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Global Vision - Spring 2009

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Sylvia Johnson Finds Call in Mission

by Laura Kaslow, Communication Specialist

Growing up in a family that was frequently the guest home to missionaries, it is only fitting that Sylvia Johnson married a man whose proposal included, "Wherever we go, it will probably be overseas, probably in mission, and you'll have to carry lots of water!"

Having a heart for global mission was ingrained in Sylvia by her parents. However, it was a statement by a visiting pastor, "there's nothing worse than a lukewarm Christian," that led her to recognize her call to mission.

She says that he "got me thinking. I knew I wanted to do mission, but I didn't see where the opportunity was."

The Opportunity Sylvia Was Looking For

Sylvia's opportunity arrived after she married Dwight Johnson. Fittingly, the couple was married overseas in Berlin while Dwight was stationed there in the Army. After completing his military service and receiving his bachelor's degree, Dwight went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree at Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Ill.

The couple knew they wanted to go into foreign missions and after Dwight completed seminary, their call was answered. The Johnsons were sent to Japan by the Augustana Synod, where they lived from 1960-1970. They also returned to Japan for three years in the late 1990s.

Sylvia's Role as a Missionary
A degree in education gave Sylvia an opportunity in Japan that fit her perfectly, sharing the Christian message through teaching English to Japanese students. Her students ranged in age from kindergarteners to adults.

"For me, it turned out to be fantastic because everyone wanted to learn English," she says. Sylvia also called this opportunity to share the gospel through English courses "one of our strongest evangelical tools."

She notes that many of the Japanese children were sent to Christian kindergarten because they received "good moral teachings" while there.
Coming Home

When Dwight and Sylvia returned to the U.S., they immediately saw a need for mission development in congregations. Due to the then recent merger of the Lutheran churches, the Johnsons were concerned that mission efforts were being neglected. They began to help congregations across the state of Minnesota build mission programs.

Their work in mission development led Dwight to connect with Bob Engwall and Duain Vierow, both of whom were also interested in global mission. Together the three men helped found what became the Global Mission Institute.

"Their dream was to have a chair in mission and that every seminarian has a course in missions, which came to be," Sylvia proudly recalls.

In addition to their mission work in Japan, Dwight was called to teach at a seminary in Nigeria, which he did for six months in 1995. While Dwight headed to Africa to teach courses in stewardship, Sylvia remained home with their daughter.

"It was his dream to go and I told him to go," Sylvia said.

A Missionary To this Day

While Sylvia is no longer traveling across the ocean to serve the church in mission, she does remain actively involved at First Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minn., the same congregation she attended as a child.

A teacher at heart, Sylvia has taught Sunday School at First Lutheran for many years and jokes that "they have to bury me to get rid of me!"

Along with her love for teaching, Sylvia truly is a missionary at heart.

"Faith leads us to follow Christ's command to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, but that also means the people next door," Sylvia says.

She notes that she continues to attend many global mission events at Luther Seminary. And as she reflects on her lifelong call to Christian mission, Sylvia simply says she found her calling because "the Holy Spirit guides you every day."