This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Burt Long (CN 351, T3) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "up" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
. . . Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
. . . . Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Maria Bergstedt and Paul Ericksen, and completed in December 1997.
Collection 351, T3. Interview of Burt Long by Heather Coney, December 3, 1986.
LONG: [tape recorder turned on] . . . . for movement of the hands [pauses] . . . the hands on there. Yeah, it's going up, see it. [piano music plays as Long comments] Can you see it? I think they're moving. [tape recorder turned off]
CONLEY: This is part two of part 2 of the interview with Dr. Burt Long by Heather Conley for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. The interview took place at the Billy Graham Center on December 3.
LONG: I think we were talking about the relationship to the other churches. We had no relationship to the Catholic Church, and the only real active Catholic Church is in Niamey. And they are more interested in running schools. They have a big school in Maradi and one in Zinder. So that they more . . . do more of their missionary work by establishing schools than anything else, but they do have masses in their [pauses] churches. And, of course, any visiting French people who are now back in larger number again since the country is definitely established, they have not . . . their former antithesis to French people has evaporated because they need their help. So those people would go too, foreigners going to a church. But you never can measure the strength of a church by its foreign attendees. It's only by its indigenous ones that you have strength. We have large churches in certain Muslim areas like Kano, Nigeria, churches with three thousand people in them. But they're mostly people from the south of the country coming up to the north to work, so we know they're not indigenous people. And these churches are good churches, but they're not truly indigenous. So . . . .
CONLEY: Were there any theological patterns that were evident in Niger . . . in SIM in Niger?
LONG: Well, what would you call the Evan . . . Evangelical theology? We were straight evangelical. The only thing I found when I went into the mission was still a quite a few people who believed in Arminian [system of belief in contrast to Reformed theology, which places emphasis on positions such as divine election being conditioned by a person's choice, no assurance of eternal security, partial depravity, Christ's universal non-efficacious atonement, and universal resistable grace] viewpoints, but those have almost disappeared in the suv . . . suc . . . succeeding years. We have a few. There were Wesleyans and a few Mennonites that don't believe in eternal security. It's not a point of [pauses] refusal in the mission, though. You can believe either way on those doctrines and still be accepted.
CONLEY: Has the . . . has SIM changed in any of its . . . you know, theological stances in the twenty or thirty years that you were with them?
LONG: I believe there has to be some accommodation to what we call Evangelicalism. I think they were more Fundamental before. But with the big growth of Evangelicalism, and Billy Graham won't call himself a . . . a Fundamentalist anymore, you know, and that kind of thing, I think that almost all the missions sort of followed in that. But the big fight today is whether the Scripture is truly with or without error, and we definitely stand on the side of inerrancy. And therefore when Fuller Seminary broke, we would send a lot of our missionaries formerly to Fuller to be trained, but almost entirely our missionaries refuse to go there now. And Dallas Seminary adopted Ig . . . Igbaja Seminary in Nigeria as a sister seminary, and they send a lot of visiting profs and send a lot of help over, so we have a strong connection with Dallas Seminary. And their theology and ours are identical. And it's almost identical to the statement of Wheaton College, too, so . . . I mean . . . .
LONG: It's the Evangelical group in this country that SIM goes with, and most of the missions in the IFMA do that. Do you know what the IFMA is? It's the Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association, and the head of it's right out here on Schmal . . . Schmale Rd. [in Wheaton].
CONLEY: I just wanted to ask you how did you decide originally to leave Niger and then . . . and then to leave Africa?
LONG: Well, this was a lot of internal politics in our mission. They decided that the grandfathers, the doctors who founded the hospitals were not subject to mission control as well as someone that they put in there afterwards. So they decided to move them all. And, you know, I had founded the hospital and I had a lot of privileges connected with the fact that it was my hospital, you know. And they don't want anybody to say "my hospital." It has to be an SIM hospital. And we had a big move in our mission to adopt modern management methods, and when the management methods came in, all the systems changed, ways of doing things changed. And then when the Francophone countries of the mission became a separate area, we . . . we . . . we had all . . . . And when we were a smaller mission, West Africa was one area and East Africa was another. And eventually we had to s . . . put Francophone under its own director. And that was for [Republique de] Haute-Volta, Dahomey, and Niger, now called Burkina Faso and Niger and [pauses] Dahomey is not called Dahomey anymore. But anyway, it had its own director, and he and I didn't get along, so there was just no way that we could work together, so . . . . He had viewpoints that were completely different. The mission worked under a plan of not allowing any organization to go into debt at any time, but he was allowed to allow for the institution to go into debt and so on. And because he was a director and I wasn't, he had his way and I just left. I decided that I couldn't work there and he decided he couldn't work with me, so personal differences between people are often the reasons for changes. But they wanted to put in non-grandfathers in all their hospitals at the same time anyway. It was just part of that movement. So I went down to our main hospital in Nigeria which is where we treated all our missionaries. So we have one hospital in the whole West Africa area that especially treats missionaries, and that's where our rest and recreation area is, and that's where our children's school is, and it's a beautiful climate. So I went down there and worked in that hospital. Now the politics of Africa has interfered with that, and they've almost closed the border between Francophone and Nigeria, so that our missionaries are going to have to close the school in Nigeria that they've all been coming to, and open a school in Francophone. And the Francophone hospital, Galmi, is now being the place where they're treating the missionaries from Francophone. So in the Evangel Hospital in Jos, we're only treating Nigerian missionaries and we're even closing the native . . . missionary school there because we don't have enough kids [laughs] in our mission anymore to bother running it. We've had about fifty Africans and about ten missionaries' kids and then diplomats and other expatriates from other countries, about a hundred of them come to that school. Well, it's just no longer possible to operate the school for the advantage of the mission. And the church is independent in Nigeria, and they want that school, so they're . . . you know, when they're running it, they take it over. In Niger, they've finally gotten three doctors up at Galmi Hospital. They're always short of doctors. They're still short of nurses, but the hospital is still doing the same work it always did, except for the fact that the [pauses] government is controlling it a lot closer. But whenever the government wants it, they can take it. No mission can resist government. When the government wants to take over an institution, they do it. And so we don't resist it. But they're still accepted there because the country needs the hospital. But when I became retirement age, which is sixty-five in our mission . . . . It's not mandatory. You can't hold any further office in the mission after sixty-five, but you can still do missionary work as long as you want to stay on the field. But our miss . . . our hospital in Nigeria was taking interns from the local medical school, graduates about a hundred graduates a year. We were taking in what we call National Service Corps. They require any student who goes to college on government assistance to do one year of work for the government at half pay. So we were getting four of those people every year as interns, that is to say they were graduates who had finished their internship and their . . . they did their National Youth Service Corps year. And then we had the other doctors being hired by the church that's running the hospital in the hospital, so that we only had three missionary doctors and [pauses] fourteen indigenous doctors and one Indian doctor who was a woman doing gynecology and obstetrics. So at that time my retirement came along, I was still in good health, if I had been in a hospital that still needed me, I'd have stayed. But the politics and so of . . . between mission and missionary . . . mission and church, we are seconded to the church. And the church now puts us in our job out there in Nigeria. In Niger the . . . the mission puts us in our job, so the tensions got so that I decided that it would be better to leave the field anyway. And they're running it now almost entirely on indigenous doctors, but we still have two . . . three doctors who are not retirement age who are hanging in there and still working there. One is a surgeon, and he's doing such esoteric surgery that it'll be years before any African surgeon is doing anything like it. So that program is . . . is really not indigenous. And one man doesn't want to be in the hospital; he wants to do preventive medicine type work out in the villages to prevent patients getting the need to go to a hospital. That's what he really wants to do, but because they need him to direct that hospital he's doing it, but eventually he will go out and do what he wants to do as preventive medicine. And this is a big trend now in teaching African doctors also to teach them to do preventive medicine. The only trouble is most of them want to live in the big cities, and to do preventive medicine you've practically got to be out in the bush. In the early days we found that it was hard to get missionaries to go out to the bush. So anyway, that's why I came home and . . . and now I'm still . . . I'm doing [pauses] home work or work here in the States, and I'm doing short-term relief for furloughs for doctors who need relief. I was in Liberia from January to March this year because they had no surgeon there for the six months previous. And I did a bunch of surgery and caught up on the schedule. But Liberia is such a poor country that a lot of people couldn't even afford to . . . to come then. But now we've got a full-time man there again.
CONLEY: Just in summary, what expectations do you have for . . . for missions in Niger in the coming years? Do you see a [unclear] . . . ?
LONG: Well, it's a . . . a work that's trying to work itself out of a job. The minute you can train an indigenous church, then we're finished. Medical work we're not interested in, except as it applies to the church and its growth because they'll develop their own hospital system. And the same goes for all the other non-missionary works we do, even the educational system. Even our seminaries will be indigenous. In fact the one in Jos, Nigeria, is practically indigenous already. We have a few missionary teachers in it, but a lot of Nigerians with . . . with high degrees, some of them from Wheaton, some from others. But eventually the idea of missions is to work itself out of a job in any country and to leave the country with the church in control. But we have a good relationship with our church in Nigeria, for example, and in Niger they don't want us to leave yet. But when they want us to leave, obviously we'll have to do it. We're ready to go now. But in other countries where the church is even more dependent still on the missionaries, we're not ready to leave. So that's the ideal thing is to go into a country, evangelize it, set up a church and then leave. Different missions, of course, have different definitions of when to go. I noticed that some of the other missions aren't as ready to go as SIM [formerly Sudan Interior Mission] is. Wycliffe [Bible Translators] doesn't even bother making themselves missionaries. As soon as they've got a church going at all, they leave. As soon as the language is translated into the Bible they leave. So, you know, you have all different viewpoints on when a mission should leave. We believe we should leave when there's any strain between the church and the mission that can't be solved. We had one church group in the Sudan who became quite liberal in their viewpoint. We didn't like that, but the more we fought it the more tension developed, so finally we just had to leave it. And a war occurred, and then the leader of the church who was liberal (he was the one who was on the other side), came to America for some education. And here he was assisted by the mission again, so that he came back into full fellowship with the mission, and he went back and he's straightening the church out now. So you never can tell what's gonna happen. But we always try to act in such a way as to maintain friendship so that [pauses] as it happened in this case, the friendship has resulted in good church relations too. Right now, of course, there's an Arab/Black war going on in that country, and now the Arab north is really oppressing and persecuting the Black churches of the south. [clicking sound] And in the time of persecution, churches grow. So that's happening over there now, and the church is becoming much more Evangelical again.
CONLEY: It'll be interesting to follow the . . . the church in Niger. Thank you, Dr. Long.
END OF TAPE