On Friday, June 19, 2015, retired missionaries Hugh and Shirliann Johnson were honored with the World Methodist Peace Award of the World Methodist Council. They had served the United Methodist Church in Algeria for more than 40 years and did not cease to strive for peace and reconciliation in spite of threats and setbacks.
«Why we?», the couple asked when they realized that they were selected to be the recipients of the 2014 World Methodist Peace Award. «We did not do anything special», stated Hugh Johnson during the official ceremony. «And we particularly did not do it alone» but always in cooperation with other members of the small Christian community in Algeria.
The Peace Award is presented to people who are, in a unique way, examples of courage in the service, of creativity in the commitment to peace, and of consistency even in the face of difficulties – or, as Gillian Kingston from Ireland also said, to people who have «overcome the fear of the stranger». The Vice-President of the World Methodist Council presented the Peace Award, together with General Secretary Bishop Ivan Abrahams from South Africa, during the gathering of Switzerland-France-North Africa Annual Conference. «I cannot think of people more worthy of this honor» than Hugh and Shirliann Johnson. Many people would feel that attacks on them personally and on their home would be good reason to leave a country. But in spite of a number of dangerous situations, they had made North Africa their home and also «opposed the authorities» in their stand for the faith. However, the Peace Award would not only be an expression of honor and thankfulness for a life-long work and witness, but also a sign «that we identify in an appropriate way with the suffering church» in North Africa.
Prior to the presentation of the Peace Award, retired Bishop Heinrich Bolleter had briefly but impressively shared some of his reminiscences of life and service of Hugh and Shirliann Johnson. Archbishop Henri Teissier added these words in a very personal way. Both contributions made visible how much the motto «The Church needs to be where suffering is greatest!» shaped the work of the laureates – and how much the trustful and faithful ecumenical cooperation helped to share and stir up hope. Daniel Nussbaumer, who is coordinator of the United Methodist presence in North Africa today, introduced the present guests from Algeria – those people who, with their ways and means, are committed to continue Hugh and Shirliann Johnson’s service. But, as Daniel Nussbaumer said: «In Algeria you are reminded again and again that salvation is not the fruit of what we can do but of what God does.»
The World Methodist Peace Award was conceived in 1976, when the World Methodist Conference was held in Dublin (Ireland). Hugh and Shirliann Johnsons are the third recipients from the United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe. In 1992, the Award was presented to Superintendent Zdravko Bezlov from Bulgaria, in 2002 the recipient was Boris Trajkovski, who at that time was president of the Republic of Macedonia.
Source: Barbara Streit/Urs Schweizer, Zurich
Date: June 22, 2015