A person recently asked me an interesting question. He asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” This was a great question, and I was happy to reply that my parents raised me in Carrabelle for 10 of the first 12 years of my life, that I had returned to Franklin County on numerous summer vacations during my high school years and that I have maintained close connections to Carrabelle and Franklin County during my years in Bible college and while my wife and I served as missionaries for over two decades.

Additionally, I noted that I now am the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Carrabelle. An equally accurate and significantly abbreviated answer would have been, “I am here because Carrabelle and Franklin County are home!”

The question noted above stirred my heart to communicate my deeply held feelings for Carrabelle and Franklin County so that others might understand the value represented by residence here on “the Forgotten Coast.” The people of Franklin County and, especially for me, of Carrabelle, represent a unique blend of Southern culture and old fashioned values. For instance, our churches represent close-knit people groups that are as familiar to many of us as our own families.

Other institutions, such as our school with its athletic teams, marching band, cheerleading squads and other extracurricular groups are significant points of reference for those who value Franklin County as home. For me to look across a room and remember, “I played football with that guy,” or “I remember the time we all went on a church youth trip” is to reflect on good times and to rejoice in the opportunity to know good people. Additionally, childhood friendships have placed deep roots of loyalty and enduring feelings of kinship in my heart.

 Of course, Franklin County has changed a great deal since I moved here in 1963, and it is wise to recognize that changing technology and infusions of new ideas that come our way as possible opportunities to better our community and add spice to our community. On the other hand, I view the people of our county as good, simple people who are resourceful and intelligent; most of the residents of Franklin County place a high value on family, friendship and other long-time relationships. We are quick to communicate messages of Southern hospitality, and relatively slow to express anger and other negative feelings. On the other hand, where our traditions are challenged or our culture is criticized, we are quick to defend the positive aspects of both our heritage from all comers.

As an example, when I was a young man, I had the privilege of working in the seafood industry. I am grateful that I came to Christ, and I am amazed that God would use me as a pastor and preacher, but I would have been content to stay home, never leave for Bible college and certainly never spend decades away from home had God not called me away from home!

While I am grateful for the religious and legal education that I have received away from Carrabelle, there are still times when I wish I was still simply working at the “fish house” or the “oyster house” or the “crab house.” I have worked in all three environments; the work was hard but satisfying. The hours were long, but I interacted with great people. I especially enjoyed the retail side of the seafood business where I met folks from the county as well as people from all over the United States and in fact the world.

Most “out-of-towners” came and spent short periods of time here in our wonderful county. Others came, saw and stayed. Of course, because I did leave home when God called me, I have been able to serve Him all across the U.S. and in several foreign nations; my wife, Dee, and I met in her native Pennsylvania and both our children were born in that great commonwealth. Dee too has fallen in love with Franklin County, and she feels the same way I do. We can never really imagine leaving home again unless at the clear direction of God.

My wife’s background and heritage brings me to another thought about my love for this “Unforgotten Coast.” Over the decades our community has become more diverse. Many people from other locations have come and have fallen in love with several of the same cultural characteristics that have captured my heart. Some of them have made this area their homes and most feel the same deep respect that I do for our way of life. They have added their own spice to the dish that is Franklin County, and we are all richer for their contributions to our home.

Thus, moving forward, we have a delicate balancing act facing our area. We have a need to respect the heritage of the past while we welcome the positive aspects brought to us from other places and different cultures. An adage that I use in church is relevant here: If we are not willing to strive for and adapt to positive change, then we are one step away from the institutional graveyard. On the other hand, if we make change that is not founded on the values expressed by our predecessors but merely for change’s sake, then we will most likely not change for the good. Unwise change can even make Franklin County a place that would be unrecognizable as home to those of us who love our county.

Therefore, I am committed to remembering to be grateful for the Franklin County that we have inherited. Our home may not be the most sophisticated place in Florida, but it has a sound foundation upon which we now have the opportunity to build. We have the privilege of serving our community so that we see it grow economically; moreover, we have the opportunity to be good examples to the generations that follow us if we can discern how to keep Franklin County rich in culture, wealthy in morality and prosperous economically.

Why am I here? Because, I say, “Here is home, and I love my house!” May God bless Franklin County; may God bless our home.

Homer McMillan, II, a criminal defense attorney who works defending indigent clients at Florida’s Regional Conflict Counsel, Region 1, serves as a local pastor and is a member of the George E. Weems Memorial Hospital’s board of directors.