When Kerri Johnson started taking missions trips to the Bronx with her family, she quickly realized something — she wanted desperately to be in the place where no one else wanted to be.
“Most everybody in the Bronx wants to get out, and we were finding every opportunity we could to come back,” she said.
It wasn’t long before she and her husband, Josh—her high-school sweetheart—said goodbye to the West Virginia town where they grew up and moved their family to New York City.
For Kerri, the eight years since have been a labor of love where the laborers are few. With limited resources, she runs Graffiti 2 Works, a Christian Women’s Job Corps site, and WorldCrafts artisan group based at Graffiti 2 Community Ministries. She’s helped to provide jobs for some and train others with job skills.
“We’re not in the Bible belt, so finding volunteers and finances is tough,” she said. “We don’t have a church down the street we can pull volunteers from. Most everyone we know who could serve as a volunteer should be a participant in some way.”
It’s an ever-evolving program as needs arise, she said. She does much of it on her own, working one-on-one with people through Graffiti 2’s adult learning center. In one case, Kerri meets regularly with a mother who struggles to read.
“We’re working to get her some basic vocabulary, and we’re doing some reading activities using the Bible,” Kerri said. “We take one story a week and walk through it and have vocabulary words from it.”
She meets with other mothers to teach them English, or even just sit and visit. That has expanded—almost accidentally—to an ESL program that kicked off in 2019.
“What we were advertising originally is literacy, but somehow what got out is that we were teaching English,” Kerri said. “We found that was a big need.”
This type of hands-on ministry and the ministry she runs through the sewing microbusiness make her “heart sing,” she said. “We have big dreams and big visions. It isn’t always easy, but God gives us small glimpses of what He’s doing, and that helps us keep going. We’re just moving forward and seeing what He has for us in His time.”
Her husband, Josh, said Kerri’s passion for investing in people has made all the difference in their family as they have followed God’s call to the Bronx.
“As a family unit, God has blessed us to lock arms and continue where He has planted us,” he said. “We’ve been on quite a journey together, and sometimes it’s tough, but having her as a wife and a mother who can drive that vision has made all the difference.”
“It’s been life changing for our children to see their mother’s love for Christ, people, and missions,” said Josh, who recently bought a brick in his wife’s honor in the Walk of Faith brick garden at WMU headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama.
“She has been very instrumental in being that champion on the team and helping make the vision happen.”
For more information about how to honor your missions heroes on the Walk of Faith and support the work of WMU, visit wmufoundation.com/walkoffaith.
To learn more about Graffiti 2, visit graffiti2ministries.org.
Written by Grace Thornton.