Charles and Melissa Johnson: “We’re still working. It’s just harder”
January 26, 2021
Charles and Melissa Johnson served as ruling elders in their home congregation, Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, and now as mission co-workers in Zambia. In both places they found joy and strength in the strong sense of community that surrounded them. Now sheltering in place in Atlanta at Mission Haven, short-term housing for mission co-workers, they are busy staying connected to partners, supporting churches and finding that sense of community in new places.
“We join a different worship service virtually each Sunday,” said Charles Johnson. “We have also participated in Bible studies, minutes for mission, and even a story hour for children. We asked what we can do for them and offer our prayers of support for their community. We tell them, ‘We are all in this together.’”
The Johnsons serve in Zambia at the invitation of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Zambia Synod, working to expand the Church’s efforts in its holistic ministry of community development, food security and improved health. Charles serves as a development specialist and Melissa is a health education program facilitator.
With a degree in agronomy from Texas A&M University and years of experience in farming, Charles’ work is focused on developing an agricultural income — farming for profit to help sustain Chasefu Theological College in Zambia. He is also an instructor in sustainable agriculture at Chasefu, teaching students to feed their own families and providing them with knowledge of new farming techniques to lift up their new congregations and communities. He also works with Chasefu’s model farm project, a training center for small farmers.
Melissa is working with the CCAP Zambia Health Department 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.
In late January 2020, the Johnsons began hearing about the new virus hitting China. By late February, the virus was beginning to take hold across the globe. On March 13, even though there were no cases yet in Zambia, the Johnsons made the three-hour trip to Chipata to stock up on groceries with the intention to shelter in place. They had received word from a Peace Corps friend that there were rumors that the Peace Corps was pulling volunteers out of certain countries. They soon received word that the Peace Corps was immediately evacuating all volunteers from Zambia and an email from PC(USA) asking about their thoughts about the situation.
Although they wanted to stay in Zambia, Charles has a medical condition that puts him in a high-risk category, so they made plans to leave.
Charles has been unable to send lessons to students but has been working via WhatsApp with the CCAP/Zambia General Secretary in areas such as harvest of crops at Chasefu and construction of the storage facility. Melissa has helped the CCAP Health Department learn to navigate Zoom so they were able to participate in the rollout of a new strategy for Days for Girls, an international health and hygiene program. The CCAP program temporarily quit making hygiene kits and started making masks. They donated 150 masks and 40 washable, reusable feminine hygiene kits to the Lundazi Correctional Facility. An additional 1,000 masks were made and distributed to several CCAP/Zambia secondary schools.
Melissa worked with the CCAP Health Department to help craft a proposal to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to help provide COVID-19 brochures and education, handwashing stations in some of the most vulnerable families and personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies for the three CCAP rural health centers.
Melissa said CCAP has been working to educate Zambians about truth vs. myths about coronavirus through a WhatsApp group. Some of the false information circulating among the community were that only white people could get COVID-19 and that the virus is caused by 5G networks.
The Johnsons are grateful that they’re able to be near family. Their daughter and son-in-law graduated from Georgia Tech and decided to remain in the area.
“We are still doing the work that is important to us,” said Charles. “It’s just a little more difficult right now.”
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Charles and Melissa Johnson, Mission Co-workers in Zambia
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God, when the world’s needs seem to overwhelm our ability to help, let us remember that you ask us to give what we have, not what we do not have. By your Spirit, we can do more than we ever dreamed. Give us faith to trust your Word and obey your commands through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.