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Emily Johns

Missionary to Africa

WIM: What is your position and general job description? How long have you served in this position?

Johns: I am the team leader of Cry Africa. Cry Africa is the HIV/AIDS initiative for the continent of Africa. I've been in this role since 2009, and my responsibilities include working with a team of missionaries to encourage and facilitate the African local church's involvement in ministering to those who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. However, my teaching and ministry on the subject of AIDS began long before this position in 1997.

WIM: Is this role a vocation, a "calling" for you? If so, how did you live that out?

Johns: When I came to Africa, I came with my husband. He had a very specific call when he was 16. It was one of those unmistakable moments where God spoke to him about being a missionary in South Africa. For us to go to Africa, I had to be vulnerable to God's will for both of us. Shortly after we arrived on the continent, God began to work on my heart and "grow" a call. I would have to say that my work with Cry Africa is a vocation and a call. To live one without the passion for the other leads to spiritual imbalance. God has grown a clear calling in me and gifted me in the area of my vocation.

WIM: What are the joys of this role?

Johns: The joys of the role are all about the people. It isn't the role that matters; it is the people that God ministers to that bring the joy. It is seeing the difference that a local church can make by loving and caring for those who are infected and/or affected by AIDS. It is teaching a pastoral student about a disease that has caused him great fear (and many times, personal sadness) and seeing the change in his/her determination to do something with God's help. The joy is in the changes that God brings to people's lives through the fleshing out of your vocation and calling together.

WIM: What are the challenges of this role?

Johns: The challenges of the role are also found in the people with whom you work. You see so much heartache, sorrow, death, and family destruction as a result of HIV/AIDS. In the country of South Africa alone, we lose 1,000 people a day to death and 1,500 new people become infected with HIV. It is no respecter of persons — rich, poor, young, old, educated, and uneducated are all impacted. Ultimately, it is the children who suffer the most. Another challenge is that of educating the church (and particularly pastors) to understand that it doesn't matter how a person got the disease, they are still loved by God. It is our responsibility as Christians to love them and point them to Christ as the only true way to find peace, joy, and salvation for their souls. When a student leaves one of my classes or teachings with that thought, I know that God can work through him or her to make a difference.

WIM: What would you tell another woman aspiring to work in this field in terms of preparation, needed skill set, etc.?

Johns: How do you prepare for this? Oh my! I had no intention of going into this field when I was young. I wanted to be a musician! But God, as I made myself vulnerable to His will for my life, gently spoke to me and prodded me down another road. He provided everything I needed to succeed ... and even more. But, in general, I think that studies in the field of education (the understanding of educational principles) are of the utmost importance. Not only are they important for teaching, they are also quite relevant to preaching the gospel.

Language studies (much of Africa is French speaking) are incredibly important. Language bridges the divide and helps you speak to the heart of the person. I also did studies specific to my particular field (HIV/AIDS); however, I did those on the continent within the context of where I would be working. At the time, I didn't think it would make that big of a difference, but it has. To truly contextualize your work, you must totally understand your context — not just from a Western perspective, but also from the perspective of the people who live where you are going to work.

Another important thing to do is read everything you can get your hands on about the history of the country or continent where you will serve and the kind of work you want to do. And lastly, pray that God will prepare you by bringing people across your path to guide and encourage, by directing your work, and by speaking to your heart in that "small still voice" that is unmistakable. He can, He will, and He does.

One thing I have noticed about today's youth is that they are inclined to want to "stick their toe in the water" when it comes to missions. They want to test it out, see if it fits, and see if they like it. Many see it as an opportunity to travel, a romantic idea, or even a way to gain personal significance or fulfillment. But missions is a difficult road. Many are frightened by the "temperature" as they dip their toes in the water and leave before they are able to make a real difference. Missions takes full commitment — a commitment that says, "I'm in this for the long haul." Short-term missionaries don't "impact the world," as many young people have been led to believe. The true basis of healthy, relevant, and strong missions is long-term relationship, not only with national churches and pastors but with their own missionary colleagues.