What do the following things have in common: celery, fabulously wealthy Arabian sheiks, vintage cars, the Taj Mahal, poinsettias, and Pound, Wisconsin?
Why that’s easy…the common factor is Gerry and Marjorie Longjohn, who have served with TEAM for nearly 50 years. Unraveling the mystery of the above list tells their story.
Gerry was raised in western Michigan, where his father had an extensive celery-growing operation. As a boy, Gerry was fascinated by the machinery of the operation, and he acquired skill and inventiveness in fixing all things mechanical. He also saw a personal relationship with Jesus lived out in his family. At the age of 18, he acknowledged his personal need of a savior.
Margorie was also born and raised in western Michigan. She came to Christ as a teenager, and made a commitment to serve God anywhere at the age of 18. Gerry and Margorie met and got married, both attending Moody Bible Institute. Gerry was a full-time student while also working for an electrician. Marjorie attended evening classes and also worked to meet expenses.
After Gerry’s graduation from Moody, they moved back to Michigan where Gerry enrolled at Western Michigan University to study education. It was there where they first heard the story of how God was opening doors in rural areas of the Arabian Peninsula for a medical ministry. A small hospital/clinic needed people who could help with building and maintaining facilities while reaching out to the patients at the hospital and its small village. The Longjohns had all those skills.
The small Al Ain desert oasis where the hospital was located was only about 5,000 inhabitants when the Longjohns arrived. It has grown into a thriving city of 750,000. The small hospital where they first worked has been repeatedly rebuilt and expanded. The staff of 15 grew to 500 and, upon completion of the current building project, is now 800.
As the oasis of Al Ain grew, so did the Longjohn family. God blessed them with three daughters, Cherie, Lynn, and Ruth. Jan Marie was born in 1967, but she passed away when she was only two years old. The trauma of this loss, coupled with the heavy work at the hospital, necessitated a return to the U.S. God opened an opportunity for Gerry to pastor a small church in Pound, Wisconsin, and God used him and Marjorie to minister to others. The Lord also brought healing and comfort to their family. Eventually, they sensed God leading them back to the hospital. In 1972, God blessed the family with another child…a boy named Gerald Jr.
Those early years of working with machines on his dad’s celery farm along with a passionate interest in cars proved handy for Gerry in the Arabian Peninsula. He was put in charge maintenance at the hospital, and eventually oversaw the building of additional facilities. He eventually became the leader of TEAM’s work in that region. In addition to caring for her family, Marjorie discovered that God had endowed her with an ability to learn a new language and culture. This led to many opportunities to befriend local women and to share with them the hope of the Gospel. Marjorie’s language ability also helped her assimilate new missionaries into the work.
Even though the hospital’s presence in the country was fully endorsed by the ruling family, it was difficult to get official permits to proceed with expansion projects and new buildings. One evening during Ramadan, Gerry stopped by to visit the local ruler just as the ruler ended the daily fast. Gerry struck up a conversation about the various vintage cars he had seen on the property, and he discovered that the ruler had a passion for old cars. Gerry volunteered to help resolve some mechanical problems. Then he helped design a large garage where the ruler could store his car collection. He eventually bought a vintage pickup in Michigan and shipped it to Arabia at the request of the ruler. After that, the hospital didn’t have problems with building permits!
The local population was friendly and welcoming to guests, but there was not a similar openness to accept Christ. However, the region’s wealthy residents hired people from abroad to do everything from cook their food to design their public buildings. Eventually, 80 percent of the population of the area actually came from outside the country. Missionaries began to focus on sharing Christ with local groups of Filipinos, Pakistanis, Indians, and Chinese because laws forbidding locals from considering the Gospel didn’t apply to that segment of the population. The response was incredible, and today scores of congregations are flourishing in the country.
Marjorie began to experience some unusual health issues traced to an allergy to the bites of an insect that thrived in the desert climate of Arabia. So in 1991, they moved back to the U.S. where Gerry became an area representative for TEAM in the area surrounding his western Michigan home. Gerry’s relational skills coupled with his experience in the pastorate have opened many doors, and God continues to bless these relationships.
The seeds of Gerry’s interest in the work in India began in Arabia, but they have grown since returning to the States. Gerry is an advocate to U.S. churches for what is currently happening in India. He has hosted Indian leaders in his home and has introduced them to American churches. He travels to India several times a year to keep current on needs and opportunities. Gerry describes India as a “sleeping giant” for world missions, and he’s excited to have a hand in waking it up.
Recently, Marjorie was asked to be an adjunct professor at Cornerstone University in western Michigan to teach a class in Arabic and Arabian culture. Her next goal is to get her bachelor’s degree to further equip her for whatever God has for the future.
The Longjohns are wonderful examples of how God uses every circumstance, experience, and skill to equip his children for ministry. The task of helping his father plant celery taught Gerry mechanical skills that he continues to use to build relationships and reach out to others. Marjorie’s language skills now help motivate college students to consider missions. Some skills and experiences come full circle. Since returning to the U.S., Gerry helps his brother operate an extensive flower shop/nursery business. Every Christmas, they bless TEAM’s Wheaton office with dozens of beautiful poinsettia plants, delivered by Gerry. Even in their retirement, they both continue to look for new ways to serve, learn, encourage others, and exercise faith.
-Written by Bob Wright
-Photograph provided by the family
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2012]