Legacy of Love: Rev. Janice Turner’s Ministry of Presence to Native Americans
By Carl Stagner
Her adventure of a lifetime began with simple obedience to God. Considering the proximity of other Native American communities, this Georgia woman could have easily found ministry opportunities closer than Allen, South Dakota. But God’s call didn’t have to make sense; she was told to go. Rev. Janice Turner knew she was called to do more than apply Band-Aids to societal maladies. Thus, one summer mission experience led to numerous 1,300-mile trips across the country since 2008. God called Janice to invest for the long-term, to build relationships, and to effect substantial and sustainable change in a culture that resembles that of a third-world country. Not limited to the gifts she brought to the local children each December, Janice Turner’s ministry was truly a ministry of presence.
It’s all God, and it baffles me,” Janice explains. “I’m way over here in Atlanta, and sometimes I look up at God and say, ‘Are you kidding? You want me to do what?’” An inspiration to her home congregation of Town Center Community Church in Marietta, Georgia, her ministry has paved the way for continued transformation in Allen, South Dakota. Plagued by joblessness, hopelessness, and alcohol abuse, this Native American community became Janice’s home away from home for the better part of a decade. “God kept sending me back,” she recalls. “Over time, he filled my heart with a deep love for the people. It takes five or six years to develop the kind of relationships I now have with them. They’re like a second family.”
Janice Turner had never been involved in missions work. Town Center’s pastor, Nathan Nielson, had led the church to support Native American ministry, and led the mission trip that ultimately changed Janice’s life forever. “When Janice hears from God that’s she’s supposed to do ministry, she is not hesitant to respond,” Pastor Nate explains. “She listens very closely to God and obeys, period!” So, on the return trip, God made it clear to Janice that she would go back to Allen at Christmastime to bless the children and their families. Like Operation Christmas Child, Janice filled 175 boxes with toys and hygiene supplies. Off she went in response to God’s call, paying her own way.
By the third or fourth year, others started coming alongside Janice. She developed a spreadsheet with all the names of the children and personalized each box. Her last delivery totaled 278 boxes. After a few years of investment in these families, Janice’s heart for their community became more and more evident. Doors were opened to the gospel, and Jesus Christ became Savior and Lord for children and adults alike. Mothers of troubled teens make phone calls to Janice while she’s at home in Georgia, just wanting to talk. These relationships have proved life-changing. Janice has even brought some teen girls home with her to Georgia just for the experience. One teen gave her life to the Lord while in Georgia with Janice. “She has such a tender spirit toward the plight of the Lakota people and feels deeply their challenges,” Pastor Nate explains. “She approached them with simultaneous unconditional love and candor.”
Janice’s legacy of love touches far more than the holidays. Janice began the majority of projects addressing the joblessness in Allen after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer while on a mission trip there in July 2013. From helping find a storefront for a bakery, to getting a dollar store off the ground, to promoting a silk screen business—Janice Turner’s intention was to get unemployed residents back to work and reduce depression in the area.
Janice says, “I hope that, from the seeds I planted, young people will get motivated to get jobs, especially among men. When they can’t provide for their families, they get depressed. When the husbands drink, so do their wives. But of all the teen girls I’ve built relationships with, as far as I know, every one of them are sober today!”
As Church of God Ministries assembled the pieces for a relaunch of Home Missions, Janice Turner’s influence and insight have been indispensable. As such, Handel Smith, chief domestic officer, has come to know and be blessed by Janice. “Minister Janice Turner is an amazing gift to the world who partnered with Church of God Ministries to reclaim that which the enemy attempted to steal,” Handel reflects. “Whether it was helping the people on the reservation to launch a silk screen business, or ministering the gospel of Jesus door-to-door to the Lakota families, she was the hands and feet of Jesus. Her hospitality and love for perfect strangers is inspiring. We are praying for God’s perfect will to be done in the life of our sister.”
Even at home in Georgia, Janice has made an indelible impact on the community. She started the church’s Lend a Hand ministry that provides no-strings-attached help to families in need. But it all takes time, and a ministry of presence. From volunteer lawn maintenance for anyone who needs it, to helping people find Jesus and join the family at her home church, Janice’s ministry at home has led to the immeasurable spiritual growth of countless individuals. Janice has created and worked on innumerable projects to help the youth and body of Christ in her church and community.
As Janice nears what appears to be the end of her journey on earth, her confidence and hope in the Lord has not wavered. Nor has her expectation that the ministry she began will continue. “I always wondered why God would have me focus on Allen,” she reflects. “But over the years, more and more people would accept Christ. And now, more than 50 percent of the homes are Christian! God isn’t giving up on this project. There’ll be a reassignment. I know God will continue the work.”
Were you blessed by reading this story? Support the ongoing work of Church of God Ministries with your gift to the World Ministry Fund at https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/world-ministry-fund/.