RICHMOND, Va. — David Johnson occasionally wonders, if he
had it to do all over again, whether he would have allowed his 21-year-old son
Jeremiah to go to Mozambique to share the gospel among the Moniga people.
“I always said my whole pastoral life and parenting life the one thing I don’t
think I could ever handle is losing a child,” said Johnson, director of Golden
Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Arizona campus.
That fear became a reality for Johnson and his wife Diana on April 12, 2010, when
the student missionary lost his life in a motorcycle accident on the mission
field in Mozambique. The Johnsons continue to struggle through the pain of
losing their son. One thing, though, gives them peace.
“Our son could have died any number of ways,” Johnson said. “But knowing what
he was doing … has made things completely different for us.
“Jeremiah was serving the Lord, following Christ and spreading the Word in
Last June, the Johnsons traveled to Mozambique to retrace their son’s steps and
meet the people with whom Jeremiah had built relationships. There, Johnson
baptized 17 men and women whom his son helped lead to Christ during Jeremiah’s
short time in the country.
“I’ve baptized people in the Jordan River in Israel,” Johnson said. “In fact, I
baptized my mother in the Jordan River, and it was not anything compared to (the
baptism service in Mozambique).
“What God was doing in (Jeremiah) and through him was just amazing, nothing
short of amazing,” Johnson added. Thinking through whether he would have
allowed his son to still go there, if he had it to do over again, he said, “I
would not hold Jeremiah back.”
Jeremiah, a member of Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix and student at
Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, was serving on the mission field with the
International Mission Board’s semester-long Hands On initiative.
But it wasn’t Jeremiah’s first time in Africa among the Moniga people.
He had ministered among the Moniga with a Royal Palms team in the summer of
2009 as part of the church’s ongoing partnership among the people group.
Johnson was skeptical when Jeremiah first told him he wanted to go on the
“When he signed up to go to Africa, he wasn’t really walking with the Lord,”
Johnson said. “I said, ‘Son, shouldn’t you think about whether this is
something God wants you to do?’”
Jeremiah responded, “Dad, I just want to go see Africa.”
“It wasn’t a really spiritual desire in the beginning,” Johnson added with a
“I began to pray that God would do a work in Jeremiah’s life that would make
God so real to him that he would never again question following the Lord.”
When Jeremiah returned from that first trip, Johnson could tell something significant
had happened in his son’s life.
Jeremiah told his father that God had spoken to him while playing soccer with a
group of children.
“He heard God speak to him, ‘Who will tell these children about me?’” Johnson
said. “He said, ‘Dad, I have to go back.’”
In January 2010, Jeremiah was back on a plane to Mozambique.
“He was very active, energetic, an extremely easy-to-get-to-know individual,”
said IMB missionary John Dina, who serves in Africa with his wife Wanne and
their three children.
“And he didn’t mind sharing his opinion on things.”
“Jeremiah was 100 percent sold out (to missions),” added Dina, who attended
Royal Palms Baptist when he and his family lived in the states. “We could see a
real sincere call of God in his heart.”
Jeremiah used soccer as a way to engage the Moniga — a poor people, nearly all
Muslim, who make their living as fishermen.
In just a couple of months, Jeremiah was quickly learning Portuguese, the local
language, and helping to lead people to Christ. He also established several “preaching
points” — where people would gather to hear the Good News.
“He had already memorized his testimony in Portuguese; he had memorized the ‘Roman
Road’ in Portuguese,” Dina said. “He was impressive. My goal was that he could
win somebody to the Lord before he left in Portuguese.”
While learning the language, Jeremiah worked closely with a local pastor who
would translate and share the gospel with local people.
“(Jeremiah) would take a soccer ball with him and he would just spark up a
soccer game anywhere,” Dina said. “And that would draw a crowd.”
Together, Jeremiah and the pastor presented the gospel, and people — including
the 17 Jeremiah’s father would later baptize — turned their lives over to
“We continue to disciple those believers,” Dina said. “He (Jeremiah) made an
amazing contribution, and his contribution continues.”
Jeremiah was driving a motorcycle back from sharing the gospel in a Moniga
village along the coast of Mozambique when he lost control, and he and a local
pastor who was a passenger on the bike crashed along the road. The pastor
suffered multiple injuries — mostly to his face — but Jeremiah died shortly
after the accident. He left behind his parents; two sisters, Rachel and
Talitha; and a brother, Merritt.
Many of the locals still speak of the sacrifice that Jeremiah made, Dina said.
“When there is a challenge before them, they’ll bring his name up.”
Though Johnson obviously wishes his son were alive today to continue what he
started, he would not change where Jeremiah was when he died.
“I wanted him to follow the Lord, even if it meant dying,” he said. “That’s a
hard thing, but that’s the truth.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — James writes for the International Mission Board.)
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