haven started as a part-time commitment while he was working elsewhere. But around the beginning of 2011, he devoted himself full-time to the storefront ministry, which is both a church and a psychiatric clinic.
It hasn’t been easy.
“God was peeling back my possessions, my money, my title,” said Lysne, who even went unemployed for a time.
Relations with friends and some extended family members also became strained.
“All that was preparing me to have empathy for people struggling,” he said.
St. Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian Church provides some financial assistance to Haven, and church members volunteer with the ministry.
Sixty percent to 70 percent of Haven’s clients have no insurance.
Lysne specializes in treating patients with mental health issues. Many are addicted to opioids, drugs derived from natural or synthetic opium substances. They include prescription medicines and street drugs.
He prescribes medication to ease their withdrawal symptoms. He leads church services, Bible studies and support groups to nurture their spiritual lives.
Not all its members use the clinical services.
“My mission is to grow as a church,” he said.
On a recent visit, the chapel was being decorated for the wedding of a Haven client.
Lysne said the leadership group he has established for clients who become able to help others will ensure that Haven goes on.
“When I retire or die, this place can continue to provide mental health and substance abuse care integrated with the Gospel,” he said.