John Long, who runs Statesboro’s Christian Social Ministries, doesn’t think of himself as a hero. Despite having raised three children on his own, raising awareness and funds for law enforcement and following a call to ministry, he still feels he’s just doing what he can to serve God and his community — and says that doesn’t make him any different than the next guy.
But his wife of 20 years, Angie, sees things a bit differently. She nominated him as this issue’s Everyday Hero, citing the countless hours he spends at CSM helping those in need, and his love for and support of law enforcement officers.
Long first felt the call to ministry when he was about 20 years old, but he fought it. His father had been a “hillbilly preacher” in his native Ozarks of Missouri, but Long says he just didn’t want to be in that position.
“I’m not real good at sugarcoating things and smoothing things over. I just didn’t feel like I had the right makeup,” he said. “I ran and rebelled from it for about 25 years in various and different ways. I just didn’t want any part of it.”
A visit to his brother, who lived in Statesboro, brought Long to the area, where he fell in love with the climate. He moved to Statesboro in 2000, and within the first 30 days, he met Angie, and they were married a year later. Long says he knew at that time that God had something for him to do.
“I had never really turned my life over to the Lord until about 2005. I thought he wanted me to be a preacher, and I didn’t want any part of being a preacher,” he said. “Little did I know that he would just use that as a catalyst to get me to where he wants me to be.”
Despite his feelings about the pulpit, Long says he tried to pastor a church, The Son’s Light Fellowship Baptist Church. He told the church what he felt in his heart — that God wanted them to minister to people.
“He wants us to provide clothing, he wants us to provide food, and he wants us to provide healthcare,” he said, recalling what the chairman of the deacons at his church said at that time. “He said, ‘Bless his heart, he’s so ambitious I hate to see him fail.’ But it’s honestly the way I felt. And my wife thought I was crazier than a bedbug.”
Long became involved with the Hearts and Hands Clinic, which was at the time seeking a place to house its operation. Long led the way for his church to offer up that space, and once the ministry outgrew that space, they helped Hearts and Hands move to their current location on North College Street.
Long said it was around that time that he realized that despite having been ordained and having served as a pastor, he knew that wasn’t where God wanted him.
“There was more, something different, in another field of ministry is where he wanted me,” he said.
Long became involved with Christian Social Ministries, which had been operating since 1998. He saw that ministry growing and evolving to better serve the community, and knew that was the place for him, so he resigned as pastor.
CSM continued to grow, and soon needed a new home, and Long had felt for some time that God was leading him to move the ministry.
“I felt like for two or three years that God had been leading me to move Christian Social Ministries into town. And then he just made it to the point where I had to. And it was the best thing that ever happened to us,” he said.
These days, the thrift store is located on Parrish Street, while the food pantry and utilities ministry is located on Zetterower Street.
“It’s just been phenomenal how this ministry has grown since that point in time,” he said.
Even COVID hasn’t slowed things down.
“Little did we know that it was going to be the blessing that it has been. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true. Because, with the way we now distribute food, we’re still having a degree of personal contact with folks,” he said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to us, because we’re just continuing to grow and grow, and the support from the community is growing, sales at the store are fantastic. It just amazes me how God took something as awful and as disturbing as COVID-19 and turned it round to being such a blessing for us here.”
Long said future plans for CSM include a 22-foot gooseneck trailer that will be converted into a mobile kitchen for use during natural disaster response, the addition of a hair salon for the elderly and those seeking assistance with job placement, and the acquisition of a mobile shower and laundry.
“We never stop finding new ways to help people. That never stops,” he said.
Walking the blue line
Almost as great as his love for serving others is Long’s love for and support of law enforcement officers.
He began training a few years ago with a young man who bet him that they could walk across the county.
“That fired my thoughts, and I thought I want to do that. But I want to do it for something worthwhile,” he said.
Long says that attacks on law enforcement officers were at a peak at that time, and he researched it and found that May 15, 1961 had been proclaimed by President Kennedy as Law Enforcement Memorial Day. He decided to honor fallen LEOs and their families by walking, while carrying the blue line flag, from the Jenkins County line to the Bryan County line, all the way across Bulloch County.
The first year he made the attempt, he says he had prepared physically, but hadn’t hydrated enough. After 23 miles, he dropped and was hospitalized due to dehydration. But he went back two weeks later and finished the walk.
The next year, he was more prepared, and he made the 50-mile walk in about 14.5 hours. But part of the walk was on two-lane highway, and he was concerned that the congestion he was causing would cause an accident. He realized that the route needed to change to make it safer, yet still visible.
So he decided to walk the bypass. He now leaves Connection Church, walks two laps around the bypass, and returns to the church, which makes his route just over 50 miles.
Long says he walks 50 miles for the fallen 5-0, and this year marks his third year doing it. The funds that he raises through sponsorships and donations all goes to the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire, Statesboro Police Officers Foundation, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, Peace Officers Association of Georgia, Bulloch County Sheriff Explorer and Georgia Police K9 Foundation.
Long has searched for other events such as his, and so far, he’s found that his is the only event of its kind.
“It’s the least I can do to make a statement. That’s the whole thing, make a statement that is loud and clear. These men and women, they need to hear it. They need to know. These guys are beat up,” he said. “Law enforcement is one of the most disrespected professions out there right now. All you hear is how law enforcement is treating people so bad. Our law enforcement has a job they have to do, and thank God they’re there to do it.”
Making an impact
Long will acknowledge that his efforts have produced a lot of good fruit — but he is quick to say that it’s not just because of his work. He acknowledges the volunteers who work faithfully at CSM every day, saying that the ministry is built on their love and sacrifice.
As for his own success, Long says that the only way he will succeed at anything he does is if he “runs to the cross every day.”
“I have to keep him first and foremost,” he said. “In order to have an impact, I have to continually seek his face.”
Long says he really doesn’t seek out or want any sort of credit for the work he’s done.
“To be honest, I don’t really care for acknowledgement. What I’m doing is what God called me to do. He called me to do this 40 years ago. I didn’t know it. Instead of pursuing it, I ran from it. He’s the one that provides, he’s the one that makes it happen,” he said.
Long is taking notes, and hopes to write a book when he retires. He plans to fill it with the events of his life and ministry, as well as the miracles he’s seen.
“I have seen miracles take place. I’m not talking about a guy in a wheelchair being able to get up and do flips,” he said. “We’re in the miracle business here. So many people who come here are desperate. When they come here, and we’re able to assist them, it’s an absolute miracle.”
As for being an everyday hero, Long says the real heroes are the people of Bulloch County who give of their time and money, so that agencies like CSM can do what they do.
“Bulloch County is full of heroes. People here know how to give,” he said. “This county turns out. This county, it gives. Man it gives. People in this county really give. It’s just phenomenal what they do. It goes way beyond just these agencies or ministries, it’s the people outside there who are just so willing to give, so places like us can give and do. It just blows me away.”