Faith, recovery and sharing a way of life for Norwich man
This is the first in a special Day series about how southeastern Connecticut residents are moved by their faith to give back to their communities in unique ways.
Groton — Frankie Novajovsky stands before an assembly of struggling souls on Friday nights in Groton and ministers to them with the hope they will move further away from addiction and closer to God.
The 52-year-old Norwich resident heads up the local chapter of Reformers Unanimous, a faith-based recovery program based at the Stedfast Baptist Church. This year, he also has been involved in a community effort to help those addicted to opioids by attending vigils and offering help and prayer.
A husband, father and grandfather who works as a pipe designer at Electric Boat in New London, Novajovsky says he is living the faith that lifted him 20 years ago when he’d sunken into a lifestyle centered around drugs, alcohol and witchcraft.
“I believe Jesus Christ did work in me, so I want to give back,” he said during an interview in early December. “By serving them, it’s a way of serving the God that changed my life.”
He hasn’t always been this upright and energetic man who wears a trim haircut and button down shirt and passes up coffee before the Friday night meeting because it might put his energy level over the top. A lifelong music lover, he grew his hair long, played the drums and went into dark places through the heavy metal he worshipped.
Novajovsky said he was at proverbial rock bottom, wearing torn clothing and taped-together eyeglasses when he went to the Groton church one day at his sister’s urging. She had gone out to California and had come back “a Jesus freak,” he said. He gave it a try.
“Instead of reaching out to an AA or NA, I went to see my sister sing at church. I said, ‘This might be the route I need to take.’ That was in 1997,” he recalled. “The direction of going to the faith-based was what really sold it to me. We focus on the physical. We focus on the mental. But there’s not much focus on the spiritual.”
Novajovsky said he found the truth that freed him from the bondage of addiction.
Reformers Unanimous, started in Illinois in 1996 as a Bible study group by a man who had a 10-year cocaine addiction, boasts 1,000 chapters across the country and welcomes people who are struggling with life problems, those addicted to drugs, alcohol, food and pornography. Even those who suffer from bitterness are welcome, regardless of religious affiliation.
Novajovsky said that for people who adhere to the program, collecting pins and badges after participating at meetings and completing their increasingly challenging assignments, there is an 82 percent success rate.
‘Your story is my story’
At the Friday meeting in December, Novajovsky stood at a lectern in a conference room of the North Road church, welcomed the dozen people who had assembled and launched into the prayer and testimony portion of the meeting. He said it had been a rough week, but went from a valley to a peak after he got a phone call and “God put me in the way of what I needed.”
The group members prayed for people they know who are struggling, then broke up into small groups, men with men, women with women, to go over their program workbooks and discuss what was in their hearts and minds.
When the others went into their small group gatherings, Novajovsky took extra time with a new member, giving the man his cellphone number, telling his own story and explaining how the program works.
“I feel very comfortable right now,” the man told him. “Your story is my story, except for the witchcraft.”
They came back together for more prayer and reflection and ended the night with fellowship time, where they socialized over light snacks.
One of the members, 56-year-old Edgar “EJ” Mattos of Griswold, said he had “been saved” — become a Christian — in 1986, but that he continued to struggle with a drinking problem. His wife had grown up in Norwich with Novajovsky and they all met one day at a coffee shop. They got to talking, Mattos said, and Novajovsky turned out to be “truly inspirational.”
“He knows the Lord so much,” Mattos said. “He knew the direction I needed to go. He would call me if I missed a meeting. It’s truly a miracle. In all the time I’ve known him, he never made himself look better, made anyone feel less. He’s never given up on anybody.”
Matt Higgins, a new member, said he recently spoke with Novajovsky and the church pastor about spiritual issues and then took the issues to the Reformers Unanimous meeting and “opened it up to the room.”
“It was very nice to talk to someone with his clarity and his spirituality,” said Higgins, who moved to the area after undergoing rehabilitation for alcohol. “Knowing he had major problems helps you to know you won’t be judged.”
Novajovsky’s wife of 17 years was with him when he went to church for the first time and is with him for the Friday night meetings. Jennifer Novajovsky said she was married previously to a drug addict who died from drinking and driving. She wanted “out of that scene,” and as she got to know Novajovsky, whom she met when they both attended the Ridley-Lowell Business & Technical Institute in New London, she realized they wanted the same thing.
“Through church and biblical behavior, we changed our lives,” she said. “Now we have a blessed life and he wants that for others.”