By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — The eternal perspective that is inherent in the Christian faith has long been a part of life for Gerard Long, executive director in America for the worldwide outreach Alpha.
But since a repeat tragedy befell Long and his wife Jeannie earlier this year, that focus on the long-range picture is what has brought them through an initial incomprehensible level of agony, followed by ongoing grief.
But also with the kind of joy that the world will never understand.
“I’ve got joy in my heart now, even though my heart as a dad is broken,” Long told about 240 attenders Nov. 7 at a promotional dinner for Alpha at Trinity Fellowship church in Portland.
His appearance comes only six months after losing a grown child for the second time in less than a decade. Their oldest daughter, Rebecca, 32, accidentally drowned in the same park near Chicago, Ill., where their youngest son was found dead from suicide at age 17 in 2005.
“Obviously, we are going again through another period of brokenness,” said Long. “The pit we’ve been in is very deep, but we met God there.”
Long said his wife abandoned her faith for about two years after their son’s death, but eventually found comfort in God’s loving embrace, and that she hasn’t let go of the Lord this time.
Instead, she confronted God — right in Rebecca’s bedroom. Had it out with Him. Challenged Him over this renewed horrendous pain and loss that made no sense whatsover.
The result, he said, was a visitation by her Creator that left her with an awareness of His love and majesty and gave her new motivation to press on.
“God’s presence came into that room for Jeannie,” said Long, the awe evident in his voice.
Yet there is still the grief they must walk through.
“We still weep,” he said. “We desperately miss Rebecca,” but added that he and Jeannie firmly believe that they will see both of their children again one day.
Kirk Peterson, Alpha USA Northwest regional director, announced at the dinner that Long has resigned his post effective the end of this month. Long’s decision, though, does not reflect any diminished belief on his part in the importance and effectiveness of the Alpha course.
“What is Alpha all about? Saving souls for eternity,” said Long.
Alpha is a series of interactive sessions that freely explore the basics of the Christian faith in a friendly and honest enviroment, supported by multidenominational churches in more than 169 nations. More than 3 million people have been on Alpha in the U.S., and more than 24 million have participated worldwide.
Long said Alpha effectively shares Christ by letting people ask the basic questions of life: “When you love God, and have the Holy Spirit in your heart, you love people. We just want to love on people. And when you love on people, you listen to them.”
For more information, go to www.alphausa.org.
By JOHN FORTMEYER