Great-Grandfather Leads Woman to Christ — 100 Years After His Death

By Nancy Flory Published on February 26, 2017

When Joanna Reed Shelton, career diplomat, opened her email one day several years ago, she never could’ve guessed what was inside: an invitation to celebrate the anniversary of her missionary great-grandfather’s church in Japan, which he had started 120 years before. She wasn’t a Christian — so why was she invited? She speculated that her speeches had made it on the web and across the world, connecting her with her great-grandfather’s legacy. She couldn’t have known how his life work wasn’t done — not quite.

Perhaps without even knowing why, she decided to take a trip to Japan.

As Joanna sat in the church her great-grandfather started, family stories came to life. Like the story of her great-grandfather struggling to keep from crying after his 14-year-old daughter who was the organist, Ella, died. When she visited Ella’s grave, Joanna held back tears.

Over time, Joanna took more trips to Japan, visited another church her grandfather founded, and began digging into his work as a writer and theologian at Meiji Gakuin University. Still, something was missing. She realized that her life traveling the world did not fulfill her. She decided to learn more about her great-grandfather and what made him become a missionary to Japan. But to do that, she had to know more about his faith — Christianity.

Joanna said that she traded in her “chauffeured cars and dinners with ambassadors for cowboy boots and life on a 240-acre farm” and moved to Montana. She began studying the Bible in earnest under two devout relatives. The longing she felt, the inner desire for something she couldn’t describe, was filled by her study of scripture. She couldn’t get enough.

Joanna trusted Jesus as her Lord and Savior and she said her life gained a new focus. She thought about her great-grandfather and the Japanese people he ministered to as a missionary. But he wasn’t finished when his life was over. “You might say I’m the latest convert of a man whose work clearly was not done when he died more than a century ago.”

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