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David Longstaff: from gangsta to pastor

GRAYLING – Although David Longstaff, pastor for the Grayling Baptist Church, traveled a rough road to become the pastor he now is, his life started out with lots of love.

He came from a compassionate family. His older brothers were found abandoned as babies in a trash can in Turkey by his mother. His dad was in the Air Force. And David was adopted also. He also had two younger sisters.

After moving all over the world during his younger years, his family finally settled in the Keweenau Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when he was around 10 or 11 years old. It was here his spiritual journey began.

“Around 11, I did what a lot of kids do, I rebelled. Mom and Dad were good parents. I didn’t come from a broken family. Maybe I watched too many gangsta movies at the time,” says David.

“Mom and Dad weren’t too religious at the time. We were Catholic, but it was more like just a family tradition.

“I dived into that wannabe gangsta culture. Around 12, I started stealing cigarettes from my dad and smoking them. Then, it started gravitating toward drinking, drugs, stealing. I ended up in jail during my mid teens, just for misdemeanor things.”

It was when he landed in jail on high misdemeanor charges, including assault and battery, in his late teens, David started reevaluating his life. At the time he also developed Tourette Syndrome which cause ticks along with extreme anxiety and depression.

Soon the anxiety and depression took over his life. His mom took him to see many counselors and psychologists. David quickly learned to tell them what they wanted to hear. So, he never fully received treatment.

In the meantime, she started attending a local pentecostal church, which changed her life. She began sharing with David how it was possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not just attend church services. She convinced him to go talk to the pastor at this new church.

“Then, one night, I was up in my mom’s sewing room laying on the couch. I had been really seeking the Lord then. It was 3 a.m. and I suddenly woke up freaking out and hearing noises. It was scary. I just remember praying, ‘God, if this is from you, I receive it and if it’s not from you, I rebuke it.’”

Suddenly, David remembers seeing a bright flash of light hit his his chest. He screamed. What he screamed out was in a different language. Unrecognizable to him. While he had seen people speaking in tongues during a pentecostal church service, he had never experienced anything like this himself. After that experience, his life changed drastically.

Because of his trouble with the law earlier, he found getting a job difficult. Even when he did get employment, the jobs always felt so empty to him. He felt a need to do something more. During this period, he continually volunteered at the church, helping out with everything he could. As he shared what had changed him, he began getting requests to speak to youth groups. At one youth gathering he met his future wife, Jennifer, another youth leader.

“Jenny fulfilled an earthly need in my life. Christ fulfilled the spiritual need, but she fulfilled the earthly need. My life came together with Jenny. She helped me get my GED and a job.”

David says that the pentecostal church he had been attending started getting into the prosperity gospel. It made him feel uneasy. So, he and Jenny began searching for another church. Eventually they ended up with a Baptist group up in Houghton.

The pastor at this church became David’s friend and eventually his mentor. David had expected him to discount his conversion through a manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit, but he didn’t. Whenever this new pastor talked about anything spiritual, he always identified where in the Bible that belief came from. This made David feel more anchored in his faith.

David began studying the Scripture now and hungered for time reading it. He shared this with his pastor friend who opened up opportunities for him to preach. He preached at nursing homes, led bible studies inside the church and eventually preached on Sunday mornings.

Finally, he went off to Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky where he received his degree. From then on, he and Jenny traveled and began planting churches in various places. But as their family grew, Jenny felt the need to settle down in one place.

They returned to Michigan which David always felt was his home. For a while he pastored at the Alpine Baptist Church in Gaylord, but then a pastor’s position opened up at Grayling Baptist and he decided to take it.

“This church is just a good fit. We’ve been here a couple years now. When I started there, we probably had about 30 people. Now, we’re up 60 to 80 people on Sundays.

“We do a lot of mission work at Grayling. We’re very mission-oriented.”

Grayling Baptist Church is located at 705 Madsen St. Church service begins at 11 a.m. and is a blend of contemporary Christian music and hymns.

David says all are welcome to join them.

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