This is the second of three blogs on lessons we can learn from Christian missionaries and evangelists who did not become famous (on earth).
Here’s a whirlwind introduction:
The daughter of a preacher, fourteen year-old Johanna Veenstra was working in New York as a typist in 1907, having been expelled from school a year before. With little thought of God, life was free and exciting. She was not surprised when her minister invited her over to his house one evening to tell her that she was wasting her life. For over a year she struggled with conviction until eventually she gave her life to Christ. At nineteen she became convinced that God was calling her to mission work, and a few years later decided that it was to Nigeria she should go.
So what can we learn from this young girl who headed to the continent of Africa?
1. Hard work
If there was anything Johanna Veenstra didn’t understand, it was laziness. It’s probably worth thinking about just how huge her journey from America to Africa was. It took a big boat, a small boat, a train, two legs and a bicycle to get to where she finally needed to go! In the midst of a difficult climate and the knowledge that home really was very far away, Johanna spent eight hours a day learning the Hausa language. She committed herself so well to it that after eight months she was able to preach her first sermon in the language!
You might be surprised to learn that being a ‘full-time’ Christian does not involve sitting in Starbucks all day everyday reading the latest Christian book and making lists in newly purchased moleskin notebooks. We are at war, and there is tough work to be done.
2. Indigenous missions
Johanna cared deeply about the people she was sharing the gospel with. But she also knew that she would not live forever. So who would replace her? Sure, there would be other missionaries, but Johanna’s desire was that a tribe member would one day preach the gospel to their own people. From day one Johanna had seen how important it was to have locals working with her—they knew the linguistic nuances, the cultural oddities and were already accepted by their people. Her prayer was answered and many of the people who came to faith went back to their own villages as messengers of the gospel.
How often, when the word ‘missionary’ is used, do we think of a white middle-class westerner preaching to a jungle tribe? Sharing the gospel is great. Going to foreign peoples is great. But our aim should be to one day be able to move on. We are not their messiah, Jesus is.
Being a single woman, in the jungle, running a mission station was no small task for Johanna Veenstra. She had many challenges to face, such as highly feared tribal chiefs and cannibals who made serious threats against her work. Yet she stayed in the face of danger. How? Because of the truth of Matthew 10:28 (ESV).
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Those who threatened her certainly had great power to afflict pain and bring misery. But for Johanna, that was preferable to standing against the One whose wrath is kindled against all sin.
Praise God for those times you have shared the gospel with unbelievers. It’s difficult, unpredictable and scary. But we have no need to fear (even though the danger can be very real), for God is with those who love Him.
The last words Johanna Veenstra said, as she lay on her deathbed, were ‘Did you call, Lord?’
They were her last words on earth, and they had been the language of her heart from the day when her strong will was yielded to Jesus Christ. Since then she had lived to obey His slightest bidding, and that was why in thirteen short years she had accomplished so much. And now, at the age of 39, having spent herself to the very last ounce of strength, she had finished the work God gave her to do.1
1. Pearce, W., Johanna Veenstra, Oliphants Ltd.: London, 95.