Johanna works with the Zaza people group in Turkey.
AFM: How did you become interested in Turkey?
Johanna: My father worked in the military and our family was stationed in Ankara, Turkey for three years. I lived there from age 14 to 16, and during that time I had lots of Turkish friends and came to really enjoy their culture. My dad was traveling a lot around the country at that time, and sometimes we would get to travel with him. That also exposed me to the beauty of Turkey.
What led you to the Zaza people in particular?
In 2010 I started praying for God to show me what to do about my retirement the coming year. When the AFM Mobilizer for the Zaza people group in Turkey came to speak at my church in 2011, I knew I had my answer from God. There was an awakening in my heart that this is what the Lord wants me to invest in with my retirement years. Listening to this Mobilizer brought back so many memories of my teenage years in Turkey. As I spoke with the Mobilizer in the subsequent weeks about how to develop meaningful relationships with this people group that was 6,000 miles away, I realized that I needed to go meet them in person. The Mobilizer’s initial response was, “Well, that’s highly unlikely…” But I persisted and prayed, and as the Mobilizer saw that it was God speaking to me he quickly enabled me to go and be in the midst of the Zaza people.
What was your first trip like?
There have been so many trips, it’s hard to remember the first! Let’s see, well one interesting thing about my first trip is that I stayed for 2 full months.
Wow! You went on your very first trip and stayed for 2 months?
Johanna: I did indeed! It was a little frightening. I was committed to staying for the full time, but I was fearful that it might be a tough 2 months! People kept asking me beforehand, “What are you going to do once you get there?” and all I could say was, “I don’t know, but God does.” My husband dropped me off at the airport, and I saw people of all different nationalities waiting for the plane with me. Looking at their faces I knew that the Lord was with me. It seemed foolhardy at the time, but now I look back and know that God wanted me to see what He is doing among the Zaza and to share that with others.
And what was God doing among the Zaza?
Johanna: Well, He was making Himself known in places where He had previously not been known. It was amazing to witness. As I traveled around to different cities and villages during those 2 months I began to see the sweetness of the people and to really feel God’s love for them. One of the families I stayed with during that time had a medical emergency, and I was able to jump in and serve just by doing dishes, cooking, cleaning, and other simple ways to support them. There was a deep bonding that happened between us just from being with them during that time.
What does “mobilization” look like back in the US?
Johanna: Here we turn on the news and see what man does to man, but when God is in the midst of it there are truly glorious things happening. One way I connect with Zaza is by interacting with Turkish people here in the US. There were some Turkish students who were sub-governors studying in my city. When I found out about them I invited them into my home, and our relationship has grown over the years. Another way I mobilize for the Zaza is by traveling to different churches to promote awareness of the people group and to “mobilize” support for them. Even though my heart is with the Zaza and I go 2-3 times a year, there is ground work to be done here. There are so many ways to serve those who are already working among the Zazas. Their language skills are better, they are better evangelists than I am, but it’s good for them to see the support that God has for them- through me and others.
Tell us about your latest trip.
Johanna: Lately we’ve been partnering with people who can do training for local leaders in evangelism and discipleship. We want to expand our prayer partners so that the Zaza will be even more covered in prayer and God will move in even greater ways among the people. I connected recently with some Korean pastors in Turkey and the whole mission was just prayer walking. At one church there is a Korean pastor to Zaza people with a substantial number of Iranian Christian refugees; it is a moving scene to see multiple nations worshiping together. We went to Cappadocia (I Peter 1:1) and prayed nonstop for 3 days. There were 400 people there- 1/3rd Turkish, 1/3rd Koreans, and 1/3rd a mélange! The staff of the hotel had never seen anything like that and were amazed that we prayed without ceasing.
What would you say to others who want to get involved?
Johanna: It’s so rewarding to be a part of this. I get such joy being a part of what God is doing- yes, even I am a part of His great kingdom plan! It’s humbling, but it’s been the most exciting part of my life. I’m so glad that God continues to reveal Himself in my life and the lives of those I encounter in Turkey. When I go to all these churches to share, I see all these other grey heads and I think, “You think your life is over, but really it’s just beginning!” I’m one year away from being 70, and God’s retirement plan for me has been so much better than anything I could have planned. I think about that- what will I show the Lord when I stand before Him one day? My shell collection from retirement? I want to bring him the souls of men. The work I’m doing now.
AFM gives thanks to God for the years of faithful service that Johanna has given to His Kingdom through AFM. We invite you to prayerfully consider becoming a Mobilizer for an unreached people group. If you sense God might be leading you to such a ministry, please contact us.