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My Springfield Story: Herb and Karen Johnson

Herb (EU ’66) and Karen (EU ’65) Johnson

Current occupation: Assemblies of God World Missionaries to Papua New Guinea

Herb and Karen Johnson’s journey to full-time missions work has been a bit unconventional. Both felt the call of God to preach the gospel, but also had a passion for teaching that led them to pursue education degrees at Evangel University (then Evangel College).

The Johnsons met in the laundromat on-campus as students; Herb as a Music Education major and Karen as an Elementary Education major. According to Karen, it was love at first wash.

“A gentleman from Minnesota asked me to help him wash his clothes,” Karen said. “The rest is history. I’ve been washing his clothes for more than 50 years now.”

Following graduation, the Johnsons moved to Crown Point, Indiana, where they pursued careers in education. However, they felt strongly that God was calling them into international missions work.

They were appointed as full-time Assemblies of God world missionaries in 1974, and were the first couple to appear before the missions board without holding a full-time pastorate position.

“God used our Evangel degrees in education, and we were asked to go to Ethiopia, because that was the one field that would only accept non-pastors,” Herb said. “We fit the bill, and that became our first missions assignment.”

Following their assignment to Ethiopia, the Johnsons transitioned to Papua New Guinea, where they continue to serve.

According to the Johnsons, the training they received at Evangel uniquely prepared them for their international missions assignments.

“When I chose to attend Evangel, my parents thought my decision was a wise one,” Karen said. “They told me that Evangel would prepare me for life, and that I would have open doors because of my education from a liberal arts university. Everywhere we’ve served as missionaries has been because I have a liberal arts degree.”

“The training I received at Evangel was exceptional,” Herb said. “Evangel was the best place to connect the giftings that God gave me with my purpose.”

That purpose would be put to the test in 2010 when the Johnsons faced an attack unlike any they had experienced before.

While serving in Papua New Guinea, the Johnsons recognized that distributing Bibles to fellow Christian leaders would help aid in the discipleship and growth of villages throughout the country. To that end, the Johnsons were able to raise funds to purchase 5,000 Fire Bibles.

On the day the Bibles were due to be delivered to a port in the northern frontier of the country, the Johnsons decided to walk from their local village to the port to receive them.

As they came to an isolated place along the beach, a man approached them and demanded Karen’s purse. She refused, and the man brandished a large machete and attacked. Karen was knocked unconscious.

Instinctively, Herb grabbed his wife’s purse and refused to release his grip. The man, enraged, began to wildly cut Herb’s arms and hands with the machete in an effort to take the purse.

“I looked down and I could see the bones in my hand,” Herb said. “The machete was whacking my arms and hands, and eventually I couldn’t hold on and had to release my hold.”

The man fled, and Herb yelled for help. Emergency workers rushed to help the Johnsons. They were able to tie a tourniquet in place to stop the bleeding from Herb’s arms and hands and get the Johnsons to a local clinic.

“At the hospital, men from our church came and prayed for Herb,” Karen said. “That’s when the blood stopped flowing. The bleeding didn’t stop until the men in the church came and prayed.”

Members of the village gathered outside the hospital to maintain a prayer vigil for “bubu” and “buba man” – “grandma” and “grandpa” Johnson. Miraculously, a surgeon was able to reattach the muscles, nerves, and veins in Herb’s arms and hands. The Johnsons were then flown to America for further treatment.

Karen recounts that shortly before the attack happened, her son, Kevin, was on a walk in California, and felt a premonition that his parents were going to be brutally murdered. He prayed in earnest that the Lord would prevent the tragedy.

“When Kevin began to pray, God broke the curse that Satan tried to put on us,” Karen said. “We were bringing 5,000 bibles into the country and making disciples of people. Satan did not like that.”

Today, the Johnsons continue to minister to the people of Papua New Guinea. They share their testimony and speak of God’s goodness in their lives, and are welcomed with open arms into the community of people they have literally shed their own blood to reach.

“It’s been a privilege to serve the Lord all of these years,” Karen said. “I’m so glad I chose Evangel and followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It has literally been the foundation out of which we have been able to share the gospel of Jesus with people around the world.”