QUELIMANE, Mozambique—“It was on the day the accident happened when I accepted Christ,” said Adriano Amade, a former Muslim among the Moniga people of Mozambique.
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Student missionary Jeremiah Johnson and local pastor António Sobrinho had been sharing the Gospel in Amade’s rural fishing village on April 12, 2010, and had led Amade to faith in Christ. On their way back to town, Jeremiah and Sobrinho lost control of their motorcycle and crashed. Jeremiah, age 21, was killed and the pastor injured.
Jeremiah, from Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., was serving as a semester missionary there through IMB’s Hands On initiative for college students and young adults. Jeremiah used futebol (soccer) to provide an opening for sharing the Gospel in villages. After the games, Sobrinho or another local pastor would preach, then Jeremiah shared his testimony, which he had memorized in Portuguese.
Many Mozambicans were curious about the purpose of this foreigner visiting their villages, including former cult member José Sunte.
“We heard that a white man came with a motorcycle, but we didn’t know what [he] wanted,” said Sunte.
Student missionary Jeremiah Johnson used "futebol" (soccer) to provide an opening for sharing the Gospel in rural Mozambican villages.
Sunte belonged to a cult his father established in the small village of Munddimwi. Meaning “to contribute together,” Sokela focuses on providing burial rites.
“To many people, it is the only thing they know,” Sunte said. “We follow the ways of our parents.”
But his father’s religion, which focused on honoring the dead, didn’t offer much solace to Sunte. “My life was spent away from home, drinking, speaking bad about people, not being nice to people,” he said.
When Jeremiah and two local pastors shared the Gospel with Sunte, he immediately decided to follow Jesus. He became the leader of the new “preaching point” – a place to gather and share the Good News – in Munddimwi.
When his father died, Sunte refused to become the new Sokela leader, and animosity spread toward the few Christians led by Sunte. Villagers kept their distance from the small group of believers that had developed there because Sokela members spread a rumor that the Baptists didn’t acknowledge the dead or provide funerals for them.
Almost two years after Jeremiah Johnson’s death, villagers gathered by the Indian Ocean to witness José Fijamo Sunte be the first of 10 believers baptized in their area. IMB missionary John Dina baptized Sunte.
The news of Jeremiah’s death, coupled with community pressures, caused Sunte’s faith to falter. But IMB missionaries John Dina and Jessica Riemersma, both also from Royal Palms Baptist, continued to visit Munddimwi to disciple Sunte and a handful of believers. They finally saw a breakthrough in January 2012, when over a dozen people decided to follow Christ within weeks of hearing the Gospel preached at an elderly villager’s funeral.
Then, almost two years after Jeremiah’s death, villagers gathered by the Indian Ocean to witness Sunte be the first of 10 believers baptized.
“I want God’s Gospel to reach all the people in this neighborhood … ,” Sunte said. “Personally, I want for God to work in me like he worked in Jeremiah’s life — help me take the Gospel to other areas where there is no Gospel.
“All of this is from a seed that Jeremiah left here. God sent the rain. Now it has given fruit.”
Jeremiah often called himself a “seed burier.”
“I’d never heard that term ‘a seed burier’ before, but that is what Jeremiah did,” said Dina, who served as the young missionary’s supervisor. “He was just sowing seeds — burying seeds, as he would say — for the Gospel in Mozambique.”
Orlando Avelino, one of the Mozambican pastors who shared the Gospel alongside Jeremiah Johnson, said: “I would like to be like him. I would like to have his heart. … I would like to have the courage of Jeremiah in sharing God’s Word.”
“So where does Jeremiah’s influence stop or where does it start? Where’s that chain of people coming to Jesus through his life? Dina reflected. “… It hasn’t stopped yet. That I know.”
Orlando Avelino, one of the pastors who shared the Gospel alongside Jeremiah, said, “I would like to be like him. I would like to have his heart. God is the only one who can do this. I would like to have the courage of Jeremiah in sharing God’s Word.”
For Jeremiah, that courage developed out of first struggling with what it meant to live out the Christian faith.
In 2009, Jeremiah decided to go on a summer missions trip to Mozambique with Royal Palms Baptist, which has had an ongoing partnership to reach the Moniga people with the Gospel.
Riemersma, who led that summer missions team, knew Jeremiah to be a partier and said she “never honestly thought he would ever go to Africa or ever be a missionary.”
His parents also were surprised when Jeremiah told them he wanted to go on the missions trip.
In 2009, God spoke to Jeremiah Johnson while he was playing soccer with a group of children on a Mozambican beach: "Who will tell these children about Me?" Jeremiah returned in 2010 to reach the Moniga people group through sports evangelism.
“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,” said David Johnson, Jeremiah’s father, who serves as director of the Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
God answered David’s prayer while Jeremiah was playing soccer with a group of children on a Mozambican beach.
“During this time, God spoke to Jeremiah and said, ‘Who will tell these children about me?’” David recounted. “God put it on Jeremiah’s heart to go back to Mozambique to reach this people group through sports evangelism.”
Riemersma noticed an immediate shift in Jeremiah. “On that volunteer team, the Lord really changed [Jeremiah] and changed his life and changed his faith,” she said. “He made faith his own. He made following the Lord his own and from that point on, Jeremiah was a different Jeremiah than I’d ever known or seen.”
The day her father called with the news of Jeremiah’s death, Riemersma was sitting in her apartment preparing to head to Mozambique for two years as an IMB missionary.
“I had applied for the job and been accepted for my dream position here in Quelimane, Mozambique – the same place Jeremiah was serving,” she said. “I had to come to grips with, ‘If I serve here, then what if God is calling me to die as well?’”
Riemersma wrestled with her emotions, but her determination to share the Gospel in Mozambique did not falter.
Jessica Riemersma wrestled with her emotions after Jeremiah Johnson's death, but her determination to share the Gospel in Mozambique did not falter. She served there for two years as an IMB missionary.
“How are my actions today going to affect the eternity of another person?” Riemersma asked herself. “Is me telling this person about the Lord and His love for them going to change eternity? Or, am I going to sit in front of the TV … or do something that’s not eternally minded and someone else goes to hell because I wasn’t obedient?”
In August 2011, after almost a year of serving in Quelimane, Mozambique, Riemersma decided to continue teaching God’s Word in some of the outlying areas where Jeremiah began his ministry.
“It’s cool to see how God has just from a few seeds and a few people’s lives taken that work from something small … to a group that is producing another group to that [second] group now producing another group,” she said. “Just seeing the Lord’s hand in all that has been really awesome to be a part of.”
“My friend Jeremiah with his one life changed a whole people group. The work he started here has changed the way people are believing, the way people are approaching life here in Quelimane and these surrounding areas,” said Riemersma, who completed her missionary term in the summer of 2012.
Baptism services are being held in Mozambique where previously there were no followers of Christ. New “preaching points” are continually being established by Moniga believers. Two Sena Christians are now translating biblical materials into their language. Mozambicans are leading the multiplication of churches.
Arizona Southern Baptists have provided funds given in Jeremiah’s memory to purchase approximately 18 bicycles and six motorcycles to help pastors take the Gospel to remote locations. Four teams of Arizona pastors traveled to Mozambique in the past two years to teach basic biblical doctrine to local pastors and train them to evangelize and plant churches.
“Jeremiah’s life and death has made a great impact on lives both in Arizona and Africa,” David said. “Our neighbor across the street came to know Christ after Jeremiah’s memorial service. Jeremiah and I had been praying for him for a long time, and I baptized him in our swimming pool!
“A young man in our church surrendered to the ministry as a result of Jeremiah’s death because he was touched by Jeremiah’s life. Our own lives have been transformed as well,” he said. “One thing Jeremiah told me before he died was that he wanted to get me to come to Africa. He did — four times over!”
Martha Richards is a media producer for IMB.
Make your life count for the Gospel by getting hands on with your faith. Be open to sharing about Christ wherever God leads you. If it’s overseas, consider serving through one of IMB’s opportunities, including:
- Student programs such as Hands On or International World Changers
- Journeyman/ISC/Masters, a 2-3 year commitment for people in all walks of life
- Apprentice/career, for those sensing a call to life-long international missions
- Embrace, an initiative for churches to get the Gospel to people groups without missionaries working among them