Ever since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn Center, Jo Johnson has looked out for the “people on the fringes” – people who are seen as shadows, with no voice, devalued, and thrown away by society. Jo admires Hubert Humphrey and she resonates with his belief that a society should be judged by how it treats those in the shadows. Jo and her husband Mark moved to Albert Lea to work and to raise their son and daughter.
Jo’s 27 year career as a social worker and educator in the field of disabilities fulfilled her desire to make a difference in the lives of people who are often ostracized for being different. In her role as Senior Training Consultant for a national organization that provides supportive housing for disabled people, Jo led seminars on how to teach people with disabilities, taught leadership courses, wrote curricula and mentored staff.
After their retirement, Jo and Mark moved to Duluth to be near their daughter and three grandchildren. They came to Peace church last summer, looking for a church community that supports their values of inclusivity and social justice. Jo believes that “in many small, loving ways we can make beautiful lives for others. Jesus didn’t teach power and rules – he taught love and simple service for all.”
Within just one year at Peace church, Jo has found a perfect way to fulfill her passion for inclusion and connection with people living in the margins. She has created a quilt-making project and named it “Ties that Bind,” a creative and compassionate way to reach out to the homeless in our community. Jo is inviting faith communities to join her in creating hand-made quilts for every family that moves into the Steve O’Neil apartments. She envisions “each family receiving a unique quilt upon moving in as a way of embracing and ‘binding’ them to our community.” That means 44 quilts for 44 families by the end of this year!
As a teacher and trainer, Jo realized that she could help people understand how their words and actions affected others. Now she quilts, “using leftover fabric scraps and putting them together to make something beautiful, whimsical and warm.” She feels that the “Ties that Bind” quilts will help put lives back together into something that is better and beautiful.
Jo shared that she is inspired by Mother Theresa who said, “I am a pencil in God’s hand.” It’s clear that, in this time, Jo is a needle in God’s hand!
Interviewed by Lyn Clark Pegg
Thank you to Pamela Mittlefehldt for editing the Voices for Justice article each month