Gary and Linda Johnson
MTW Missionaries to Sweden
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old passes away; behold, all things become new."
II Corinthians 5:17
If you could go back in time and walk with the halls of my high school in Jackson, Mississippi, you might consider me one of those 'impossible' to reach people for the Gospel. A friend I grew up with came to know the Lord. He later told me that he never told me about Christ because he thought I would get nasty. I have always been an intense person. Before I was a Christian I was intense at sinning. I rebelled with all my heart.
Therefore it came as a surprise to many when at the end of my senior year I responded to the Word of God and repented of my sin to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. There were immediate marked changes in my life and disposition. Where I lied and manipulated before, I sought to speak the truth and care about people. Where I was intense in my rebellion before, I became intense in my desire to seek the Lord with all my heart.
In my study to know the Lord better I came to understand the centrality of the 'Great Commission' (Matt. 28:18-20). So in the Fall of my junior year at Belhaven College I responded to a challenge to seek out some form of missions experience before I graduated. I soon learned about Athletes In Action, a sports ministry that used sports as a medium to make contacts to share the gospel. I applied and was accepted to the baseball team headed to Sweden and Finland in 1984. The team consisted of a group of Christian athletes selected from colleges across America. We learned to share our faith concisely and did so often (between innings of games, as we conducted clinics for kids, as we lived with Swedish and Finnish families).
God used that summer changed the course of my life. I returned to graduate from Belhaven College in 1985. After graduation, I returned to Sweden as an AIA player/coach in Swedish clubs until September 1987. I joined MTW as a career missionary in 1988, and returned to Sweden until Fall 1992.
I met the former Linda Wallmyr from Alingsas, Sweden in 1989, as she was on her way abroad for a year of study in Mississippi. Linda grew up in a family that attended a 'Missions Covenant' church. She always had an interest in the Bible and trusted it as God's Word all along. The Lord satisfied her growing hunger for righteousness during her time in America through discipleship relationships and contact with Reformed University Ministries.
Linda returned to Sweden a
year later, and we married October 3, 1992. Since that time
I have completed a Masters of Divinity from Reformed Theological
Seminary, worked at Belhaven College as Director of International
Student Affairs, and most recently have served as Assistant Pastor
of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Linda
received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from Belhaven
College. All the while God has granted us two sons, Daniel
(6/29/94) and Joel (4/1/96), and a daughter, Rebekah (8/29/97).
We are expecting our fourth child in November.
Rev. Gary Glen Johnson
All around the world the Lord is using the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) via her missions sending agency, Mission to the World (MTW). I have served as a career missionary to Sweden since 1988. I was first sent there by MTW in a cooperative agreement with Athletes In Action (AIA), the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). My reason for going in a cooperative agreement was to be able to go the country I believe God was calling me to, yet remain under the authority of my church. The reason for going as a career missionary as opposed to short-term was that I already had a sense that the Lord would eventually use me for church-planting in Sweden. Ten years later that sense of call has remained upon me. Therefore, after fifteen years of interaction with God's Word, Swedes and their culture, I am convinced that now is the time to propose to the the PCA that an MTW team be sent to Sweden to work toward a church-planting movement and an eventual first-ever presbyterian denomination in Scandinavia.
The need for reformation in the
Swedish church is great. There is a growing lack of trust in
the authority of the Bible. Over 95% of the people of Sweden
have deemed church irrelevant to their lives and therefore do
not attend. There is not a single congregation that holds to
Calvinist convictions. There has never been a presbyterian denomination
in all of Scandinavia. The Westminster Standards have never
been translated into Swedish. A standard Reformed work like
Calvin's Institutes has never been translated to Swedish. With
the combination of these facts alone one can possibly surmise
that there is likely the need for a Reformed Presbyterian church-planting
movement. With a deeper look at the current spiritual climate
in Sweden, plus the work of the Spirit in the lives of several
Swedes I have been ministering to over that last decade, it becomes
more clear that it is likely that MTW will be used of the Lord
to initiate a new model for corporate worship in Sweden. Our
long-term vision includes church-planting, Christian classical
schools for children, a reformed presbyterian seminary, a reformed
university campus ministry, sports ministry-the works.
An unprecented event will occur in
the year 2,000. The Lutheran State Church will be separated
from government financial assistance. The Lutheran Church has
depended upon federal funds for everything, including paying her
priests and her committee members. In return the church has taken
care of various civil duties such as census, birth and burial
records, etc. There is now concern as to its survival. This
separation of Church and State, plus the fact that churches are
undergoing rapid decline in membership, has created a new openness
to receive help from outside sources. Therefore Lutheran Church
leaders recently met with MTW to ask that our team be sent to
Sweden as soon as possible to be in place when the changes take
The following are the distinctives
of the MTW Sweden team:
1. A Team of Swedes From the Start
Any missionary strategist will concur that the key to missions success is the locating and training of nationals to do the long-term work of ministry. Unprecedented in MTW's missions history is a team, that from its
inception, predominately consists
of nationals. The Lord has raised up a team of Swedes, Presbyterian
and Reformed by conviction, who see clearly the need for reformation
in the church of Sweden. Two Swedes are coming under care of
the Mississippi Valley Presbytery and are taking courses at Reformed
Theological Seminary. My role is one of locating and shepherding
faithful young men and encouraging them to love and serve the
church according to the measure of faith and gifts granted them
(II Timothy 2:2).
2. Church-Planting Stays Central
Since worship in spirit and truth is the goal, providing biblical corporate worship for God's people must be our main focus. Since our team is Calvinist in doctrine and Presbyterian in polity, and there is no Calvinist
or Presbyterian congregation in Sweden,
we must immediately gather our team for weekly Lord's Day worship.
We will learn more about outreach as we faithfully worship with
the insights He gives us for each stage of maturity.
3. Partnership With Existing Swedish Ministries Whenever Possible
No one can deny the clear mandate of
Scripture to seek unity with fellow believers in Christ Jesus.
We will seek out like-minded brethren from Karlskrona to Kiruna
in an effort to unite. We will start with the existing denominational
churches and their ministries in order to learn and to serve.
There is common ground and we are in the process of cooperating
wherever possible. However, our Calvinist and Presbyterian convictions
make us somewhat unique in not only in Sweden, but in all of the
Scandinavian countries; hence, the need to start new churches
and eventually a denomination.
4. Globally-Minded From the Outset
To justify a work in Sweden we must ask the question: 'Is this work strategic to the Great Commission cause?' Every step we take must be in the broader scope of God's plan for the nations; therefore, we will be
missions-minded from the begining. Since the days of the Vikings, Swedes have been a globally-aware, mobile people. Sweden was an active missions force for 100 years starting in 1880 under the Pietistic Revival. The continent of Africa has been a main focus in Swedish missions. We want to continue the interest in evangelical missions, even to Africa, via our current MTW work in South Africa. South Africa is seen as the key country to future mission endeavor to the rest of the African continent. We want to plug into the growing missions-sending atmosphere currently prevalent in South Africa. We plan to send students to the Bible Institute of South Africa and to the Reformed Campus Ministry - "Student Y," for training internships while they study. Furthermore, we hope to recruit key South Africans to our work in Sweden.
5. Local Outreach to the Unreached
Our constant focus will remain church-planting. In order to start churches we must come in contact with other people. Considering the cultural climate and activities of Swedes, the following are ways we will
attempt to build and make contact with Swedes:
a. Reformed University Ministry (RUM) - We will follow the basic concepts of RUM to initiate contacts at Goteborgs University. Swede David Bergmark will lead this ministry. Included will be contact ski trips, outreaches to Cape Town South Africa, Impact Team visits.
b. Sports Ministry - Sports is far and away the leading activity among young people. In Sweden there already exists a well-structured network of sports clubs. These clubs comprise much of the social fellowship activity that some churches provide in America. In my years as a 'sports missionary' I made more contacts through the means of sports than many missionaries make in a career. For example, I met David Bergmark and David Sunesson and Kristian Lavrentidis through my work as an AIA baseball player/coach. They are now a part of this ministry. David Sunesson is particularly interested in being a witness for Christ through sports. He is a leading player on the Swedish National Baseball Team, and the leading hitter on the top league team. David has a personal conviction that he should not compete on Sundays, but instead be with his Christian brethren on the Lord's Day. This conviction has led to publicity and many opportunities to give a defense for the hope that he posesses. This type of witness goes a long way in the Swedish sports society.
c. Starting Home Bible Studies - We hope to keep each church size relatively small. All will start in the
homes as we make contacts in society. There is a hunger for straight talk among Swedes at this time. Discussion groups can and will happen in a short period of time. Each Swedish guy will be responsible to start a home group early in the ministry. We think the MTW Impact summer and two year workers will go a long way toward making contacts for starting Bible studies.
d. Ministry to Muslim Refugees - Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in Sweden. This is largely due to the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East seeking political asylum in Sweden. Prejudice runs high among Swedes as the refugees are often blamed for economic recession in Sweden. They are seen as a burden to the economy and unable to adapt to Swedish ways. The Church in Sweden needs help in reaching out to this growing population. We hope to recruit team-members who will focus on these people. We are already preparing to train a young man from Pakistan at the Bible Institute of South Africa. He plans to join our team after his studies. We will train others via the MTW ministry in the Middle East.
By-products from the start of new churches:
a. Classical and Christian Schools for Children - We are aiming to a classical school that is distinctively Christian and Swedish by Fall 2001. There is a great need of alternative schools in Sweden at this time. We think that this school will add exposure and credibility to our work. We are praying for couples to join our team to take this ministry on. We are looking closely at Douglas Wilson's Model - See Repairing the Ruins: The Classical and Christian Challenge to Modern Education (Canon Press).
b. Seminary - We have already approached Dr. Sebastian Rehnman (Ph. D theo. - Oxford) about the possibility of starting a Reformed theological seminary on the West Coast of Sweden. We aim for a start by Fall 2005. In the meantime we hope to train young men via cooperation with Covenant Seminary and the
Bible Institute of South Africa.
The Steady Development of The MTW/Sweden
Vision Over the Years:
Phase One (1984-92): Studying culture, learning language, making disciples in my
first term of service in Sweden (short
term 84-88 and career 89-92). Married to Linda Oct. '92
Phase Two (1993-97): Five Swedes
join the Johnsons in America for a time of study and team building.
Forming the nucleus of a team and helping them understand Calvinism/Presbyterianism
via their participation in PCA church and education at Belhaven
College. Johnsons earn degrees; Gary serves as RUF Int'l Student
Intern ('94-96), and later as Assistant Pastor at Westminster
PCA/Atlanta ('96-98); four Swedes accepted by MTW for missionary
service (Oct. '97).
Phase Three (1998): Demographic
study in Sweden reveals placement. Lord raises up new team members
to fill ministry needs. Johnsons search for churches and individuals
to partner in ministry to Sweden
Phase Four (1999-2000): Team deployed
to Sweden for ministry. Pursue further contacts via campus ministry
(lead by Swede David Bergmark), sports ministry (led by Swede
David Sunesson), Art and music (Frida Oborn, Linda Savhammar).
Gary and Linda begin home Bible studies in strategic area not
far from university site. Lutheran Church is separated from
the State economically in the year 2000.
David and Stacy Bergmark (Skelleftea, Sweden) David was a student of the natural sciences in the Swedish school system. He completed his undergraduate studies in Philosophy and Bible at Belhaven
College in Jackson, Mississippi. David was accepted as an Impact missionary for MTW. However, he married in May, 1998 the former Stacy Moses of Stone Mountain, Georgia, and therefore must return to MTW Committee September 1998. They currently live in Jackson as David has entered Reformed Theological Seminary for a year of study as he itinerates. David senses a call to the pastorate with a particular interest in university campus ministry. David is coming under care of the Mississippi
Valley Presbytery, and plans to seek
David Sunesson (Leksand, Sweden) David is a senior Philosophy/Bible major at Belhaven College. He is
particularly interested in being a witness for Christ through sports. David is a leading player on the Swedish National Baseball Team, and the leading hitter on the top league team. David has a personal conviction
that he should not compete on Sundays,
but instead be with his Christian brethren on the Lord's Day.
This conviction has led to publicity and many opportunities to
give a defense for the hope that he posesses. David is also
coming under care of the Mississippi Valley Presbytery, and plans
to seek eventual ordination.
Frida Oborn (Goteborg, Sweden) Frida is a fine artist, who has now graduated from Belhaven College
majoring in Art. She was accepted
as an MTW Impact missionary in October, 1997 and is in the process
of raising support. Frida has administrative gifts, and want
to use her art skills as a teacher and lecturer on art from a
Linda Savhammar (Kumla, Sweden) Linda is a senior English/Bible major at Belhaven College. She is gifted linguistically and, in addition to English, speaks French and some German. Linda is also talented musically. She is currently working on putting the Psalms, in Swedish, to culturally relevant melodies. While in America, she has worked with a church children's choir and could potentially teach music
and French in our classical and Christian school. Linda was accepted as an MTW Imapct missionary in October, 1997 and is currently raising support.
The Second Team-Those Coming Alongside:
Sebastian and Linda Rehnman (Uppsala,
Sweden) Sebastian recently earned a Ph.d Theology from Oxford-
England with his area of expertise being on the theology of John
Owen. He has worked under Alistair McGrath and is currently the
Professor of Systematic Theology at EFS Johannelund in Uppsala.
We hope that Sebastian will work toward the start up of 'Svenska
Reformat Teologiska Institutet' on the West Coast of Sweden.
Don and Elizabeth Ritter (Goteborg,
Sweden) The Ritters have been missionaries in Sweden since 1963.
They originally arrived in Sweden with Greater Europe Mission
(GEM). They currently run a literature ministry whereby they
attempt introduce Swedes to classic Reformed literature.
Kristian Lavrentidis (Stockholm, Sweden)
I have known Kristian since he was eleven years old. He graduated
from Belhaven College in Philosophy and Bible May 1998, yet is
currently completing an additional major in English at Belhaven
so that he can return to Sweden an teach English at the high school/technical
school level. He plans to continue his studies in theology upon
return to Sweden.
Chris and Vanessa Miller (Huntsville,
Al/Stellanbosch, South Africa) Chris has been involved in ministry
in Sweden since 1985 when he joined Gary as an AIA Intern Coach
in Skelleftea. He was most recently in Gavle, Sweden as baseball
coach in the summer of 1997. Chris has made many contacts through
sports and will be a vital asset to the ministry. He will join
PCA's - IAR this October. He hopes to eventually make arrangements
as a tentmaker missionary in Sweden with our team.
Stefan Roegnar (Gothenburg, Sweden)
The Lord effectually called Stefan to himself under my teaching
during my first term in Sweden (1989). Stefan has continued to
grow in grace. He drives a bus for the city of Gothenburg, and
has also owned and operated a small lunch cafe. Stefan is compassionate
to the downtrodden and will serve well as a deacon in our new