Every Tribe, Every Tongue
The average Christian may find that he/she relates a lot to Luke Johnson. Not so much because he grew up on the mission field, then returned years later to Kigoma, Tanzania to serve there himself — but because of his experiences of wandering away from God (before finding Him again) and struggling to maintain a disciplined devotional practice in the busyness of everyday life.
Here, he shares what the Lord has been teaching him through the many ups and downs of the pilgrim life.
Tell us a little about how you came to know the Lord.
I grew up as a missionary kid in Burundi (East Africa). My parents brought us up in the knowledge and fear of the Lord and in the fellowship of His people. I trusted in Jesus for salvation at an early age, but was often plagued with doubts. I would often recommit my life to Christ just to be sure I was saved — until, one day, my dad read Jesus’ words to me in John 10, where He promises that His sheep will never perish.
After that, I grew in my faith and in my hunger for God’s Word. I was certain I wanted to be a missionary when I grew up. Sadly, in my high school years, I wandered from God’s path and lived for myself instead of Christ.
I rededicated my life to God when I began to attend Emmaus Bible College. It was there that I grew in my knowledge of God and in my commitment to Him.
I would often recommit my life to Christ just to be sure I was saved — until, one day, my dad read Jesus’ words to me in John 10
What are some symptoms of being far from God? What did the Lord use to draw you back to Himself?
One symptom of being far from God is selfishness. I wanted to live my own way, instead of God’s way. Hypocrisy is another symptom. Having grown up in a Christian home, I knew how to look good on the outside — even though, on the inside, my heart was far from God. Another symptom is not having a hunger for God’s Word or for private prayer.
God began to draw me back to Himself when I began my studies at Emmaus. I was challenged by my professors and classmates, but especially by God’s Word. I knew that I needed to confess my sin of selfishness and rededicate my life to God.
Where are you serving? How did the Lord call you to this specific mission field?
Our family is serving in Western Tanzania, in the town of Kigoma and in some of the surrounding villages. My wife Gina and I both knew we wanted to be missionaries, and had begun to prepare for it by getting an Intercultural Studies/Biblical Studies degree at Emmaus Bible College. We also spent some time serving in an assembly in the US.
After sharing our vision with the elders at Tieton Drive Bible Chapel in Yakima, Washington, we spent the next three years developing wonderful relationships with the disciples there and serving alongside like-minded believers. During that time, we had the opportunity to visit Bolivia, Burundi and Tanzania (where my parents served after leaving Burundi).
What really drew us to Tanzania was the great need there for teaching, encouraging and building up the saints in the village churches. Our burden to help with these needs confirmed our calling to Kigoma, Tanzania.
Having grown up in a Christian home, I knew how to look good on the outside — even though, on the inside, my heart was far from God
How has your training helped you in your daily ministry?
The more we know God’s Word, the more we come to know God Himself. We benefit personally from this knowledge as we grow spiritually. The more we grow spiritually, the more we desire to serve God with our lives and help meet the needs of those around us.
How did the Lord use the three years you served at a local assembly to prepare you for your current mission field?
Our three years at a local assembly taught us to be patient, and wait on God’s timing. God is not in a hurry, especially when He is preparing us for something. We got the opportunity to learn how to minister in a culture we were unfamiliar with. Since both of us had grown up on the mission field, my wife and I were unfamiliar with American culture, so ministering to American youth, and participating in the worship team was a learning experience for us.
We got to go on a short-term mission trip to Mexico with some of the youth from our chapel, which was eye-opening for some of them. We also visited Bolivia, and Burundi and Tanzania during that time. We saw firsthand the many needs in Tanzania, and God gave us a burden to help in the work there.
My advice to someone who is considering serving God as a missionary is to be in regular communication with your church leaders. Ask to meet with them. Humbly let them know what you are thinking and praying about. Ask them to pray with you and for you. Ask them for their advice, and then submit to their counsel. Share with them your vision, how you see God leading you with every new step. It is such a blessing to have the prayers and enthusiastic support of your local church when you leave for the mission field. It has been a wonderful blessing to us.
Tell us about your children. What kind of struggles do they face on the mission field?
Because of where we live, our only option for schooling is homeschool, which is not necessarily always the case on the mission field. This consumes a lot of Gina’s time and adds to her many responsibilities. When you have to cook from scratch, there are no quick and easy meals.
On the other hand, when we go to the US, our children have a hard time fitting in and relating to the kids there — but they struggle with that here as well. It seems that missionary kids don’t truly feel at home anywhere, but are pretty good at adapting to new places. They relate best to other kids with similar multicultural experiences.
It seems that missionary kids don’t truly feel at home anywhere, but are pretty good at adapting to new places
Tell us about the people you minister to.
The people we work with are very friendly and hospitable. They love to talk and spend time together. They rely on their network of relationships, not only for conversation, but also for physical and monetary assistance with the many problems that they face in life. Poverty and the struggle for survival is a daily reality for many.
“Christianity” is widespread in Tanzania, but many adherents do not know much about the Bible and their lives remain unchanged. There is much false teaching, and the prosperity gospel has become widely accepted, due to many people’s desire to get rich quickly.
Muslims comprise a large minority of the population and maintain a strong voice in the public arena. The greatest need we see is for church leaders to be trained and believers to be taught God’s Word, so that they can live lives that are transformed by the gospel and evangelise the lost (unreached tribal groups, pagans, Muslims and nominal Christians). It is to this end that we labour.
Can you give us an example of a challenging situation you recently faced and what the Lord taught you from the experience?
We recently submitted our work permit application for renewal. This, along with a residence permit, allows us to continue to live and work here. Restrictions and burdensome requirements for foreigners have made it increasingly difficult for missionaries to minister here. Many have had their permit applications rejected or accepted only after an appeal process.
The Lord is teaching us to be patient while waiting for an answer, and to trust Him for the outcome. If He wants us here, He will make a way; if not, He will lead us to another place of service. “As for God, His way is perfect. The LORD’s word is flawless. He shields all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 18:30).
There is much false teaching in Tanzania, and the prosperity gospel has become widely accepted, due to people’s desire to get rich quickly
What are some personal spiritual challenges you face and what is the Lord teaching you them?
Remember that missionaries are weak vessels that the Lord chooses to use. Without the Spirit of God working in us and through us, our work is in vain. Personally, after many years of following Christ, I still find it hard to discipline myself to get up early in order to spend a good amount of time praying and reading God’s Word.
When I don’t get up early, the demands of family and ministry cause my devotion time to become rushed and unfruitful. I have recently been challenged to pray more about the many problems and opportunities we face in ministry.
Many of us will be able to relate to the struggle of not being disciplined enough to spend time with God in the morning. What are some practical things we can do to make our quiet times joyful?
For me, the only quiet time I can find to be alone with God in prayer and reading His Word is early in the morning, before the kids wake up. If I don’t get up early, then my quiet time will be rushed and not very productive. Cultivating our relationship with God takes time but, once the day starts, with all its demands, activities, interruptions and responsibilities, it is almost impossible to find that kind of time.
What can I do practically? Pray (fast and pray if you have to) and ask God to make you more disciplined. 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Discipline yourself for godliness.” Get to bed early. Set your alarm far away from your bed. Ask for God’s strength to help you get up. You won’t regret getting out of bed — not after enjoying a precious time of fellowship at your Master’s feet.
How can we pray for you?
You can pray that we would walk in close fellowship with the Master each day. Pray that we would love God above all and love all men with God’s love. Pray that our children would follow the Lord wholeheartedly. Pray for the growth and spiritual maturity of our Tanzanian brothers and sisters. Pray for the Tanzanian church to become involved in missions.
A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.