The dark storm clouds erupted as I pulled my rental car up to Gate A15 at the Orlando International Airport. Johanna Townsand, my seminar co-teacher, jumped into the passenger’s seat, dripping water from her trench coat.
“Hey, friend,” she said, hugging me. “Are you ready for another great adventure?” We were part of a children’s ministry team that trained leaders throughout the U.S. every fall. Our grueling travel schedule gave us time for girl talk and had truly deepened our friendship.
“Guess what I did last week?” I said, “I bought a house!”
“Me, too!” said Johanna. “Well, mine is not a house,” I confessed. “It’s a mountaintop cabin on Lake Arrowhead—eight-hundred square feet of heaven in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains.”
“Ours is not a house either,” she said with a sheepish grin. “It’s a nine-bedroom estate on five acres of the inland waterway at Newport Beach.”
“Hooray, God!” I cheered and fired a dozen questions at her. We chattered on like children on Christmas morning, celebrating God’s goodness to our families.
In many ways, Johanna and I were a lot alike. We were children’s ministers in Southern California churches, belonged to the same organizations, and held ministry degrees. We lived in modest homes, enjoyed good marriages, shopped at Walmart, and were raising teenagers. Johanna and I had often prayed together for her husband’s struggling software company. At one point, she feared they would lose their home if the business failed. But a few months before our trip to Orlando, Johanna called with a great answer to prayer. One of the largest software companies in the country had bought out her husband and his partners for several million dollars.
Yet, on that rainy day in the car, Johanna looked worried. “I don’t know what I am going to do about the kids at my church,” she sighed. “I don’t want to resign my ministry. It took me two years to get the preteens excited about Bible study, and we had four new kids last week.”
I stared at her in shock. Johanna was more concerned about the children than her new financial status. She understood what so many of us forget— that in Christ we live and move and have our being; our lives are not our own, they were bought at a price; and where our treasure is, there our hearts will be. (Acts 17:28, 1 Corinthians 6:19- 20, Matthew 6:21)
As I witnessed Johanna’s humility and clear sense of mission, I realized our similarities had ended. If I suddenly hit a windfall, would I be thinking about my Sunday school kids or ordering snacks for the preschool? Or would my resignation letter fly off the printer and get hand-delivered to my pastor with a smile? How quickly would my attentions turn to all the new stuff I’d buy and the places I’d visit?
I had an epiphany that day on US I-95. My co-teacher and peer became my mentor. Not because Johanna had reached a particular economic class, but because she lived a deeper faith. Like my friend, I could surrender to God so completely that earthly things would not affect my heart for service or how I saw myself in the eyes of God or others. I needed to realize I possessed spiritual gifts to offer the Lord more valuable than all my possessions. Our materialistic culture need never rob me of sacred treasures.
So, I asked Johanna that day, “If you could do anything in the world, and you couldn’t fail, what would it be?” After some thought, she said, “I love working with abused children, but there are almost no resources to help these wounded kids know Jesus.”
“Well, you can write whatever they need and start your own publishing company!” I suggested.
“You are not serious?” she said, throwing her hands into the air. “Yes, I am!” I assured her. “And you’re just the woman to do it!”
Within a few months, Johanna launched a non-profit ministry, providing resources, seminars, and financial grants for churches and inner-city ministries serving children at risk. Her ministry, For Kids Only, changed the lives of thousands of children and their families. Eventually, she resigned from her church position to write and train leaders in many countries. Her beautiful home became a haven for weary ministers. Her residential address changed, but her heart remained faithful to the people and the work God had called her to do years before. When Johanna went home to heaven in 2016, she left a rich legacy of faith.
And me? My cozy little cabin in the mountains became more than a family getaway. It provided a retreat and respite for many friends. God didn’t change my income tax bracket, but thanks to Johanna, He changed me.
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