'If ever I prematurely leave, my heart is at peace'

Young pastor made ominous Twitter post three weeks before his murder

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Observer staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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Just over three weeks before he was brutally gunned down in his church, 28-year-old pastor James Johnson posted an ominous message on the popular social media platform Twitter.

“Even as I fight to stay alive, I'm reminded that there is hope in the Lord. If ever I prematurely leave, my heart is at peace and I know I'm going to a better place. I'm of the view I've fulfilled my purpose,” he wrote on August 28.

Last Thursday, a gunman pumped seven bullets into Johnson's back while he conducted a class inside the Church of God of Prophecy at 41 Old Harbour Road in St Catherine.

The brazen murder shocked the country and has been condemned by church and political leaders.

Yesterday, there was no sign of activity at the church. However, two congregants — Angella Greyson Thomas and Yvonne Lawes — who were seen in the vicinity of the building, told the Jamaica Observer that they would normally be on duty to tidy up for Sunday service while Johnson would be having his regular Saturday classes.

“Every Saturday, as long as is not holiday, you see him here,” Greyson Thomas said. “He is the secretary for the Bible Institute for the church, and dem know say a church, a him godly duty him a come do, because him a come teach somebody else who nuh know di Bible. But we are leaving everything to God, because God a go answer wi prayer.”

Lawes agreed, adding: “He was a very jovial person, a wonderful guy. He dealt mostly with the young people, he was a young people person. Mi never see him angry, mi never see him do nothing out of place. He was a member for 11 years. He came as a minister. We spoke about two weeks ago and he was here having a sign language [class].

Greyson Thomas said that although Johnson's death has come as a real shock, her faith has given her strength.

“As a Christian, you don't have any special reaction when somebody from your family dies. You know it's grief, it's hard, because we never expected something like this. But otherwise from that, I'm holding up,” Greyson Thomas said.

Lawes, who has been a member of the church for 18 years and who said she last saw the young pastor exactly a week before, broke down in tears as she remembered Johnson.

“Is last week Saturday mi talk to him, because I was cleaning and him say to me say 'Sista!' Anytime mi talk bout it mi cry. He was a jovial person, loving, down-to-earth person. You never see him sad yet, him always a laugh,” Lawes said.

Johnson, who was an active youth leader and a former member of the University of the West Indies LEADS (Leaders, Engaged, Activated, Dedicated, Ready to Serve) programme, was well loved among his peers.

Howard Chamberlain, president of the Jamaica Labour Party's youth arm, Young Jamaica, shared his shock at Johnson's murder in a Facebook post.

“I just simply cannot, I'm numb, I'm shaken, in a state that I cannot explain,” Chamberlain wrote.

Well-known youth mentor Nadeen Spence, in her social media post, said: Johnson “had a lot of ideas about this country and how we could and needed to make things better. He loved his mother and his sisters. He was an awesome son and big brother”.

Yesterday, the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches condemned the murder of the clergyman and called for support in helping to find his killers.

“The church has been moved by the news of the murder of James Johnson, a young minister in the Church of God of Prophecy... We commiserate with his family and the church as we try to ponder the heinous nature of that act of violence and set in context the pain and grief we share even as we consider how to deal with the very deep, intractable and diabolical force that is behind the overall situation of murders in the country,” the group said in a statement.

“As a church we hold dear the sanctity of life in regard to all. We are shocked and outraged. We note with alarm the setting in which young minister Johnson was cut down brutally, the violation of the place of refuge and the incursion on boundaries protecting the sanctity of that space which has been dedicated for the things of God and for uplifting people overall.

“We are reaching out to support the family, church and community and call upon anyone who has information that might be helpful in solving this crime to speak with the relevant bodies. We also call on all our citizens to reflect again on the crisis we face as a nation in relation to acts of violence and murders and to join in supporting initiatives to disrupt violence,” the group said.

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