Alpha USA Director Update on Death of Daughter

Long Family Update

16th July 2014

Dearest Family and Friends,

Jeannie and I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your love, support and prayers that are helping us in our suffering and grief over the death of our beautiful daughter Rebecca (and Alex). We know and have felt that you share the pain and grief of Rebecca’s death with us. We are so grateful that you have been reaching out to us and to Ben with such tenderness, kindness and generosity, and we are eternally thankful for your faithfulness in allowing God to love us so deeply through you. It’s your prayers (and fasting), your messages of love and your wonderful acts of kindness that give strength to our weary souls, encouraging us to keep going.

As many of you have told us, words are insufficient to describe the incredible loss of Rebecca but, we’ll try and share how we’re doing.

After eight and a half years of grieving Alex’s death, we are now utterly shocked that the unthinkable has actually happened again. At times the waves of grief, anger, bitterness and unbelief seem to be overwhelming. When we find ourselves sinking into despair, we often weep deeply and cry out to our Heavenly Father to help us. The Holy Spirit comforts us and very often we sense His touch coming through you.

We can hardly breathe we miss Rebecca so much. As so many of you have told us, she was such an amazing young woman. Jeannie and I felt privileged that Rebecca chose to live with us as we grieved the death of Alex. She gave us such love, joy and comfort as she was with us over the last ten years. We enjoyed the sweetness of her presence, her laughter, her beautiful face and smile, the joy of her friendship and the blessing of her kindness. Apart from each other, Rebecca was our best friend, our prayer and ministry partner and, most of all, our precious daughter. It seems strange and we struggle each day with her not being around. And, as she was in the prime of her life, we also mourn for what could have been.

Like us, many of you struggle with the question, ‘Why?’ We shared Rebecca’s excitement for the things ahead (as someone said, “it was Rebecca’s time to bloom”). She had so many hopes and aspirations in God, including a desire for thousands of young people to hear about Jesus through the new Alpha Youth Film Series (AYFS). She had more and more invitations to speak and recently, we started to minister together. Also, in spite of her hopes being dashed for the Olympic trials, she was starting to use her amazing running ability to raise money for charity, including the AYFS. After much prayer, there were plans in place and work to be done for God’s Kingdom and then, suddenly, she was snatched away from us in a tragic accident!

For us, our foundation and our anchor is Scripture, God’s written word. In it, we find God’s promises that help us to make some sense of tragedy and other things that take place in this world. One promise that gives us great hope and comfort is that this life is not the end of the story. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a wonderful hope that for those who have put their faith in Him, when they die, they are immediately taken to heaven. We are more alive there than we ever have been here. We are going to see Rebecca and Alex again, and we will be with them for eternity.1 However, we still struggle with the grief and pain of missing our loved ones and continue to honestly ask God, ‘Why?’

Scripture teaches that God never causes evil or tragedy, but He may permit it as part of His bigger eternal plan and purpose.2 As hard as it is to understand and accept, we believe this is what has happened in the bizarre and unnatural events, including the timing of each one, upon our family.3 If I may, I want to share this with you because you are part of the story.

Alex committed suicide, in evil circumstances, on November 8th 2005 and, only two months later, my sister died of cancer (she appeared to see Jesus just as she passed).4 After these deaths, it became so clear to me that we only have a very short life on earth relative to eternity. I became even more passionate, even desperate, for people to meet with Jesus Christ.5 Shortly after this, I took early retirement and started leading Alpha USA, which is all about saving souls for eternity/making disciples of Jesus Christ. In 2013, we estimate that 250,000 people in the US made first or recommitments to Jesus Christ while on Alpha. In the second half of 2013, I was very burdened to write a book that had been stirring in me for many years. Titled, ‘Awakening to God,’ the book is all about envisioning and equipping Christ followers to be more intentional about showing their friends and family what God’s love is all about and introducing them to Jesus Christ using Alpha. Published by Tyndale, the book is being launched next month.

The nature of Rebecca’s passing was unbelievable. After slipping and falling into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan, Rebecca got into serious difficulties and cried out and waved to some bystanders to help her. Although several of them called 911, not one of them took any further action to help her.6 We forgive these folk, and the detective on the case told us it’s normal that people don’t react to help folk in this sort of situation. However, it’s ironic and tragic that after giving her life to reach out and help other people, particularly those who were struggling in life, when she needed help herself, no one came to her aid!

It’s interesting that Rebecca’s own heart and the message of ‘Awakening to God,’ is all about encouraging Christ followers to be more intentional about reaching out to those around us with God’s love. Connecting this to how Rebecca died, we see this as a wake-up call to the Church. Prayer is essential but we can and must do more to reach out and help people who are struggling in the waters of life and heading for an eternity apart from God!

During our grieving over Rebecca’s passing, we have been overwhelmed by the love, support and prayers of our family and friends. This has given us a practical illustration that we are Jesus’ hands and feet on earth and we should be working more closely together to love and rescue people. It’s critical that we’re unified as we reach out to the people all around us.

The importance of helping one another and working in unity was made very real to me while I was scuba diving in the early days of my grief.7 When I was 50 feet underwater, I ran out of air! My ‘buddy’ was close enough and alert to my need to let me share his air so that I survived. We are in this rescue mission together and we need to be alert for anyone near to us who needs our help. This is a picture of the Body of Christ. We can do a much better job of helping and working together in unity. Interestingly, our dive master told me that in his 10 years of teaching hundreds of people, no one had run out of air before!

  1. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, 26 and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26. We are confident, yes, well pleased prefer to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Cor 5:8 These and many other scriptures point to eternal life after we pass from our earthly body.
  2. This is part of the providence of God i.e. He is in total control of the universe – what happens and when things happen.
  3. I now have more of my immediate family in heaven than on earth – my dad, two of my three children and two of my three siblings!
  4. These events are outlined in more detail in ‘Awakening to God.’
  5. Scripture teaches that He is the savior of the world.
  6. There were some kayaks nearby that could have been used to help Rebecca.
  7. Rebecca and I were planning to get our scuba divers certification together and so it was very special to be able to do this with Ben while on a fully paid vacation in Mexico.
  8. But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Gen 50:20

Next Steps

Jeannie and I have made a decision not to give up, in spite of the suffering that comes from our grief. Instead, we have decided to keep our eyes on Jesus and to give thanks for Him, for each other, for Ben and for you, our dear family and friends. Also, God has given Jeannie a word that we need to ‘labor’ to birth what God has put in our hands ‘for such a time as this’.8 Together, we are exploring several ways to advance the gospel among young people, whom Rebecca had a heart for. We would be so grateful if you would join us in this mission:

  • Continue to pray for us and please pass on any words you may get from God for us.
  • Already we have established a Memorial/Foundation for the purpose of reaching 180,000 young people with the gospel by the end of 2015 (Rebecca’s goal). We hope to raise $500,000 toward the launch of the AYFS in the US. To date, $125,000 has been donated. If you’d like to participate in Rebecca’s Memorial/Foundation, you can learn more here.
    • To celebrate the life of Rebecca, we are writing a devotional called, ‘Rebecca’s Way,’ which focuses on how Rebecca lived her life to help and love other people. We hope to have this available by the year end.
    • Join in a memorial run for Rebecca in Lake Forest, IL on October 4, 2014.
    • Come to a memorial service for Rebecca in London on 22nd January 2015, hopefully, at HTB.
  • Help us to encourage as many churches and Christ followers as possible to take up the cry within ‘Awakening to God’ to be more intentional to reach out to their friends and family with God’s love – this also links with a global Alpha invitation in 2015, led by Bear Grylls. Pre-order and find out more about ‘Awakening to God’ here.
  • Please pray for Ben and God’s will for him going forward. Currently, he’s working as a contractor for Alpha and we’d love him to get a Green Card to be able to stay in the US.
  • Pass on this note to others if it will help them in their struggle with grief and/or loss.

Finally, over the last 18 months or so the following verse has been on our hearts:

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Is 43: 18-19

From the events that have happened in our lives over the last few years, we believe the ‘new thing’ is for Christ followers to awaken to our mission and to work in unity to reach people with God’s love.

In closing, we want to once again thank you for your amazing love, support and prayers for us and for Ben. We love you and are so grateful and honored that we can join together to finish the work God has assigned for each one of us.

With much love,

Gerard and Jeannie