Long, Robert Charles
Charles Robert Long was born in Toronto, Canada on June 16, 1928, the oldest of four children. His father had been trained in the Salvation army as an officer but had later joined the Baptist church. He was a lay pastor for a long time in Kirkland, northern Ontario.
As Charles grew up, his father would take time each evening to read the Bible to the family,asking them questions and teaching them. Through this the family, especially Charles grew up with a strong foundation of Bible knowledge. At about the age of six Charles heard of the death of John and Betty Stane who were martyred during the Chinese Boxer rebellion in 1934. As they walked home from church with his father he announced that he wanted to be a missionary when he grew up. His father commended him, but told him that first he must know the Lord Jesus as his Lord and Saviour if he was to tell others about him. That day, at the tender age of six, Charles gave his life to Jesus.
God’s call to the ministry, first heard at the age of six, was reinforced during his mid-teens as he was encouraged to teach in Sunday school and to be involved in prayer meetings at his church. He left high school after grade two so did not take the school leaving certificate. However, in 1946, he was accepted at Toronto Bible College on passing an entrance exam. In 1950 he graduated with a diploma. Later in 1963-64, he was able to upgrade this to a bachelor’s, also at Toronto Bible School.
Soon after his diploma he applied to and was accepted by what was then the South African General Mission for service in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Before he left for Nyasaland he spent two summers working with the Shantymen’s Christian Association in some of the remote parts of Ontario and then in Alberta.
He arrived at Chididi, in Nsanje in 1951. Along with learning chichewa, Charles’ responsibilities included being dormitory master for the boys boarding at Chididi primary school. He also taught in the school regularly.
He spent a considerable amount of time visiting the villages and inspecting local schools, doing evangelism and holding short Bible courses. He also preached at the Chididi church and regularly attended the bwalo, a monthly meeting of pastors, elders and missionary men. While in Nyasaland he met Mary Knight of Nyasa Mission whom he later married.
After returning from furlough in September 1957, the Longs were assigned to begin a three-year revolving Bible school course. A house, a dormitory, a classroom and an office block had been built by Rev. Arthur Brown who had a vision of training local men to be pastors and evangelists.
Reverend Long’s first task was to teach the proposed three-year curriculum which was designed so that students were taught together but new students could join at the beginning of each year without disturbing the program. The subjects included Bible Survey,–a detailed study of certain books of the Bible,–Bible history, church history, doctrine, pastoral theology, as well as the life of Christ and other supporting subjects. The second task was to identify and recruit students,–which was no mean task. Slowly interested students began to trickle in. These were mostly former teachers and a few who had left school to seek training as teachers or other employment. There was even one severely crippled man who had never been to school but had learned to read and write, a blind student and a few women who later realized that the program was not particularly suited to them and later dropped out. A good number of ardent students stayed. Classes began at seven o’clock and went on until noon. After a midday break there were practical assignments of either work or ministry. During term breaks the students would go in groups to do evangelism and Bible teaching in certain areas including remote locations such as Misamvu which was about a 25-mile walk through rugged hills and open country. As supervisor, Long had to go with them.
Though not a trained teacher, Charles Long’s background knowledge of the Bible from childhood and his spiritual gifting made him such an excellent teacher that after one class on Ezra-Nehemiah his students asked him if he had been there when it happened. His descriptions were so detailed and realistic that his students,–many of whom had had minimal education,–really thought they were eyewitness accounts.
The Bible School opened the eyes of many students. For example, after a Bible geography lesson one day, a student remarked, “Oh, I thought Egypt was up in heaven. Now I know it is a real place on earth.”
The first group of students graduated in 1960 to become the first pastors of the Africa Evangelical Church. At that graduation one student, Reuben Konyani Ngahapa, received an honorary certificate for his almost sixty years of service to the Lord and to the church in the Lower Shire area.
After three years it became increasingly clear that the location of the Bible school was not ideal. Apart from being located in the high hills and on the border with Mozambique, it seemed obvious that the Lower Shire area could not produce enough students over the years to make the school viable. As Charles and his wife Mary went on leave in 1962, the vision of moving the school was strengthening.
In 1964, this time under Rev. Barr, the school was moved to Blantyre and merged with other smaller pastoral centers run by the Zambezi Mission and the Nyasa Mission to form the Likhubula Bible Institute, now called Evangelical Bible College of Malawi, a haven to train pastors for evangelical churches in Malawi.
Rev. Charles Long did not come back to see his little Bible School blossom into a big interdenominational Bible College. He died in the 1980s at home in Canada of terminal cancer. His wife Mary Long came back to Malawi in 1991 and was amazed to see the fruits of their work. Their legacy lives on. To Mary’s surprise, almost after almost thirty years, elderly people at Chididi still remembered quite vividly the lessons she and Charles had taught in the Bible School.
Louis W. Ndekha
Mary Long, from the autobiography of her husband Charles Long. (Mary Long, Bonis Avenue, Scarlborough, Ontario, MT 3rd, Canada. [email protected])
Interview with Mary Long in the year 2001 during her visit to the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi.
Evangelical Bible College oral traditon.
This article, submitted in 2003, was written and researched by Louis W. Ndekha, DACB Liaison Coordinator, under the supervision of A. Folayan (missionary, Zambezi Mission), principal of Evangelical Bible College of Malawi, a DACB Participating Institution.