The 2016 Thalassa Prize winner is Johannah Crass MLC ’14.
Johannah Crass taught 31 fifth-grade students in Antigua in 2015-2016. The previous year, 2014-2015, she served in another international mission, teaching English Bible studies in Novosibirsk, Russia.
Since then . . . I am hoping to be assigned to serve a school in May 2016. God willing, I will start out on an all-new adventure in my very own country. I want to encourage the children I teach to consider mission work. Travel not just to see things, but to do things and to experience something that will change you and others forever. I am confident that the Lord used these challenging experiences to shape me to serve his will. What a blessing it is to be one of the harvesters!
Growing up, I wanted to step into the wide world and spread the good news. I wanted to see creation’s finest treasures and share God’s treasure of grace too. My dream—to be in paradise with the faces of everyone I know wearing white robes. Don’t we all want that? Beautiful, stainless white robes! Revelation 7:9 tells us that in the writer John’s vision, there “was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands.” I have had the privilege of sharing this good news to the far corners of the earth—from snow-laden Russia to sun-soaked California, from impressively structured Milwaukee schools to the calm white shores of Antigua.
As stunning as these sights may be, my real joy in travel has come from those who will one day wear the stainless robes with me. So often, I see people flocking to this perceived paradise that is Antigua, hoping to find a real paradise—if only for a few days. However, the palm tree and blue sky in the photo do not embody paradise, as so many think they do. Rather, I look to my students’ smiles. It is within these children, who daily persevere in a world of sin, that God has established his true kingdom, and his paradise really is perfect. One day, their carefully pressed white uniforms paid for by parents will be exchanged for white robes, free of the stain of sin and paid for by the blood of their King. The grace they receive, which we too share, is what we can eternally sing praises for one day in paradise—wearing white robes.
A big lesson I learned in Russia was that God’s love doesn’t have a boundary. Be patient. Be fearless. I don’t want to limit whom I evangelize based on language, culture, clothing, music preferences, or lifestyle choices. Everyone needs to hear the Word, even if they repeatedly avoid or reject it. In Antigua, I learned the power of being open about your faith. Speaking of your faith does not need to be limited to Bible studies but can take place with co-workers, friends, and even strangers.
While in Russia, I became close to a 13-year-old girl named Masha, who was clearly from a difficult home. The church was her safe haven. Halfway through winter, she stopped showing up. I don’t know if it was the bad weather or a home situation, but I was worried. As my year came closer to an end, we had a special Easter service. Masha came! She showed up late, but she was there! With a huge smile, I invited her to sit by me. I will never forget her voice, which was terribly tone-deaf, and she knew it. I had my own troubles though, stumbling over the long Russian words. We were so happy to be struggling through the beautiful service together. Hearts full and smiles abounding, we worshiped our risen Savior in imperfect yet overflowing joy.