Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Personal Calling for Botswana

As part of the application for the South Carolina Baptist missions scholarship, we had to write out our personal testimony and calling for this mission. Here's mine, I invite the others to do the same!

************************************************************************************Personal Testimony

Mark H. Johnson

I was raised in a church-going family and made a public profession of faith and was baptized as a believer at the age of 9. This was 1979 and at Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina. I strongly believe this was a sincere and honest declaration of faith in Christ; but, it was also what was expected of me in my family. I would remain involved with Youth ministry in church throughout high school and would even go on summer mission trips (domestic) and made some statements to friends and family about feeling a call to ministry. However, I did not choose this path and in fact ran as far as I possibly could from ministry and religion while attending college at Clemson University. I basically turned off my faith and sought a purpose and calling in all things worldly. However, because he is faithful, God was still working in my life and seeking reconciliation with me as his child.

After Clemson, I joined the Army. This was another attempt to find a purpose for my life other than ministry. It was while in the Army and stationed on the west coast that I meet my wife, Tricia. Tricia was also in the Army and grew up a non-practicing Catholic in Ohio. It seemed I could continue my path without church and God in my life. Little did I know, but God brought Tricia into my life to begin the restoration and reconciliation with him and his salvation. Not long after Tricia and I married, she was sent to Honduras for a 6 month unaccompanied tour. Tricia found a group of missionaries from Michigan while in Honduras and formed a relationship with Jesus while in Honduras. Didn’t I just say God is faithful? Although I had no plans of reestablishing my relationship with Jesus when my wife returned from Honduras, it was through conversations with her and seeing the change in her that God began to speak to me and reach out to me, his lost son.

When we moved back to South Carolina in 2000, Tricia and I sought a church home for our growing family, now including our first son, Miles. I started working night shift at the hospital and we visited a few local churches when I was not working or sleeping. Then Tricia started going to services at Alice Drive, my childhood church home. Being the stubborn man I am, I initially refused to join her at Alice Drive. I took pride in quoting all the things wrong with that church that I could remember. Of course every church is not perfect because we are all human and we have all sinned. But, I was using this as a wall to prevent me from totally sacrificing my old self that I was hanging on to. Tricia was determined and really started to enjoy the fellowship she found at Alice Drive. She was later baptized as a believer at Alice Drive. Soon I found another excuse to not go to church: graduate school while working night shift full-time. But, I begrudgingly started going to Wednesday night services with Tricia and our two sons.

It was during these Wednesday night services that I joined a men’s class studying John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. By the end of that class, a great wall had fallen between me and God and between me and my family, including my Alice Drive church family. God used that class as the tool to finally break down the remaining obstacles. I reached out to God and found my heavenly father there faithful and forgiving. In addition, I found myself enjoying the fellowship of my church family and reconnecting with my mentors and fellow brothers and sisters, many who professed to having been praying for me for so many years. I was broken and overwhelmed by all of the emotions I was feeling. How could have been so stubborn and selfish? Reconciliation with God was so easy, yet so hard. My wife’s journey to Honduras was the seed that God planted in my life to bring me back to his fellowship. Amazingly, my relationship with Tricia began to improve and we became closer than ever before. The closer my walk with God, the closer I grow to Tricia. The forgiveness and mercy that God shows me began to flow from me towards my friends and family.

Not long afterwards, I finished graduate school and I found I could now work a normal weekday shift and had the weekends free. While I totally immersed myself back into the church and the service ministries, including choir. It no longer felt silly or fake to stand in front of hundreds of people and shout to the top of my voice how Jesus had saved me, again and again. I was even blessed with the honor and privilege to be called as a Deacon to serve the church body. My ordination with old Sunday school teachers and youth mentors laying hands on me and whispering prayers and affirmations of spirit was a powerful and emotional homecoming for me. After so many years of fighting and fleeing, I had returned to God and his family.

God made another connection to satisfy my search for purpose and a calling, you might even call it a ministry. I had studied about the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Sahara Africa in a health policy class at MUSC. Shortly afterwards, God put a musician in my path (if you know me, that’s an easy way for God to get my attention). This musician is a South African folk singer. He and I had a long conversation about the HIV/AIDS crisis and how devastating that was to his country and homeland. Well, God never stops until his work in us is complete. We were just beginning to see the plan. A pastor friend showed up at Alice Drive a few weeks later to speak to us about his new mission focus on sub-Sahara Africa. It was like sky writing saying “Hey Mark, do you get the message now?” At the end of the service, I found myself standing in front of the pastor saying “I don’t know when or where; but, I am going with you to Africa to be the hands and feet of Jesus.” I felt such an amazingly clear vision had been presented to me and I was no longer going to stubborn and try to ignore the message and calling.

My first trip to Africa was in 2007 to the township of Mamelodi, South Africa. We worked with the children and orphanage there. We made amazing friendships and lifelong connections. Nonetheless, this church already had a huge sponsorship from a church in Ohio that was sending hundreds of workers each year. We felt overwhelmed and somewhat diminished in spirit. But, God showed us as believers and seekers he was not going to let us turn from our focus, the children of Africa. We found God was just beginning to use us. Through our first trip, we made connections with a church in Botswana that had a more critical need for help. Old Naledi Baptist Fellowship in Gaborone, Botswana is working to show the love of God and spread the Good News of his salvation to a people beaten and battered by the cycle of HIV/AIDS and poverty. Our trip in 2008 to Gaborone was the affirmation that God really has a purpose and role for those willing to put their self aside for his kingdom.

Because I had moved from Sumter to Greer between the times of joining the trip planning for the 2008 trip, I went as the out of town member. Before going, I spoke to Freedom Fellowship, our new church home, about the mission work in Botswana. I noticed after that service that God was moving in the hearts of many at Freedom Fellowship and brothers and sisters told me that God was pushing them towards Africa and the ministry there. While in Botswana, I boldly proclaimed that Freedom Fellowship would be joining in the fight with Old Naledi and we would be joining in service with Alice Drive Baptist. Moruti James of Old Naledi was more than delighted to hear that good news and I was proud to bring the report back to Freedom Fellowship. Our church is now sponsoring Old Naledi through a monthly donation for the feeding station and ministries there.

While in Botswana, I also promised Moruti James that I would be returning in 2009 to bring a group from Freedom Fellowship to serve and witness the work they are doing with the vulnerable children and orphans of the community. You know it’s easy to say those words while on the spiritual mountaintop of mission work; but, actually carry out the plans? I feel God was commanding me to take that stand and be that conduit for his Love and work in Botswana. As I look back on how God lead me to that church yard in Old Naledi, I can see his work and calling and I am amazed at his work and determination of spirit. It’s with great honor and privilege that I stood in front of Freedom Fellowship again to tell them of plans to return to Botswana to continue serving the children as the hands and feet of Jesus. For as Jesus told us in John 13:34, we are to love one another and that is how others will know us, by our LOVE for one another. That is also the verse I wrote on the church foundation and wall supports for the new church building we erected last year for Old Naledi. That is my purpose and calling that I have sought for so long. Just like the reconciliation with God that took me so long to find, it’s so easy and yet so hard. I continue to pray for God’s guidance and wisdom as we plan our return trip for 2009. I also thank you for reading this testimony of how God has brought me back to his family and given me clarity of purpose and mission for his kingdom.

In His Steps,

Mark H. Johnson

(aka Mareko morwa Johane)

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