Christian Social Ministry thrift stores and food pantry are one of the best kept secrets in Bulloch County. The ministry was started in 1998 by the Ogeechee River Baptist Association to provide utility bill assistance. While the ministry remains a division of the Association, it has expanded services to include food distribution and clothing assistance.
Christian Social Ministry is led by John Long, who many know as the "Cowboy Preacher," because he looks more like a cowboy than a preacher. He is easy to spot in a crowd with his signature cowboy hat, cowboy boots, blue jeans and work shirt. Long is a no-nonsense Christian, who has a passion to make a difference in every life he touches.
The thrift shop and food pantry idea was born out of an Ogeechee River Baptist meeting in 2009. The focus of that meeting was encouraging the Christian community to step up and come together in helping to meet hunger needs and other concerns of the "least of these."
Long was pastoring Son's Light Church at the time and that message really resonated with him. It also touched Pastor Tom Osborn, who was the lead pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and an officer in Baptist Association at that time.
Together, Osborn and Long partnered their churches with the support of Association and opened the ministry's first thrift shop in Son's Light Church on Highway 301 South. The church also was the original location of the Hearts and Hands health clinic, which Long played a major role in establishing.
The idea was to use proceeds from the thrift store to purchase food to distribute and to generate more funds for utility assistance. Pastor Long connected with this ministry and the people it was touching - so much so, he said he believed his calling was to leave the ministry as a full-time pastor of a church and instead focus full-time on the Christian Social Ministry Thrift Store and food pantry ministry.
In 2015, Long moved the Thrift Store and food pantry to 122 East Parrish Street into buildings owned by brother's Danny and Tommy Hagan, behind their business Logan Hagan Welding Supply. Thes brothers were God-sent to Christian Social Ministry and continue to support thie ministry and its growth in wonderful ways.
Earlier this year, Christian Social Ministry opened a second location for the thrift store in College Plaza near Ollie's Bargain Outlet. The food pantry and utility assistance will continue to be housed in the East Parrish Street location. Pastor Long plans to direct all of the proceeds from the College Plaza store to increase funding for utility assistance.
Pastor Long was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri as one of six kids of a Baptist preacher. He said he received the call at the age of 19 to the ministry but ran from it for decades. He thought he had found success on the rodeo circuit taming bulls and in business as an executive for Empire Gas.
After Empire was sold, he headed to Statesboro to be closer to his brother Bill Long.
Bill is the owner of Statesboro Aircraft Maintenance and a longtime resident of Statesboro. It was while attending church at Fletcher Baptist that John Long met his wife Angela and finally answered the call to the full-time ministry.
His first church was Pine Grove Baptist before leading the church plant for Son's Light Baptist Church in the former Biltmore Motor Lodge. Only Pastor Long could reshape this "mafia" motel with a colorful and legendary past into a church that would make a powerful impact on our community.
"All of my life I was trying to fill a void," Pastor Long said. "I kept running from the call to be in the ministry. I was focusing on things that were not in God's plan for me. I thought answering the call to pastor a church would fill this void. There is nothing about me that shout's pastor. I tried to change my persona and personality, only to finally accept that God made me this way for a reason."
That reason was to lead an unconventional ministry, not from a pulpit, but from the street. He ministers by example and by his commitment and conviction to change the face of our community one life at a time.
According to statistics from www.feedingamerica.org, Bulloch County leads the state in "Food Insecure" citizens. In fact, 15,670 citizens in our county struggle with food insecurity daily and 21.6 percent of our population struggle with hunger every day. This is a statistic that keeps Pastor Long awake at night.
Expanding the ministry
Even though Christian Social Ministry is distributing more food every month than all of the other food banks combined, with no substantial or consistent financial support from our community, there is much more to do. Pastor Long has a plan to bridge the gap, but needs support in the form of contributions of time, talents and money.
"Everything we have is God's," Long said. "Some of us struggle to understand this. We are all made uniquely by God and every child of God is equal in his eyes. It is not for me to judge an individual's needs or walk with God. But it is our responsibility to make the path lighter and to give hope to the hopeless and connect resources to give good people a hand up, like God does for so many of us every day."
I believe people get caught up in our community in a self-serving fear that keeps us from meeting people's needs because we choose to focus on the individuals who "beat the system." Pastor Long looks at this a little differently.
"A bag of food that can feed a family for a week costs us a little less than $5," he said. "If someone wants to take a bag of food from us that they do not deserve, then I know they obviously do not have a personal relationship with God. Every week, then we have an opportunity to share God's love with that individual. If 10 people do that every week, then I have invested $50 in a future salvation. However, every one of the other families we helped that week are so appreciative and responsive to this gift."
I have never been in a bar fight, but I have led our communities' response now for two Hurricanes. John Long is definitely the man I want with me if I ever was in a bar fight and most definitely helping with every hurricane recovery. When other's in the community challenged our access to food, Pastor Long doubled down on finding ways to help. Instead of throwing up obstacles to allow us food for our community, he put his feet on the ground and found a way.
Pastor Long has a call, a vision and a commitment to make a difference. He has been there for us as an entire community twice now in Matthew and Irma. It is our turn to step up for him.
Entering into the holidays is a demanding time for this ministry. They could use donations of clothing and household items to sell in their thrift stores, monetary donations and volunteer assistance is always much needed.
Bulloch County Commissioner's Chairman Roy Thompson and his wife Deborah are big supporters of Christian Social Ministry. In fact, the ministry receives 50 to 60 tons of food that is donated by people who visit the Thompson's TMT Farms Christmas display each year. This gives the ministry enough food to feed our community through July of every year.
Chris Yaughn with Fostering Bulloch and Mighty Man Ministries along with David Cobb of Broken Shackle Ranch are also key supporters of Christian Social Ministry.
"Not since our partnership with Broken Shackle Ranch have we found another ministry that is so focused on helping others that is not interested in recognition than John Long and CSM," Yaughn said. "He deserves this community's support in every way we can help him and his mission. I assure you, he will give you the same back tenfold if you ever have a need he can help you with."
Learn more about the ministry by following them on Facebook @csmstatesboro. If you want to support the ministry in any way contact Pastor Long at (912) 512-0107.