By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — Gerard Long is living proof that following Jesus is no guarantee of a trouble-free life. Because of unimaginable tragedies, Long has, in his words, wept “until I had no more tears left.”
But his deep faith, as well as a strong perspective on eternity, has helped him to “hang onto God’s promises,” and in doing so inspire others to find the same solid foundation in their lives.
That is why Portland-based ministry Open Arms International invited Long to be featured speaker at its annual Portland Good Friday Breakfast, which drew nearly 1,000 people to the Oregon Convention Center April 3 with the theme “Hope Changes Everything.”
Speaking openly about the struggles he, his wife and son have had in the loss of another son and a daughter in two separate incidents, Long nevertheless called the crowd to trust in a loving God who can turn tragedies into points of hope.
“I know God’s grace is enabling me to do what I do, and it can be the same for you,” Long said.
Originally from Great Britain, but now from Chicago, Long recently founded Awakening to God Ministries after stepping down Dec. 31 from the U.S. directorshp of the Alpha program.
A series of interactive sessions that freely explore the basics of the Christian faith in a relaxed setting, Alpha is supported by multidenominational churches in more than 169 nations. According to Long, a quarter-milion people last year alone came to faith in Christ through Alpha.
It has only been about a year since Long and his wife lost a grown child for the second time in less than a decade. Daughter Rebecca, 32, accidentally drowned in the same park near Chicago where their youngest son, Alex, was found dead from suicide at age 17 in 2005. In the intervening years, Long also lost both a sister and brother.
Whereas the shock and horror of their son’s death caused Long’s wife to lose her faith for two years, God responded to her “grief upon grief” following Rebecca’s death in an unmistakable way, Long said.
“For just a moment, she caught a glimpse of God’s glory,” that immediately changed his wife’s countenance and has given her the strength to carry on, Long said.
As for himself, experiencing such loss has made him increasingly aware of the brevity of life and the eternal hope made possible through Christ.
“Scripture says this life is a vapor, this life is a breath. I started to see eternity, and that helped me in my brokenness.”
God can redeem pain and suffering for His glory, Long said. “He suffers with us … If you’re suffering this morning, I want you to know God feels your suffering.”
Long’s talk was prefaced with comments from Rachel Gallagher, co-founder with husband David of Open Arms International, which provides medical care, education and Christian outreach in Africa. The ministry started the annual breakfast event in Portland in 2007. For more information, go to openarmsinternational.org