Dr. Hugh and Shirliann Johnson are given the World Methodist Peace Award Medals by World Methodist Council General Secretary Ivan Abrahams and Vice-President Gillian Kingston. Photo Credit: Sigmar Friedrich
From the Life and service of Hugh and “Fritzi” Johnson(remarks by Bishop Heinrich Bolleter – retired Bishop and former WMC Geneva Secretary)
Aiming to characterize the life and service of Hugh and “Fritzi” Johnson, I use a quote of Hugh, which for me is crucial and unforgettable: “The church needs to be where the needs are the greatest!”
When I accompanied them in their service, there were many alarming situations in regard to the Christians in Algeria and also in regard to the safety of Hugh and Fritzi Johnson. From time to time friends from the USA and from Europe put pressure on me and told me that it would be time to get Hugh and Fritzi out of the danger zone. But when I once visited them worrying about their safety and trying to evaluate the situation, Hugh responded to my concerns with the following words: “The church needs to be present where the needs are the greatest!” To temporarily leave the area of political and social conflicts was beyond question for them. But the price was high: One day Hugh was attached with a knife and only hardly escaped death. And when visiting the local churches spread over the country, he always had to take roadblocks into account – and it was never clear whether they had been prepared by military or by revolutionary forces. Therefore he always had to be worried about his and his fellow travelers’ lives.
Hugh and Fritzi always showed a deep solidarity with the people in Algeria and Tunis – with Christians and Muslims, with the poor and with migrants. Whoever knocked on the doors of the church center was welcomed. This solidarity was echoed in an impressing way one day. During the time of the war in Iraq, a furious crowd of Muslims attacked the house where Hugh and Fritzi lived. The situation was very dangerous – and then the neighbors surrounded the house with a protecting human chain.
The solidarity of the two missionaries was also directed to the Sahraoui people (West Sahara), which then and still today live without a right to their own state in a refugee camp close to Tindouf in the Algerian desert. Together with Fritzi I visited these camps and was able to see the ministry particularly with women and children. Fritzi was involved in the education of the kindergarten teachers, and she took care that fresh herbs were brought into the camp so that the families could discuss their problems while preparing and drinking their traditional tea. The young people were often sent from the camps to the former socialist countries in Europe. After the political changes in 1990, these students lost their study place and their financial support. Fritzi was symbol for the narrow bridge between the camps of the Sahraoui and the world.