In 1998, when he was a student at Southwestern Adventist University, Ryan Long, today the senior pastor of the 500-member Burleson Seventh-day Adventist Church, was beginning a year-long student missionary teaching assignment to Chuuk, expecting to teach science at the Adventist academy, the denomination’s terminology for secondary school.
Chuuk, one of the islands of the Federated States of Micronesia, was known as Truk Lagoon during World War II when it was the site of a major Japanese naval base.
“I arrived at the academy and discovered another student missionary also signed up for science and only one could get the assignment,” said Long, initially a pre-med major.
The high school principal didn’t have anyone to teach Bible classes and asked the other student if he would teach it. He refused.
Long volunteered to teach freshman-senior Bible classes and was allowed to teach chemistry.
“That’s how the Lord started me on this journey,” Long said. “As I taught the lessons, with all those classes, it felt like I was preaching three or four sermons a day. It was such a blessing.”
Many of the Chuuk students did not have a Christian background or an understanding of salvation, Long said.
“It was so cool to see their eyes light up and the expression on their faces when they came to an understanding of salvation,” he said.
Confident that he was going to change majors and career paths, Long phoned his fiance, Maria, who was also a student missionary and had been assigned to a school on Yap, also located in the Federated States of Micronesia, where she taught sixth- and seventh-grade.
The couple had met at a summer camp as grade school students, and liked each other, but she lived in Houston and Long in the Metroplex, so the friendship didn’t grow until they were reunited at Southwestern.
“We’d see each other at various campus events but each was dating someone else,” Long said. “We ended up at the same freshman study area, started talking and eventually started dating. Our relationship continued all through college.”
Ready to break the news that he wanted to be a pastor, Long, on Chuuk, phoned Maria, on Yap.
“The phone system had a one- or two-second delay in transmission,” Long said. “Because the long distance rate was $1.50 per minute, we tried to keep our phone conversations short.”
In that conversation, Long told Maria he had something to tell her. Maria, a communications major at the time, said she had something to tell him but for him to go first.
“I said, ‘OK, I decided that God is leading me to be a pastor,’” Long said.
Her reply was reassuring.
“I thought you were going to say that,” Maria said. “I’ve decided to switch to education.”
In high school at Valley Grande Adventist Academy in Weslaco, Maria was voted most likely to marry a pastor, Long bragged, but back then she didn't want to, he said. That's what he says makes her a great pastor's wife.
They graduated in May 2001 and married two months later. They now have one son, 11-month-old Noah.
From 2001-04 Long pastored the Conway, Clinton and Searcy Adventist churches in Arkansas, rotating between them on a weekly basis, but sometimes driving 50-60 miles to preach twice on the same day.
Not only did Long drive long distances, he ran them, too.
He completed some half-marathons and the Little Rock, Ark., Marathon twice and was training for the White Rock Half Marathon (now called the Dallas Half Marathon) when he was brought to a stop by Plantar Fasciitis. He is currently restricted to low-impact activity until the Plantar Fasciitis heals.
Long’s focus and hobby is being a husband to Maria and dad to Noah, named for the Biblical Noah because Maria likes animals and because Ryan liked that in the New Testament, Noah is called the “preacher of righteousness.”
“I thought, ‘yeah, my son is going to be a preacher of righteousness by faith,’” Ryan said. “I don’t know that he’ll be a pastor, but I like the name.”
Long’s mission service in Chuuk was an extension of mission trips he participated in during high school, and now all those mission experiences are culminating in his goal to meet the mission statement of the Burleson Adventist Church.
“Our mission is finishing the ministry of Christ through love and action,” Long said.
It’s a natural that BAC would undertake Project Impact to satisfy the mission statement,” Long said.
Project Impact is a two- or three-day service project during which BAC members volunteer to improve the environment in Burleson, either through trash pick-up, fix-up projects at the home of disadvantaged or elderly persons or projects asked of them by the city.
In March 2012, more than 90 BAC volunteers completed five service projects.
“We look for ways that are outwardly focused instead of inwardly focused,” Long said.
Project Impact is one of many BAC efforts that was started by the Focused Vision Team, a group of members who look at opportunities for ministry and witness from a different perspective.
For example, BAC does not conduct Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Instead, Bible study is conducted in the homes of numerous church members.
“We wanted to find a venue where church members could find a place to study scripture without coming to the church, which can be threatening,” Long said.
“Prayer meeting at many churches is a good thing, but for us, we’re finding it works better in a less threatening environment to get more people involved in the study of God’s Word.”
The Focused Vision Team is also the stimulus behind the Green Room, a once-a-month ministry for high school students. The vision team also developed a small group ministry and is revamping the church’s website.
Project Impact isn’t designed to take the place of mission trips. It’s an alternative to mission trips and an opportunity to get involved, Long said.
Missions, outreach and mission service has always been in Long’s heart since his first mission trip as a high school student.
“I remember my first mission trip,” he said. “I’ve always loved missions and am a huge believer in short-term mission trips lasting about a week to 10 days."
Long has participated on short-term trips to Mexico, El Salvador, Chili, and the year in Chuuk, he said.
Although the BAC isn’t planning a mission trip, church members organize trips.
“We have a lady who goes to Africa every year and there are others who annually visit the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico during spring break,” Long said.
While a church mission trip hasn’t been pulled together yet, Project Impact has pulled together the church, Long said.
“It’s a great growth experience for a church family,” he said. “Whether it’s a church camp out or a short-term mission trip, whenever the church family gets away by themselves, to spend time together and grow in relationships, it can be priceless in terms of service and fellowship.
Average attendance at BAC is 300 for the 11 a.m. service Saturday.
“A big part of why we’re doing what we’re doing is because we realize we need to take care of ourselves as a church and to minister to the needs of our congregation,” Long said.
BAC doesn’t want to be only self-serving in ministry, Long said. It realizes it’s possible to be selfish even when it comes to service and ministry, Long said.
“The whole idea of the body of Christ that Paul presents in 1 Corinthians 12 is about different parts of the body being active,” Long said. “Every part is valuable. The hand can’t say to the foot, ‘I don’t’ need you.’ The foot shouldn’t think its any less a part of the body because it’s a foot.
“That illustration of the body tells me that if all we did as individuals and a church was to take care of our personal needs, we really wouldn’t be fulfilling the purpose God has for us in the world. As a body of Christ, we just can’t take care of ourselves. God has us in Burleson for a reason and that’s to reach Burleson with His love.”