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After son’s death, parents continue ministry in Africa

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–David Johnson occasionally wonders, if he had it to do all over again, whether he would have allowed his 21-year-old son Jeremiah to go to Mozambique to share the Gospel among the Moniga people.

“I always said my whole pastoral life and parenting life the one thing I don’t think I could ever handle is losing a child,” said Johnson, director of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Arizona campus.

That fear became a reality for Johnson and his wife Diana on April 12 of last year when the student missionary lost his life in a motorcycle accident on the mission field in Mozambique. The Johnsons continue to struggle through the pain of losing their son. One thing, though, gives them peace.

“Our son could have died any number of ways,” Johnson said. “But knowing what he was doing … has made things completely different for us.

“Jeremiah was serving the Lord, following Christ and spreading the Word in Africa.”

Last June, the Johnsons traveled to Mozambique to retrace their son’s steps and meet the people with whom Jeremiah had built relationships. There, Johnson baptized 17 men and women whom his son helped lead to Christ during Jeremiah’s short time in the country.

“I’ve baptized people in the Jordan River in Israel,” Johnson said. “In fact, I baptized my mother in the Jordan River, and it was not anything compared to [the baptism service in Mozambique].

“What God was doing in [Jeremiah] and through him was just amazing, nothing short of amazing,” Johnson added. Thinking through whether he would have allowed his son to still go there, if he had it to do over again, he said, “I would not hold Jeremiah back.”

Jeremiah, a member of Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix and student at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, was serving on the mission field with the International Mission Board’s semester-long Hands On initiative.

But it wasn’t Jeremiah’s first time in Africa among the Moniga people.

He had ministered among the Moniga with a Royal Palms team in the summer of 2009 as part of the church’s ongoing partnership among the people group.

Johnson was skeptical when Jeremiah first told him he wanted to go on the mission trip.

“When he signed up to go to Africa, he wasn’t really walking with the Lord,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Son, shouldn’t you think about whether this is something God wants you to do?'”

Jeremiah responded, “Dad, I just want to go see Africa.”

“It wasn’t a really spiritual desire in the beginning,” Johnson added with a chuckle.

“I began to pray that God would do a work in Jeremiah’s life that would make God so real to him that he would never again question following the Lord.”

When Jeremiah returned from that first trip, Johnson could tell something significant had happened in his son’s life.

Jeremiah told his father that God had spoken to him while playing soccer with a group of children.

“He heard God speak to him, ‘Who will tell these children about me?'” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Dad, I have to go back.'”

In January 2010, Jeremiah was back on a plane to Mozambique.

“He was very active, energetic, an extremely easy-to-get-to-know individual,” said IMB missionary John Dina, who serves in Africa with his wife Wanne and their three children. “And he didn’t mind sharing his opinion on things.”

“Jeremiah was 100 percent sold out [to missions],” added Dina, who attended Royal Palms Baptist when he and his family lived in the states. “We could see a real sincere call of God in his heart.”

Jeremiah used soccer as a way to engage the Moniga — a poor people, nearly all Muslim, who make their living as fishermen.

In just a couple of months, Jeremiah was quickly learning Portuguese, the local language, and helping to lead people to Christ. He also established several “preaching points” — where people would gather to hear the Good News.

“He had already memorized his testimony in Portuguese; he had memorized the ‘Roman Road’ in Portuguese,” Dina said. “He was impressive. My goal was that he could win somebody to the Lord before he left in Portuguese.”

While learning the language, Jeremiah worked closely with a local pastor who would translate and share the Gospel with local people.

“[Jeremiah] would take a soccer ball with him and he would just spark up a soccer game anywhere,” Dina said. “And that would draw a crowd.”

Together, Jeremiah and the pastor presented the Gospel, and people — including the 17 Jeremiah’s father would later baptize — turned their lives over to Jesus.

“We continue to disciple those believers,” Dina said. “He [Jeremiah] made an amazing contribution, and his contribution continues.”

Jeremiah was driving a motorcycle back from sharing the Gospel in a Moniga village along the coast of Mozambique when he lost control, and he and a local pastor who was a passenger on the bike crashed along the road. The pastor suffered multiple injuries — mostly to his face — but Jeremiah died shortly after the accident. He left behind his parents; two sisters, Rachel and Talitha; and a brother, Merritt.

Many of the locals still speak of the sacrifice that Jeremiah made, Dina said.

“When there is a challenge before them, they’ll bring his name up.”

In March, Jeremiah’s father and his pastor, Charles Lord, plan to return to Mozambique and train pastors to continue the work among the Moniga people. From there, they will recruit seminary students in the states to teach ministry courses to local leaders.

Though Johnson obviously wishes his son were alive today to continue what he started, he would not change where Jeremiah was when he died.

“I wanted him to follow the Lord, even if it meant dying,” he said. “That’s a hard thing, but that’s the truth.”
Alan James writes for the International Mission Board.

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