Ludmilla and June sat in a makeshift examination room in a small Ukrainian Baptist church where a team of medical missionaries had set up a clinic. June helped the elderly woman pull her arm from her sleeve as she listened to her story of the cancer treatment and its effects on her body.
Ludmilla also had a broken shoulder and a wound at the base of her neck that the surgeon would not operate on since it might involve cancer. The oncologist did not want to treat her because she had an open wound. Ludmilla was left to manage her care on her own.
The woman cried as June drained and dressed her wound.
“Am I hurting you?” June asked.
“No, I am crying because you touched me,” Ludmilla sobbed.
After caring for the wound, June dug into a humanitarian aid box and pulled out an arm sling. As she fitted the sling, Ludmilla dropped her head onto June’s chest, shaking with silent tears. She could not afford a sling, so she had been improvising with torn strips of cloth. They both saw the blessing God had provided.
“Do you understand that God is with you?” June asked.
“Yes! He is my rock and my fortress. He is with me. He feels my pain.”
“Praise God!” June whispered, and then she thanked God for the privilege of helping one of his children.
A Chance to Struggle
June Johnson grew up in a family that combined medicine and ministry. Her father, a surgeon, took the family to Kenya where he served at a Christian hospital for one summer after June finished second grade. As she grew up, June was interested in health care and became a nurse. She settled into a job as a wound care specialist in a hospital. She used her nursing skills on occasional short-term mission trips to places like the Dominican Republic, but she never considered being a full-time medical missionary.
In 1996, June was in the process of buying a house; she had just finished taking a recertification test for her specialty license when she went on another short-term mission trip. She and a friend traveled to Feodosia, Ukraine, to help with a Vacation Bible School outreach.
On the first day of VBS, she saw a poorly dressed 8-year-old girl clutching her hands to her chest. Lena, the girl, was terrified of her, so June had to stand several yards away before the girl lowered her arms and showed June her palms. Through a translator, June learned that Lena had fallen into gravel about 10 days earlier, and her dirty hands were covered with pustules—each little wound encapsulating a piece of stone. She could not play or even pay attention because of her painful hands. After gaining Lena’s trust, June taught her how to clean her hands and gave her antibiotics. Within four days, Lena’s hands had healed, and she was fully participating in VBS.
This incident shook June. She knew that Lena’s mother could have cared for her hands, but Lena’s mother and father were both alcoholics. In short, the little girl was raising herself and did not know how to care for her injury. June realized God had placed her in the right place at just the right time to help a little hurting girl.
“Anyone could have helped her, but [God] chose me,” June explained. “And wrapped in that realization was the understanding that he was asking if I was available to him.”
She returned home and began to think about her priorities; she struggled to come to terms with the way God was working. Whose approval did she live for, God’s or her own? Being fully available to God would change everything in her life. June felt torn between the known and unknown.
In December, June’s boss, whom she respected, called her into her office and said, “Your heart isn’t here anymore. You need to figure out where it is.” After a few more weeks, June decided God was calling her to be a missionary.
A Clear Calling
In September 1998, June moved to Feodosia, Ukraine, to work as a missionary for Christian Missionary Fellowship International, alongside the same missionaries she had visited two years earlier. She was 33 years old and starting an entirely new life in a new country. In time, her ministry evolved to spending half of her time doing medical work, which consisted of working in three local church clinics, doing medical outreaches to villages, speaking at Christian medical conferences, and seeing patients in their homes. The other half of her work focused on helping local churches reach out to the younger generation. She stayed in Crimea for 16 years before leaving because of political unrest.
On March 1, 2014, June fled Crimea as Russia annexed and occupied the peninsula. She relocated to Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, where she continued her medical ministry and began reaching out to those with special needs. There she also began facilitating yearly short-term mission trips for nursing students from the United States. June attends a local church in Kiev and works with the congregation to take the gospel to families that have children with special needs.
June’s story has taken many unexpected twists, but she loves how God has worked in her life. Having lived and ministered in Ukraine for 23 years now, June has seen many changes. However, she knows the biggest changes have happened within her.
“This country would have gotten along just fine without me, but I needed Ukraine,” June said. “God took a proud, independent, self-centered person and used this land, these people, and the call to be a missionary to break me and draw me closer to his heart.” She is thankful for how God has helped her grow.