Q&A with Missionary Johanna Stinnett
In 2015, the Rev. Eric and Johanna Stinnett received a surprise call from LCMS Missionary Recruitment asking if they’d be interested in serving as missionaries in Ethiopia. At first, Johanna says, they were “floored.” But after much prayer, the family of six packed up and moved from small-town Montana to big-city Addis Ababa, where Eric teaches at Mekane Yesus Seminary. In this interview, Johanna talks about Ethiopia and what it has been like to live in another country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s your favorite thing about serving in Ethiopia?
A: One of the things I love about Ethiopia is that everyone is religious in some way. … Raising our kids here has the benefit that no one mocks them for their faith. The everyday greeting always ends with እግዚአብሔርይመስገን, which means “thanks be to God.”
How has the pandemic impacted your life and work?
A: A typical schedule used to be Eric leaving for classes up the hill from where we live on the seminary campus and us homeschooling. … When the coronavirus arrived, the seminary students were told that they were going home for two weeks, and all schools were shut down by the government. That time turned into six months. … We also had to cancel our summer plans to see family and reconnect with our mission supporters. The separation from family has been hard.
What has it been like to live in another country during this time?
A: Living in Ethiopia during COVID did give rise to some fears and anxiety — not all of it on our part. When the rest of the world was exploding with cases, there were hardly any in most of Africa. When it did come, the first case was identified in a foreigner. A few more cases were confirmed in foreigners, and so an anti-foreigner sentiment developed for a while. … We were able to have house church with the other LCMS missionary family, the Rabes, who are here with us. We were so thankful to continue to hear God’s Word in person and to have another Lutheran family here with us in mission.
During this challenging year, what has helped you through?
A: We are thankful to God for the intentional reaching out to us by the nationals of the church here and those we call our friends. They have regularly texted and inquired after us and about all of you in the United States. News of the U.S. coronavirus numbers came, and many people here were praying for all of you.
How have you continued to share the Gospel?
A: Staying through the pandemic strengthened our relationships with the church here. It also gave the opportunity to continue to share the Gospel and learn new ways of teaching. While classes were out, Eric was asked to do a TV series emphasizing Lutheran identity and talking about Scripture alone, grace alone and faith alone. The audience that Mekane Yesus TV reaches is estimated to be 30 million people. So, where one door was shut, another was opened, and the Gospel was proclaimed.
What would you say to another family considering missionary service?
A: If the Lord could use us, ordinary people from Canada and Montana, who knows what He may have in store for you? It has been difficult for us at times, but the Lord has also granted us many blessings and a good, albeit unusual, life here — did I mention there are jackals, monkeys and hyenas on our compound? Life is full of good things and tough things on the mission field, but Christ holds us secure in His everlasting and redemptive love.
Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.