Life Stories

Pastor boldly carried out his mission

June 6, 2011 

  • Born: July 11, 1935, in Charlotte

    Married: Elma Grace Davis in 1955

    College: Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, associated with The Christian and Missionary Alliance

    Work: Missionary in Vietnam, 1958-1974; pastor, North Ridge Alliance Church in North Raleigh, 1977-2003

    Author: "To Vietnam with Love: The Story of Charlie and E.G. Long," Christian Publications, 1995

    Children: Sons Nathan Long and Ed Long; daughters Susie Zeches and Joby Mitchell; 11 grandchildren

The Rev. Charlie Long's faith led him to - and through - tense situations.

As a missionary in Vietnam, he choked down duck-blood Rice Krispies treats, hunkered through Viet Cong attacks and battled dysentery and hepatitis.

Back in his native North Carolina, he bluntly shared the facts of married life with blushing brides-to-be and settled refugees from the jungles of Vietnam into a home in the American South.

Long, pastor of North Ridge Alliance Church in North Raleigh for nearly 30 years, died May 28 after a long illness. He was 75.

He lived his life with a mixture of faith and boldness, caring and energy that was a marvel to those who knew him.

"Charlie did everything full tilt," the Rev. Dan Seaman, North Ridge's youth pastor, said at Long's funeral. "From the moment he sensed something was the right thing to do, even if it was flat-out nuts, Charlie went for it."

Working with refugees

Long converted thousands of tribespeople to Christianity during 16 years in Vietnam. He also established a leprosy clinic and, in his most prized accomplishment, translated the New Testament into the Jarai language - a key step in starting independent Christian churches in far-flung lands.

Back in Raleigh, he wrote a memoir and led the resettlement of hundreds of refugees to the state - teaching them to drive and speak English as well as finding them temporary homes among members of his church.

Long was an athletic 6-foot-4 and ran regularly for most of his life. He woke up early every morning, often singing, said E.G. Long, his wife of 56 years.

That energy was not always directed to godly pursuits. He spent much of his youth on the streets of his West Charlotte neighborhood, and he told tales of drinking and street fights there.

"He said he was pretty wild," E.G. Long said from her home in Georgia, where they had recently moved in with their daughter.

But she hardly knew that man. A few days after they met, Charlie Long accepted Christ and devoted his life to spreading the Gospel.

In his memoir, Long describes feeling like a mountain had been lifted off his chest when he surrendered to Christ.

"I began to believe that what God had done for me, he could do for any poor sinner," Long wrote. "A passion grew in my heart to tell the world about it."

He gave up a scholarship to UNC Charlotte to attend missionary college in Georgia.

Persistent in love, too

In the meantime, he courted E.G. with his trademark persistence. She was interested, but not convinced.

"He told me he loved me the first night he met me," she said. "I told him, 'You'll getover that.'"

Instead, he hitchhiked to Charlotte to see her every month for two years until she agreed to marry him. The newlyweds prepared for a life as missionaries, a dream E.G. Long had held even before her husband.

When they were assigned to Vietnam in 1958, they had to look up the unfamiliar name in an atlas.

The people he was sent to evangelize were the Montagnard, French for "mountain people," a group of tribes who inhabited the country's remote central highlands.

He and E.G. stayed in Vietnam throughout the war, raising their four children amid the chaos and successfully establishing Christianity among the Jarai tribe of Montagnard. Long finished his translation there, typing out draft after draft in triplicate using carbon paper.

E.G. Long described her husband as a jack of all trades in Vietnam - a missionary, but also a construction supervisor, ambulance driver, military chaplain, nurse and counselor.

Wired to help

His hard-charging yet caring personality didn't change when he returned to North Carolina.

Son Ed Long said his dad pulled over to help at car accidents and kept a keen eye on swimmers at the beach.

"If someone needed help, he was the guy out there dragging them back to shore," said Ed Long, 50, of Raleigh. "He cared for people. He was just wired that way."

As a pastor, Charlie Long was known for the stories he told from the pulpit and elsewhere and for his seeming omnipresence. He kept close tabs on the church youth groups, trained young missionaries and showed up at the hospital unbidden when a member of his flock fell ill.

A hero to congregation

The Montagnard congregation that still worships in one of North Ridge's buildings now rivals North Ridge in size. Its members lined up at Long's funeral to sing the praises of the man they called "Oi," or grandfather.

Vien Siu, who first met Long in Vietnam, said Long was more than their spiritual leader.

"He was a real-life hero," Sui said.

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