Family dedicated to church mission in Africa

By John Cousins

A family commitment to spreading the Christian message and helping African people has underscored the tragic death of Brian Johnston and his wife, Grace, in Kenya last week.

The Tauranga couple, who died when the minibus they were in rolled in Western Kenya, were continuing the spirit of the 20 years of service which Brian's brother, Derek, has given to one of the poorest countries in the world.

Derek Johnston played a pivotal role in spreading the gospel in Burkina Faso, formerly called Upper Volta, a poverty-stricken land-locked West African country above Ghana.

The African evangelical link between Brian and his brother Derek was highlighted by pastor John Elan of the Greerton Bible Church - the church attended by the Johnstons and their 10 children.

The church's congregation has been rocked by the death of the Johnstons, who were in Kenya along with 17 others to build a new classroom block at the Ark Quest School at Mahanga. Bethlehem College ex-pupil Caitlin Dickson also died in the accident.

Derek and Heather Johnston have spent years playing a key role with the Wycliffe Bible Translation Society to convert Burkina Faso tribespeople.

The Johnstons of ChristChurch, Belfast, have dedicated a large portion of their lives to the little-known African country, with Derek guiding the work of several Wycliffe teams to translate the scriptures into a variety of African dialects.

Their work included spending six years in the capital, Ouagadougou, translating the New Testament into Sissala language.

Derek's responsibilities broadened once he completed a Master's in Theology from Queen's University, Belfast, in 2003. Since 2010, he has moved into a wider role of liaising with national Christian organisations involved in Bible translation work in France's other former West African colonies.

One blog from a Christian who was hosted by the Johnstons described how in 10 years Christian denominations had grown from 12 churches to more than 300. John Cousins

- Bay of Plenty Times

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