FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Few seminary staff members are as familiar with immigration law as Jan Johnsonius. For more than six years she has assisted international students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with visas and other immigration paperwork and helped alleviate some of the anxiety they’ve felt while becoming accustomed to American culture.
Johnsonius is about to experience some of the same anxiety.
A 2001 graduate and director of international student services, Johnsonius will leave her position as director in the fall in anticipation of appointment by the International Mission Board to serve among university students in Madrid, Spain. Her resignation is a cause for both excitement and sorrow, she said.
Her position as director, she said, has been “the best job in the world.”
She has been closely associated with students whom, she said, have taught her a great deal about faith. “They help me to recognize what it means to be a committed follower of Christ, no matter the cost,” she said.
As much as it saddens her to leave her students, her experiences as director have confirmed where God is leading her now.
Johnsonius contemplated career missionary service several years ago but it wasn’t until recently that she felt the call to Spain.
“As I traveled for the seminary to a Baptist World Alliance meeting and the European Baptist Convention meeting in Western Europe that same summer, I think that was when God first began impressing upon me the needs in Western Europe,” she said.
But service among university students in Spain will not be Johnsonius’ first missionary service abroad. In 1991, she and her husband, Jim, were appointed for service in Villaguay, Argentina.
In August 1993 Jim and Jan were traveling to Buenos Aires when they were involved in an automobile accident. Jim’s injuries were fatal. Jan was critically injured and spent the next week in intensive care in Buenos Aires and another three weeks in the hospital. Two more months passed before she was able to walk again.
Johnsonius returned to the United States when she was able to walk with a cane. The IMB’s executive vice president at the time, Don Kammerdiener, asked her to consider taking an early stateside assignment in the news and information office of the IMB. She agreed.
Johnsonius went back to Argentina, packed up her belongings and traveled around the province where she and her husband had served. “I wanted to express my appreciation, to let them know what God was doing, and just to show them some of the things that were happening in my life,” she said.
While she was working in the news and information office of the IMB, she sensed God’s call to seminary, certain that she needed to prepare for further overseas service. She became director of public relations at Southwestern in 1995 and dove into seminary studies. Within one year God opened a door for her to work with international students. She has been in the position ever since.
She wondered at one time if God had called her to Southwestern permanently. “I thought perhaps God’s plan was for me to stay here,” Johnsonius said. After all, as the director of international students she would be able to reach out to the world through her students in ways that she — as one person — could never do.
“God allows me to be a part of their lives, to help them in some small way to prepare and go back and reach the world for Christ,” she said.
Still, the call to return overseas was unrelenting. Including the two trips to Western Europe for the seminary, she made another with Travis Avenue Baptist Church last year, and she has had opportunity through her ministry at Southwestern to meet students from Western Europe.
Johnsonius is praying for God to provide the right person to fill the director’s office once she leaves. Whoever fills the position, she said, must be able to continue offering international students a sense of continuity, family and home.
“I think anytime that changes, even in the best of families, it can be challenging to the students,” she said.
During the spring 2002 semester, 250 internationals on a student visa from 44 countries were enrolled at Southwestern. There were only 136 international students when Johnsonius first began to work as director of the international student office more than six years earlier.
Johnsonius has dreams for the future of international students at Southwestern. One of the greatest needs for the international student office, she said, is scholarship funding for students who otherwise would not be able to afford seminary.
“It’s very difficult to see someone who wants to come but is not able to come. They keep trying for years and years to come, and they don’t have the money to do it,” she said.
International students must prove they have the funding necessary for all of their years of study — without working — before they can come to the United States. “This is very challenging because a lot of these students come to us from Third World nations,” she said.
For this reason, Johnsonius would like to see scholarships established specifically for international students. “It helps them to see that we see their potential, and we want to encourage them by providing at least a tuition scholarship,” she said.
Until she leaves, Johnsonius will continue to spend much of her time encouraging international students, especially those enrolled at Southwestern for the first time. Such encouragement would not be possible, she said, without veteran international students who are willing to offer advice and comfort to fellow internationals.
“It’s more than just us. It’s the whole international body who care for one another, and as we’ve grown it has had to become more and more that way,” she said.
International students care for one another in different ways. They pick up new students at the airport and even send encouraging e-mails prior to their arrival in the United States. They often fellowship with one another.
“They [the new students] are very appreciative, and we say, ‘Well, just wait. We’ll call on you in the next few semesters and you’ll get to return the favor for someone else,'” she said. And they do.
As Johnsonius says goodbye to Southwestern, she says goodbye to people who have become family to her. She hopes to meet members of the Southwestern family all around the world.
“I know that I have family all over the world now, and that’s a blessing.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: INTERNATIONAL HEART.