About Charles and Melissa’s ministry
Charles and Melissa Johnson have been invited to help the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian’s Zambia Synod expand its holistic ministry of community development, food security and improved health. Charles serves as a Development Specialist, and Melissa serves as a Health Education Program Facilitator. Charles’ work is heavily focused on two distinct agricultural-related activities; the first consists of Charles’ efforts to develop an agricultural income generating activity-farming for profit. Funds generated will be used to help sustain Chasefu Theological College, the work of Chasefu Model Farm, and of course, reinvested in the AIGA farming activities. Charles’s other focus is teaching courses in sustainable agriculture at Chasefu Theological College, providing education to help the students feed their own families and also be able to provide training opportunities for these future pastors to teach others in new agricultural techniques. The intent is for pastors to be able to supplement their income through farming activities, and to help lift up their congregations and communities. In addition, Charles is working in support of the Model Farm Coordinator to develop Chasefu Model Farm, which is envisioned to be a training center for smallholder farmers, using appropriate technology, in a Zambian context. Melissa is working with the CCAP Zambia Health Department Coordinator and other church leaders, local stakeholders, including Ministry of Health (MOH), and the community, to identify important needs and gaps in general health education. Along with the health department coordinator, Melissa works to facilitate the development and implementation of health education programs that have been identified to improve maternal and child health, to address hygiene issues of girls and women, and to raise awareness about nutritional needs of children and adults.
Zambia has a population of 15 million people, which includes some 70 ethnic groups. An estimated 50 to 75 percent of the population identify themselves as Christian. Most other Zambians are either Muslim or Hindu. Presbyterianism was introduced into Zambia by Scottish missionaries in the 1860s. The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian’s Zambia Synod is growing rapidly and is committed to a holistic approach to outreach. The Synod serves a population struggling with massive poverty and the rapid spread of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDs. The UN estimates more than 1 million Zambians are living with HIV/AIDS. Zambia ranks 163rd out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, a composite measurement of life expectancy, education, and per capita income.
About Charles and Melissa
Charles and Melissa’s call to service has been shaped by the struggles and joys life has presented them.
“A series of events and experiences have led us to a point in our lives where we felt we had to respond to God’s call to serve,” Charles says. “Perhaps the most significant of these was the life and death of our severely disabled son, Holden. Throughout his life, even at the most difficult times, we saw God’s hand at work through Holden and others who came into our lives.”
Melissa’s love for and experience with Holden thrust her into advocacy efforts for special needs children and their families. “Through Holden, God gave me a voice and a heart for ‘the least of these,’ and I felt God leading me to advocate against the injustices many of these families frequently experience, especially the lower-income, less educated families.”
After Holden’s death, the Johnsons began turning their attention toward God’s work abroad and participated in short-term mission trips to Vietnam, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Along the way, we found new meaning in our lives,” Charles says. Melissa adds, “I felt the call to work for the least of these, particularly women and children, even more strongly.”
The couple traveled to Congo several times and developed a particularly strong passion for the country. “Because of those experiences and specifically the people we’ve met and become friends with, we were drawn to full-time mission service in Africa,” Charles observes. “The joy we have witnessed in the people we have met, despite the difficult circumstances in which they live, is a striking witness to God’s love and people’s faith and hope for a better life.”
While aware that Zambia is different than Congo, Zambia’s neighbor to the north, Melissa notes their relationships with people in Congo “have made us more open and understanding of different cultures.” They anticipate drawing on those experiences as they begin their ministry in Zambia.
Prior to entering mission service, Charles served for 21 years as president of Patty’s Herbs, Inc., an agribusiness based in Pearsall, Texas, that grows and distributes fresh-cut culinary herbs. Previously, he worked for several banks and for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
Charles holds a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in business administration from Texas A&M.
Melissa worked for several years as an advocate for families of children with special needs in the health care and educational arenas. Most recently she worked for 15 years as an assistant to the managing partner of Thornton, Biechlin, Segrato, Reynolds & Guerra, a San Antonio law firm. She left that position in 2010 and devoted considerable time to church and community volunteer activities. She attended Texas A&M University.
In addition to Holden, the Johnsons raised two other children, Meagan and Brien, and have two grandchildren, Lucy and Max. Both Charles and Melissa are PC(USA) ruling elders and members of Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio.
Charles – April 30
Melissa – July 29