There are people whose words carry deep weight and profound meaning. They matter.
Johnalee Barnes Nelson was such a person. A woman of deep faith and profound courage, she personally witnessed for justice and peace. She supported her husband and their community in their shared witness. And together with her husband, and on her own, she raised her son to be an advocate, a witness.
I am humbled and proud to call her son, J. Herbert Nelson II my colleague, my friend, my brother. I know he is who he is, he lives as he lives, he serves as he serves, in large part because of his mother.
Each of us is shaped by, among other factors, the people in our lives. When we meet someone, we meet, to some extent, the people who have shaped them. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Teachers. Co-workers. And more. In J. Herbert, I met Johnalee Barnes Nelson.
But I also had the privilege of meeting Johnalee herself on several occasions. The most recent occurred at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Compassion, Peace, and Justice Training Day on March 21 of this year.
With my friends and colleagues and sisters Christine Hong and Esther Lee, I led a workshop on how different faith communities can work together to prevent violence. Johnalee attended. Because I was helping with the closing worship, I had to leave early.
As the worship ended, Johnalee made her way across the sanctuary of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. She sought me out. And when she found me, she thanked me for the workshop and said it had been the best one she attended that day. Because of who Johnalee was, I have treasured her words. I can think of no better feedback I have ever received.
Johnalee faced health challenges. She moved to live with J. Herbert because of those challenges. At the end of September, she was hospitalized.
Today, along with my colleagues in the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministry, I received an email with a brief message:
I am emailing to inform you that on yesterday my mother, Johnalee Barnes Nelson transitioned to be with The Lord. The members of my family are grateful for the love and support that you offered during her lifetime.
We are planning a memorial celebration of her life in Jesus Christ. Your prayers are solicited.
In the faith we share,
I grieve with J. Herbert and his family and all who loved Johnalee Barnes Nelson. I pray they may find comfort and strength in this tender time.
I give thanks for the faith and witness and love and witness of Johnalee Barnes Nelson. Faith that gives us hope through Jesus Christ. Witness in Christ’s name that has inspired others, including me. Love that never ends.
Thanks be to God.
See you along the Trail.