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Humanitarian of the Year: Pastor Shawn Critser is awarded for his work in the community

July 3, 2019
By LEAH SANKEY (lsankey@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Pastor Shawn Critser is unlike any other pastor in looks and attitude alike. If you tell him that, he takes it as a compliment. Critser has a full sleeve of tattoos and an "accept everyone" mentality. He redefines what we visualize as a conventional pastor, especially a Baptist pastor, and he is a humanitarian in the truest sense of the word.

"A lot of people think we have weird church music" said Critser. "We sing The Beatles, we sing Zeppelin. We're not your typical Baptist church."

Critser doesn't push religion on anyone and said that he thinks the "church people" who do that probably aren't religious for the right reasons. He prefers to help the community in any way he can and if they decide to come to a church service, that's great.

Article Photos

Pastor Shawn Critser with his award.

PHOTO BY LEAH SANKEY

Critser and his wife traveled and sang gospel music at various churches. That's what first brought them to Beach Baptist Church on Fort Myers Beach in the early 2000's. They came back a second time and loved how vibrant the church was. Critser had a feeling that he was being called to Fort Myers Beach, to live and possibly work at the church. The Critsers' home base at the time was in Kentucky.

"Me and my wife had a running joke about how I felt like I was being called to Florida. Sherri would roll her eyes and say, 'Of course God is calling you back to Florida, it's January in Kentucky,'" said Critser.

The Critsers sold their house in Kentucky and moved to Fort Myers Beach on a bus in June of 2004.

"I called the church two days before I came, and I was like 'Hey God's calling me down to do some stuff, I don't exactly know what it is, but can I park my bus in the parking lot?'"

For the first few months on the beach, that's where the Critsers lived.

Critser never aspired to be a pastor. According to him, becoming a pastor at Beach Baptist happened as a result of wanting to bring the community together and an urge to move the church in a more philanthropic direction.

What really launched Critser into helping the community was the aftermath of Hurricane Charley. He contacted disaster relief missionaries from Kentucky and Tennessee in an attempt to help as many people as possible.

"We fed 7,500 meals a day and we were central for Red Cross. That lasted for about two to three weeks. Then, we sort of just helped put the island back together," said Critser. "That was my first experience where I realized that this is what the church ought to be doing, more than any of that other stuff."

Post Hurricane Irma, the church and community volunteers fed about 400 people a meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner for an entire week.

"The most fun night after Irma was Thursday night Shark Bar called us up and said they were losing a lot of seafood and asked if we could cook it. They gave us 1,100 pounds of seafood," said Critser. "We had lobster, crab, shrimp and fish for post-hurricane relief. That night, I think it was like 600 people."

Critser spearheaded an after-school program, where he and other members help the kids finish their homework so that they can go home and spend quality time with their family.

"If a parent gets off at about 5 or 6, they're only able to spend an hour of quality time with their child. This time shouldn't be spent doing homework, because the kid definitely doesn't consider that to be quality time," said Critser.

On Wednesday night, they have family fellowship nights where families can come and eat at the church for free at 5:30 p.m. Critser said that although they do have Wednesday night church services, the family meals aren't tied to religious activities in any way.

"Of course, they're invited to the service if they want to come, but if they want to get on home then get on home," said Critser.

Critser was inspired to open up the weekly food market at the church after seeing parents in the grocery store on numerous occasions who were unable to pay for the food their children wanted.

The food market has now been running successfully for nine years, and people are able to pick out what they want, free of charge. At this food market, they have fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, cereal, frozen meats, bread, etc. The food market is every Thursday at the orange building behind the church, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. They partner with Harry Chapin Food Bank and Midwest, and they also receive food overages from Publix.

Critser said that through this food market, they've fed approximately 1,000 mouths monthly.

Critser said they put more emphasis on coffee than they do Sunday and Wednesday services. Critser teamed up with the nonprofit Phoenix Community Coffee in 2012. Phoenix Community Coffee connects a network of nonprofits and individuals to sell coffee in the U.S. to help impoverished communities in Central America.

The bags of coffee sold at Son Coast Coffee, located inside the church, benefits impoverished regions in Guatemala. Son Coast Coffee helps the local economy in Guatemala by paying the coffee growers fair wages, by building houses, and by sending children to school.

Critser reminisced about the first year that he and other volunteers had gone to Guatemala to build a house. He said that he realized there were a group of Guatemalan men glaring at them while they were laying tile, he initially didn't know why that was.

"I had just read the book 'When Helping Hurts' and realized that we had rode in like the great white hope. When we did that, we put those eight guys that were glaring at us out of work. So, they watched as a group of white people worked for free, and they didn't get paid either," said Critser. "That was the last time we ever did labor that was taking money out of their pockets. Now, when our volunteers go, they bring cash and will just help however necessary."

When volunteers go to Guatemala to build houses, they employ local Guatemalan construction workers, thus helping the economy.

Through Son Coast Coffee, they've sent 23 children to school, and that financially covers them to go through k-12. They have two Guatemalan students that have gone on to higher education.

"I knew in my heart that if any church only focuses on Sundays and Wednesdays, they're screwing up," said Critser about his primary focus being on helping people.

 
 

 

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