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Posted: May 14, 2009 11:30 p.m.

'For I was hungry'

Repairers of the Breach CEO shares the tasks of her ministry

Shirley Smith describes herself as a missionary and says she is on a journey — one that has kept her based in Covington while she ministers to others through song and prison ministry and as chief executive officer of Repairers of the Breach.  

“All of us can come together to love and help,” said Smith who began as a volunteer 20 years ago. “With the economy the way it is today, we better be helping one another.”

Daughter of the late C.T. and Maybell Strange, Smith accepted Christ at the early age of 6 and joined the First Baptist Church of Covington and later joined the Baptist Tabernacle. She attended Newton County High School and during her sophomore year she suffered a broken back from a car accident. Smith was told that she would have to learn to walk again. The doctor called her a miracle when she surprised everyone by walking the next day.

At 17, she married Charles Johnson and worked her way up the ranks at BellSouth. Smith served as manager of operations over more than 300 people until she retired in 1991. After her husband of 29 years died in an accident, she met Gene Smith with the Full Gospel Business Men’s Prison Ministry. They married in 1988.

Repairers of the Breach began in 1991 through the efforts of Richard and Julie Fairburn, H.E. and Pat Doyle, and Smith and her husband. Initially, the ministry focused on helping the families of those who were incarcerated. Today, the organization serves people in Newton, Rockdale and Butts counties. They are asked to complete an application, references are checked and needs are met ranging from furniture, food and clothing, and when funds are available, consideration is given for rent and utilities. Funding comes from the sales at the foundation’s thrift center and from individuals who support the ministry. Smith acknowledged Rob Fowler and Charlie Tuller for their generous support in providing the facility on Washington Street at a low price and for all the times they have helped with needs.

Two homes were donated to Repairers of the Breach to serve as homeless shelters. Presently, both are occupied by families such as a single mother and her four children. The occupants are required to attend church and have a curfew. They are required to look for a job in the mornings and are asked to volunteer at the Repairers of the Breach several hours per week. Occupants of the homes assume the responsibility of paying the electric bill beginning the second month. After the four to six month stay, families are better prepared to contribute society.

Smith never misses an opportunity to tell others about her faith. Each morning, her staff gathers for a Bible study before they open the doors of the thrift center.

Throughout November, applications are taken for those needing assistance at Christmas. Between 300 and 400 children are given gifts each year. A special shopping night is offered to the parents who qualify and they come in and select anything they want free of charge. Smith said she is careful to check other organizations’ list of families to prevent anyone from abusing community resources.

“I feel that God is truly using me,” said Smith as she quoted Matthew 25:35-37. “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”

Smith’s vision for the future includes expanding the facility and acquiring a farm where needy families could live off the land.

She and her team of certified volunteers continue to visit Bostick State Prison, Men’s State Prison and Baldwin State Prison on a regular basis.

“They know me by name,” said Smith. “It makes me feel good to know that God has placed me there for a reason to tell those men about him. The men cry and ask me to pray for them.”

Smith encourages the community to get involved. The need is great for volunteers and financial support.  For more information, call (770) 787-7250.

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