August 6, 1923 – February 3, 2015
Jean Rider grew up on the plains of South Dakota and was in the same high school class as Warren Johnson. Jean earned a degree in Christian education at a Bible institute and completed her registered nurse’s training at the Swedish Hospital School of Nursing in Minneapolis. In 1946, after Warren returned from World War II and just before he entered college to pursue a ministerial course at Seattle Pacific University, the couple married.
The Johnsons planned for Christian service through the pastorate, although Jean had a strong urge toward missionary service. Jean was strongly influenced by a furloughing missionary who served in a leper colony in Africa. In 1949, Warren also sensed a call to mission work. They applied and were appointed to South Africa, where they lived for 30 years.
They arrived in December 1951, living in Durban, South Africa. Warren and Jean engaged in literature distribution, church planting, evangelism, administrative duties and youth work. Jean also taught their children in the early elementary years.
Jean made a significant contribution to the work of VBS and Christian Youth Crusaders (CYC) in South Africa, being largely responsible for training CYC leaders and adapting the program to the needs of South African youth. She was also instrumental in beginning the annual youth camp. Here many were saved, forming a good foundation for much of the future church leadership. In addition, Jean handled bookkeeping for the mission and worked with the local Women’s Missionary Society (WMS).
In 1977 Jean and Warren made their first of six visits to Malawi, teaching in the newly organized Bible school for Malawian students. In 1981 the Johnsons took up residence in Lilongwe, where the school was located.
The Johnson family returned to the U.S. in 1982 and located in the Pacific Northwest. Warren and Jean pastored churches in Seattle, Washington; Tonasket, Washington; Anchorage, Alaska; and British Columbia, Canada.
Jean’s Colleagues Write
Missionary colleague Florence Sayre writes that their families met while on vacation, “We were stationed in Rhodesia, hundreds of miles north of Durban, South Africa. Our children were near in age so visits were pleasant for all. Sometimes all of us went to the beach for the day. My nicest memory is of a Christmas. We learned the tradition of a rice pudding with lots of raisins in it.”
“Jean always had a smile, was always hospitable, always generous with her time and talents. She was a good mother. I always felt like she was my friend. By retirement time the Johnsons went to Warm Beach and the Sayres to Michigan, so our friendship was by mail. I pray her children will feel blessed by her life and her example,” Auntie Florence Sayre.
“Our first memories of the Johnson family were from around 1953 at Ithemba Mission Station where they then resided,” writes Anne-Marie Brauteseth. “At that time, Trygvar and I were an engaged couple who volunteered at the mission on weekends. Eighteen months later, the entire Johnson family attended our wedding. The children had fun saving confetti to shower on us when we visited them after our honeymoon.
“Jean and Warren were strong leaders and were committed to the assignments given to them. Travelling from Itehmba to Durban for Zulu lessons, the entire family staying in one room while trying to study and keep family harmony was quite a challenge! They came through with flying colors!
“Jean was very efficient, capable and well organised. She hosted Annual Conference, housing fellow missionaries, cooking, home schooling her children and attending conference session. How she coped with all these tasks was amazing.
“Warren and Jean were a beautiful couple, tall and gracious. Christian parenthood was exemplified by the way they interacted and trained their lovely children, Julaine, Jimmy and Janet, and later Johnny. The Johnson children were taught to obey and be respectful, as well as share in their various chores.
“They eventually moved to Anleno Road, Montclair, a suburb of Durban. Their home was always open and we recall their Christian witness, not only in their missionary work, but among their neighbors. They were well known, appreciated and exemplified how a Christian family should function.
“We are thankful for their contribution to the Free Methodist Church in South Africa.”
Carmena Capp, who also served in Southern Africa with the Johnsons, reflects, “Jean was a faithful missionary who worked hard and was diligent in every aspect of her life. She was committed, intelligent and kind. She was a lovely, lovely coworker and friend. Africans and missionaries alike will attest to this, and she is remembered with deep appreciation and respect.
“But for me she was special for a further quality of her life and that was her commitment to her children’s wellbeing. She saw to it that her four beautiful children had a home around them at all times, and that home was a nurturing place where they were safe, encouraged, challenged to do their very best and deeply loved. This was not always easy because mission life can become pretty hectic, but Jean managed to do it with consistency and grace.
“Jean was down to earth and practical, but loving and efficient in the process. She modeled stewardship of time and resources, both for her family and for all of the rest of us. Her example was an extremely valuable gift to the African church families where mothers struggle with huge responsibilities for the welfare of their children in circumstances that can be very difficult.
“Jean is enshrined in my heart as a dear and gracious lady who taught me so much. I love and cherish every memory of her.”