Kingdom Karate: Pastor Uses Martial Arts to Reach Students, Families
By Kim Ousley
Wayne Johnson, associate pastor at Southside Community Church of God in Joplin, Missouri, is a powerful force in his community. He uses his karate classes as a way to reach at-risk youth who are on the cusp of going one direction or another due to minor offenses, such as skipping school or anger issues. Many of these students are good kids who just need some guidance toward the right path.
“God saved my life through karate,” Johnson says. He started teaching kids ages twelve to fifteen at the Joplin Juvenile Center in Joplin, Missouri. Because of the pandemic, classes had to be put on hold for a long time last year. But, that didn’t stop Johnson, and couldn’t stop the ministry for long.
“COVID shut us down for a couple of months,” he says. “Both my wife and I [even] got COVID.” However, Johnson goes on to say that they now hold a class at the church building one night per week from 6:30 to 7:15 PM. “First we stretch out and warm up with kicks and blocks and drills. Then, at 7:15, the advanced practice for twenty minutes.”
He also teaches self-defense classes to women in the community.
Since Johnson is the associate pastor at Southside, he uses his karate as examples in his once-a-month sermons from time to time. He uses martial arts techniques, such as the “arm grab” or kicks and stances, then tie those to Scripture. Karate has also been utilized in VBS (Vacation Bible School) at the church in Carthage. “We developed curriculum for Bible school based on karate…the helmet of salvation and the armor of God. We did it at the Joplin church, also.”
Many former students of the program at the Joplin Juvenile Center have returned to share their stories of how karate changed their lives and families. Some have become instructors, themselves. Johnson started at the persistence of a teacher who brought her class to the factory where meat was processed where Johnson worked at the time. He shared about how karate changed his life. At the time, there was a grant for the newly established program of helping these kids in detention.
“I teach karate while other adults teach classes like cooking,” he says. “I teach the basics; first belt is white, then they move up to testing for the yellow belt. They have to earn this because it’s not a given. It’s not an everybody-gets-a-trophy for participation.” The ministry has changed kids’ attitudes and, for some, helped channel anger issues in a healthy direction.
In the very first class, Johnson prays with the students. “Power stance, hands up.” This, he says, shows them that they can destroy and help heal, as well as move mountains and tear down walls. Then they move to the floor to pray. His initial classes had the highest success rate out of all the classes being taught at the juvenile center at that time.
What was Johnson’s main influence when he was younger? He shared how he and his instructor went to see The Power Team back in the 1980s at a local coliseum. “These guys were ex-NFL players and wrestlers, tearing up phone books and chopping through blocks of ice,” he shares. John Jacobs, the founder of the Power Team (www.thepowerteam.com), started this back in the 1970s as a way to evangelize youth by sharing athletes’ stories and testimonies along with the physical demonstrations of strength.”
Pastor Billie Palumbo, Southside’s senior pastor, met Johnson back in late 2007 when she began serving at Southside. She had known of the impact his karate classes had made previously at the church.
“I asked Wayne Johnson to come on board and get that ministry going again,” she remembers. “We’ve have had people who brought children to karate class end up coming to Jesus. Not only have they, but also extended family members have become part of our church through the contact.” Another young man that took his karate classes also became part of the church family and Johnson became his mentor.
Palumbo expresses how God has opened doors of opportunity for Johnson to work with the juvenile justice system, and that the church has been able to be a support to this ministry. “He teaches them how to be a man of God,” Palumbo says. “We have been able to use his ministry as an outreach. Rev. Wayne Johnson is a man of God with a heart of compassion and a desire to impact the lives of others. He has a burden for the souls of those he teaches and he has a desire to be an example to all those he instructs.”
Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.
*Feature (top) photo: Wayne Johnson, left, providing karate instruction.