By Paula Schlueter Ross
LCMS World Relief is providing $15,000 to help fund a bone-marrow transplant for a recently ordained pastor with the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC).
Rev. R. Johnson, who is in his late 20s, was diagnosed with leukemia last summer, just as he was preparing to take on a major IELC mission project among Telugu-speaking people in southern India. Johnson is from the Telugu area and, as part of his three-year seminary “probation,” or practicum, had helped start several of the dozen or so Lutheran congregations worshiping there.
After his ordination, Johnson was to become director of a Telugu-based branch of the seminary, which was expected to train lay evangelists for the area. But he got sick, putting plans on hold, according to Dr. Herbert Hoefer, area director for India and Sri Lanka with LCMS World Mission.
“[Johnson] had been chosen, and trained, and sent,” said Hoefer, who described the young pastor as “quiet, very sincere, humble, but very dedicated and courageous.”
As the IELC’s first Telugu-speaking pastor, Johnson was “willing to take on a cutting-edge role” in the church body, Hoefer said, so it was hard for him — and for IELC and seminary leaders — to accept the notion that he might not be able to carry out the task.
When it was learned that Johnson needed a bone-marrow transplant, and that his brother was a “match” as a donor, IELC officials appealed to Hoefer for help covering the medical costs. Hoefer took the dilemma to Dr. Daniel Mattson, associate executive director for administration and planning with LCMS World Mission, and Mattson contacted Rev. Matthew Harrison, who heads LCMS World Relief. Harrison authorized the grant, which was added to $5,000 from donors in India and $2,000 from the U.S.-based India Mission Society, and Johnson began the procedure June 7 at a hospital in India.
In a June 2 e-mail to Hoefer, Johnson expressed his thanks and asked for continued prayers. Johnson wrote, “when I heard your good news, half of my sickness was healed. That is only because of your love and prayers. I am really happy and I do not know how to say thanks to you. I will be thankful to you ’til the end of my life.”
“One of the chief tasks of mission work is to be a beacon of hope in a darkening world — and that comes through so clearly in this,” said Mattson. “We gave him hope for a new and better life, and I think that’s really worthwhile.”
The gesture also was appreciated by IELC leaders, said Hoefer, and has strengthened the relationship between the two Lutheran church bodies.
“For us to stand by and let [Johnson] die would have been unconscionable,” Hoefer said, and would have indicated to the IELC that “rules are more important than this [LCMS-IELC] partnership.”
Said Harrison: “Luther wrote that ‘faith is a living, mighty, active and mettlesome thing. It waits for no law to tell it to do good.’ [LCMS World Relief/Human Care] exists for these kind of circumstances. It’s what our donors and our church expect of us.”
Posted June 28, 2004