Change Makers

Turning tears of compassion into transformation

When Arkansas pastor David Johnson went to Kenya, he had no idea that his life, his wife, his children, and their church would never be the same.

John 11:35 tells us that Jesus was moved to tears when his friend Lazarus died. But he didn’t just cry, he acted, raising Lazarus from the dead. Life out of death — this is transformation.

My tears for Africa began at a Promise Keepers rally for pastors in Phoenix in 2003. Well-known author Bruce Wilkerson spoke of the AIDS pandemic in Africa and challenged us to go see for ourselves. In tears, on my knees, I was moved to act. I said, “Okay, Lord, I’ll go!”

I will never forget the tears as I left my family to travel to the other side of the world with a team from our church. Little did we know that my life, my wife, our children, and our church would never be the same.

We landed in Katito, Kenya, a brand-new World Vision community development area. Hundreds of children and adults welcomed us, and my heart was so stirred that tears welled up as I tried to speak. That day, I met Mark, a little boy wearing a shirt with a motorcycle on the front. He became the first of our six sponsored children.

When we returned to my congregation, we showed pictures and shared stories. Tears flowed, and children were sponsored. But this was only the beginning.

Tears also have broken down barriers between local pastors in my town of Mountain Home, Arkansas. One pastor introduced me to a church member who, upon hearing my heart, started what is today the White River Marathon for Kenya. The run has raised thousands of dollars over the last 12 years and is now a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon. The funds were used to dig several wells that provide clean water and new health for Katito. It’s amazing how water in the form of tears can ignite fires of transformation.

On return trips to Kenya, teams have continued to embrace the entire Mountain Home faith community. Our last trip included a doctor, a physical therapist, two elementary school teachers, a pastor, and a social worker. And, again, each of them was moved to tears: tears of joy upon meeting their sponsored children, tears of love when exchanging parting gifts, tears of sadness when saying goodbye, and tears of thankfulness while sharing their stories back home.

Hundreds of children have been sponsored, not only through our church but through the body of Christ here in Mountain Home. One man committed his entire raise one year to sponsor 13 children in Katito.

In 2007, my third trip to Katito was canceled when I was injured in a motorcycle accident on the eve of our departure. Those in the emergency room mistakenly believed my tears were the result of pain from shattered bones. They actually were from a fractured heart when the doctor said I would not be going back to Africa for a while.

My 24-year-old daughter went in my place to co-lead the team. Adrienne’s first words upon returning: “Dad, you won’t believe Katito. It’s not the same place it was three years ago — the change is incredible!”

After 10 years of “staying and praying,” my wife, Roxanne, accompanied me to Kenya in 2014 and fell in love with the people, our sponsored kids, and World Vision’s staff. This time the tears were hers. Another heart was changed.

When Arkansas pastor David Johnson went to Kenya, he had no idea that his life, his wife, his children, and their church would never be the same.
David and Roxanne in Katito, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of David Johnson)

This year, World Vision invited Roxanne and me to return to Kenya to focus specifically on maternal and child health. God is now turning our tears into passionate conversations with U.S. congressmen as we advocate for mothers and children around the world, asking lawmakers to co-sponsor transformative legislation that will save and transform lives.

Now my dream is for our entire family to return to Katito together. Nathan, my 28-year-old son, has not yet been to Africa, but he has seen our family’s tears and is sponsoring a boy growing up in Katito.

May our hearts never grow cold nor our tears cease to flow as we follow Christ into the world’s places in greatest need.


David Johnson is founding and senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

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