Dr. Hugh G. Johnson, a retired missionary, pastor and former Superintendent of the North African District of the United Methodist Church and his wife Shirliann have been named as co-recipients of the 2014 World Methodist Peace Award.
For more than forty years (1962 – 2005), Dr. and Mrs. Johnson operated under a simple motto: The church has to be where the needs are the greatest, and this philosophy carried his ministry. As missionaries in North Africa, the Johnsons served during times of great unrest. From their beginnings with the General Board of Global Ministries in Algeria, the couple served throughout the nation during the country’s war of independence and the following turbulences.
Serving first in Laarba Nath Irathen in the Kabyila Mountains and later in Algiers, the couple’s tirelessness and drive to connect the gospel with the lives of the people of the Maghreb region led them to become fluent in Arabic as well as in Kabylian (a Berber language) as well as preaching in French, Dr. Johnson wanted there to be no barriers between the Word and the people.
In 1972, the Algerian government closed orphanages, hospitals and other diaconal institutions of the church. In response Dr. Johnson helped establish an English-language library, which served as a meeting place for people in the region and an unofficial place for Christian fellowship.
Dr. Johnson also regularly appeared on Algerian Radio, often in dialogue with a Muslim representative. He was a mediator who crossed the lines for the cause of reconciliation and mutual understanding.
Shirliann Johnson often visited refugee camps in the desert, coordinating humanitarian aid and teaching young women to lead kindergarten classes in the camp in order to help children and families who were affected by the war.
As the region dealt with a rising tide of religious extremism, the couple’s home and church were often attacked and targeted by militant groups. Serving a local church (The Protestant Church in Algeria) that was largely comprised of converted Muslims, Dr. Johnson faced restrictions limiting the church’s ability to worship and evangelize. To combat these laws he held meetings in his home between various Christian denominations and worked together in the spirit of ecumenism. His outspokenness and clashes with local authorities over the import of Bibles in Arabic and the Berber languages displayed the courage and willingness to stand up for his faith and church family, often at great risk to himself. Dr. Johnson was stabbed in an attack during this time, but his faith and commitment to his ministry never wavered.
Through numerous disputes with the government and even expulsions from the country, Dr. Johnson always returned to Algeria to help the small Christian community that had formed there. His voice was one that served as a calming influence within the small community of believers in the country as well as an open ear and voice to Muslims in the area. Upon retirement Dr. and Mrs. Johnson left the nation, but their hearts and spirits are still with the people in North Africa.
For a life’s work in ministry, and demonstrating courage, creativity and consistency in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Dr. Hugh and Mrs. Shirliann Johnson are awarded the 2014 World Methodist Peace Award.