It has been 100 years since the CRC’s first overseas missionary left for the field. Johanna Veenstra was a 25-year-old woman who left everything she knew back home in New Jersey and followed God’s call into the unknown.
Resonate Global Mission is using the 100th anniversary of her departure as an opportunity to celebrate mission in the CRC and the legacy that Johanna left that still inspires us today. Not only was Johanna a courageous risk-taker, she was also a gifted writer. She shared her passion for God’s mission and inspired many people for years to come. Her example can inspire and encourage each one of us as we seek to answer God’s call in our own lives.
She wrestled with God’s call and resistance from the denomination at that time.
Johanna wrestled with her call as she prepared for service. She struggled with feeling unworthy, with waiting, and with uncertainty.
She also wrestled with frustration throughout her career as Christian Reformed leadership and synod declined to approve Africa as a mission field. She challenged the racist logic that the church’s resources would be better spent elsewhere and repeatedly petitioned synod and her support network to officially adopt Nigeria.
Even as she petitioned, she took matters into her own hands. She went from church to church, asking $5 from each congregation until she had enough to go to Nigeria—a network she depended on throughout her ministry. By the time Synod 1920 declined to adopt Africa as a mission field, Johanna was already there! Her career as a missionary began as a rejection of racist Christian Reformed politics, and over the next 13 years, she continued blazing her own path whenever necessary.
She was passionate and urged others to join.
She championed the urgency of mission work, telling her supporters of the millions who needed Jesus Christ, those living in sorrow and suffering, and the bondage of darkness and sin. She continually asked her supporters to consider this great need in letters, reports, and presentations. “Is it nothing to you?” she asked in her writings and talks.
Johanna often wrote home pleading with her mentors and the church to send more missionaries. Within weeks of her arrival, The Banner was publishing her letters, in which she wrote of the need for people, especially young people, to join the work of mission. She kept up this message throughout her career.
Her close relationship with her supporting churches made a lasting impact on the Nigerian church. On home service, she not only raised funds,she recruited—both men and women. Between 1930 and 1932, three young women joined her at her mission station.
She was an advocate for women.
Johanna worked to raise up female leaders in ministry—not only the young women she recruited to Nigeria from her own church, but also in the villages and towns of Nigeria. She announced that the good news of Jesus was for the women as well as the men, which often surprised the people she met. She pressed new Christian women to lead others to Christ, saying “You must tell others what you know of Jesus…” (“Women and Missions,” Missionary Monthly, Feb. 1926).
She empowered young people.
Johanna was an advocate for all Christians, especially the young, to consider what missional calling God has for them. She wrote to her supporters in her books, letters, and Banner articles and continually reminded them of the importance of mission. She calls young people preparing for mission-focused ministry “unspeakably precious” (“Letter from Miss Veenstra,” The Banner, Jan. 1921) and called them to walk carefully and prayerfully.
God’s call for us.
God has a calling for each of us. Sometimes, like Johanna, we listen, wrestle, and doubt. The task seems too big and too unknown. But God has a message for us: “Be strong and courageous... The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Johanna made these words from Joshua her life’s motto. These verses propelled her through each new challenge. Johanna learned to rely on her Savior to follow where he led. She built a legacy of faith and leadership that we celebrate today! She encouraged all who read and heard her words to be attentive to God’s call in their own lives. “There are too many Christian workers who have lifted their gaze to the shores of some distant land, and who are utterly indifferent to the needs of the people in their own community.”
If you would like to read more about Johanna and read some of her best letters to the CRC, you can find them here: Johanna Veenstra Bio & Writings.