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From businessman to chaplain: An unlikely story

From businessman to chaplain: An unlikely story

Published on January 18, 2018

Dennis Long says God set him up. After spending his career as a successful business owner of a mobile x-ray company and a children’s gym franchise in Orange County, California, he found himself jobless in Arizona. After selling these companies, he took a position as an executive vice president with another firm to find himself one year later laid off through a major company restructure. Dennis was beyond discouraged.

“I had a large home and was quickly going through my savings. I knew God had a plan for me, I just couldn’t figure out what it was!” Dennis says. He knew that God would open another door for him just as He had in the past. Dennis had no idea that a trip to Rocky Point, Mexico with his church would be a turning point in his life. On the second day of the trip he was sitting on the beach reading a copy of “Knowing God’s Will” by M. Blaine Smith.

“Suddenly I kept having this feeling,” Dennis says. “A voice was saying, ‘Go get your money.’ I blew it off, thinking it was just a passing thought. Then I heard it again, ‘Go get your money.’ I was just trying to focus on my book—I didn’t want to stop what I was doing, go back to my hotel room and get my money!”

Then Dennis heard the voice again. “In exasperation I said, ‘OK, let me finish this chapter and I will get my money.’” As soon as he thought these words, he looked up from his book to see a young woman holding a baby, explaining that they were hungry and needed money. “My heart dropped to my feet,” Dennis says. He told the young mother to stay right there, that he would go get her money for her child.

When he returned the woman had disappeared. He ran along the beach and could not find her. “There’s no way she could have vanished that quickly,” says Dennis. “I think she may have been an angel, sent to teach me a lesson about listening to God’s will.”

Dennis carried this experience with him going into his next business venture—buying an IT firm, which was very successful. He had hundreds of customers across 13 states using his system. Unfortunately, the housing market crisis and the recession of 2008 changed everything. “Many of my clients went bankrupt, and eventually so did I,” says Dennis. He lost his company, his home, and found himself once again, looking to God for answers. 

At his core, Dennis missed working with children. He missed the time he spent with the children as a gym owner in Orange County. This sparked an epiphany as he drove down an Arizona freeway one day. 

As he drove, something urged Dennis to take the exit to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He ignored the voice. “As I passed the exit, it was as though the voice hit me with a two-by-four. It said, ‘Dennis, you’re doing it again. Remember the girl at Rocky Point?’” Dennis says. “All those feelings came rushing back to me.” Dennis didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, so he turned around, went back to the hospital and walked in. 

As Dennis was walking in, he really did not understand why he was there. The prior year, Dennis had trained to be a volunteer at this hospital but because of work conflicts never had the opportunity to serve. He was familiar with Volunteer Services so that is where he went first. He explained his story to the person at the desk. After hearing his story, they directed to the chaplain's office. “I thought, ‘The chaplain? I don’t need a chaplain, I need a job!’”

Dennis then explained his story to Charles, the hospital chaplain. Charles asked Dennis if he felt he had a calling to be a chaplain. Dennis said he did not know, but God was telling him that there was something for him in the hospital. Charles had an idea. Dennis would shadow Charles for a month to see if this was the path that God meant for him. 

Turns out, this was exactly the path meant for Dennis. Not only did he love providing comfort to the children and families in the hospital, but Charles said he’d never seen anyone with such a natural ability with no formal training. Dennis was energized, excited and worried about this new path. He did not have a degree in theology or divinity—he was simply a businessman with a business degree. 

Charles contacted the Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association and shared Dennis’ story. Dennis then received a call from the President of HCMA who told him that in the 70 years of the association’s existence, they’d never seen a situation like this. Dennis did not have a theology degree and they had not accepted a Seventh-day Adventist to date as a member. After consideration, the HCMA board met and a decision was made to allow Dennis to pursue his education and hours for training. They felt that if it was meant for him to be a chaplain, no one could stop him. 

After writing two papers on the Seventh-day Adventist faith, and committing to 3,600 hours of training over the next two years, Dennis officially became a board-certified chaplain. This journey was not easy. Along with the financial struggles, he also faced a serious case of diverticulitis, an intestinal disease that required he have a large section of his colon removed. 

Despite these roadblocks, Dennis loved being a chaplain. He enjoyed helping people in their time of need and being a source of empathy, spiritual guidance and comfort.

In 2011, budget cuts at Phoenix Children's Hospital sent him seeking opportunities elsewhere—which is when God led him to his role at Adventist Health Howard Memorial, where he currently serves as the Director of Spiritual Care. But before he left Arizona—he married the love of his life, Tammy, who also worked at the hospital. They were married by Charles in the hospital’s chapel, surrounded by family, friends, the children and families that they had bonded with at the hospital. 

In his long—and oftentimes challenging—journey to chaplaincy, Dennis gives all his glory to God. “My whole chaplaincy is based on grace, growth and glory,” Dennis says. “If we are to find hope when it hurts, we start by affirming that God is not to be blamed but to be trusted as He brings us through it all with an outpouring of His grace, for our growth, and the ultimate gain of glory.”

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