11 Mar Stories Behind Missions Grants | The Johnsons
Larry and Laura Johnson, members at our Downtown campus, are serving at Myungsung Medical College in Ethiopia. The Johnsons received funding from Grace Church to support their personal ministry through the Missions Grants program. Read below as we were able to talk to Laura and Larry about their journey and work in Ethiopia. To learn more about the Missions Grants program or to apply for support in your personal ministry, please visit www.gracechurchsc.org/missionsgrants.
What brought you to Ethiopia?
Larry: Although I did a summer missions project to Central Asia in college, I had little interest in long-term missions, especially in Africa. Then, as God brought Laura into my life, he grew my desire to serve overseas and has now given me a love of serving and caring for medical students and residents. Little did I realize he was preparing me for such a big adventure!
Laura: My parents and grandparents were missionaries in Africa, and I think it was always on my mind to go back one day. God brought me to Greenville for my Internal Medicine-Pediatrics residency, and that’s when I met Larry. It was a slow process, from dreaming and praying to taking our first vision trip, but looking back, we can see how many ways God has been shaping and preparing us.
What led you to work or serve at Myungsung Medical College?
Larry: The short answer is this- God made the way for us.
Laura: Towards the end of my residency training, I really fell in love with teaching medicine and the opportunity that it gives for real mentoring relationships. Then, through working at USC-Greenville School of Medicine and in the GHS Family Medicine Program, I was able to continue to grow and develop as a teacher. As I began looking for missions opportunities, serving at a medical school in Ethiopia seemed like a good fit. When we first talked to the mission representatives at the Global Missions Health Conference, however, they were almost more excited about Larry and all the skills he could bring to help serve the students! During a vision trip in April 2017, God impressed on both of us a strong desire to join this work and serve. Then God opened so many doors, first with World Medical Mission and the support from our family and community, then in selling our house in Greenville, and now here we are!
What is Myungsung Medical College and what is your mission there?
Larry: Myungsung Medical College (MMC) is a part of MCM General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and is the only evangelical Christian medical school on the continent. Currently, there are 167 students in the six-year program, and many of them do not know Jesus personally. We get to share the gospel through chapel services, classrooms, mentoring, teaching and walking with them through their medical education. Ultimately, we hope to disciple them and make mature believers—as well as excellent doctors!
Can you tell me about one of the individuals you are working with?
Laura: One day, Jane, a student that I had known for several months, confessed that she was afraid she was going to fail her classes. She was barely sleeping and felt like she was doing all she could, and it wasn’t enough. Knowing that she and her family profess to be Christians, I started probing more.“Does your teacher know you are struggling?” “No one knows.” “Do your parents know how much you’re struggling?” “Oh, I can’t tell them.” “Why not?” I came to understand in the Protestant church in Ethiopia, failure (at anything) is seen as a lack of faith. Failing a class is as bad as failing to trust God. I know it took a lot of courage for Jane to share the truth about how she was doing, her fear of failing, and especially about the isolation she felt from those who should be her closest support. Together we made a 24-hour plan (which included sleep) and then we met again to make a study plan. We prayed together, and I shared some truth about grace, mercy, and the lying voice of shame. Recently, she gave me a big hug and whispered that she passed the class. More importantly, she is closer to understanding what it means to have freedom and grace in Jesus.
As a result of serving in this capacity, what have you learned about your faith?
Larry: I have not really known who Jesus is. That may be bizarre coming from a “missionary,” but I realized around late-October that my daily Scripture reading has simply been a means of keeping a streak alive over the past few years rather than a search for Truth. I need to know who Jesus is, not what other scholars or commentaries say he is. In November, I started working through the story of Jesus in the Gospels and only the Gospels. Since September, I have been teaching every Thursday morning in the hospital chapel services. Those who attend regularly have been joining me on this journey to discover who Jesus really is. It is refreshingly humbling to realize what I did not know and that Jesus wants me to know him!
Laura: Being here has exposed how much I have often trusted on my own strength or abilities to serve. I am learning how to daily, sometimes hourly, ask for grace to love and serve with the Spirit of Jesus. And yes, when I fail, he still forgives me.
What does it mean to have the support of Grace Church?
Larry: One of the hardest things about moving overseas seemed to be leaving our church and the precious fellowship and support. We had been in a Downtown community group for six years and had also gone through Re|engage, Grace’s marriage ministry, which brought the development of an entirely new set of deep relationships. However, we have found that instead of feeling like we have left our church, having the support of Grace Church and the continued fellowship with our brothers and sisters makes it feel like we have our church with us. It is as though we happen to be fingers of the body reaching out to another corner of the world, but still all the same body. Truly, most Sunday afternoons we still listen to Grace teaching, and when we reach out for prayer and fellowship, it is usually first to our Grace brothers and sisters.