Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Family serves in Papua New Guinea


November 16, 2017

Derek and Kristy Johnson with their sons, Grant, Nathan and Trent.

Derek Johnson, a 1995 Barnum High School graduate, and his family's life journeys took them to Papua New Guinea last year, and there they have found their career home.

The couple submitted a photo for "Where in the World" in the Moose Lake Star-Gazette recently and offered to provide information for a story about their journey and their mission work in Papua New Guinea.

These are excerpts from the information they sent.

Derek became a teacher and taught math in Mora, but tragedy stuck and he lost his wife, Karlynn, in 2005. She left an infant son, Grant. She died from complications from a surgery to remove a brain tumor, he wrote.

Kristy was also suffering the loss of her husband, who died in 2005 after a seven-year battle with cancer. She was expecting their first child, a son named Nathan.

Kristy is a physical therapist and worked in Mora when she met Derek after being introduced by mutual friends, Kristy wrote.

"Both of us were trying to raise our infant sons while working through the grief of losing our spouses," she wrote. "Shortly after meeting, we realized we not only had grief and infant sons in common, but many other things, including cross country skiing! We were married in August 2006. There has actually been a book written about our lives, 'The Long Way Around' by Rachel Norby."

The couple had another son. Grant and Nathan are both in seventh grade, and Trent, who was born in 2008, is in fourth grade, Kristy wrote.

Both Derek and Kristy had been on mission trips and looked into finding a mission where they could serve.

"Four years ago we felt led to use our professions somewhere else and serve other people with our skills and talents," she wrote. "We wanted to go where the need was great and the work was of great importance.

"We started the process of looking into several mission organizations, but none seemed just the right fit for our family, until we met with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Wycliffe Bible Translators has a mission center in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea. It is in the mountainous highlands where it is in the 70s year around! We arrived in Papua New Guinea in July 2016."

Kristy described the role of the mission in Ukarumpa.

"People from all over the world come to live and work in Ukarumpa and throughout all of Papua New Guinea," she wrote. "Those who work as translators, linguists, language surveyors and various other language professionals need other people to help them with their daily needs and tasks. There are many different support staff positions that are filled in Ukarumpa, all aimed at helping the language professionals be able to do their job of translations. Ukarumpa is home to a wide variety of support staff, including electricians, computer technicians, heavy equipment mechanics, doctors, administration assistants, teachers and a physical therapist. The mission community if Ukarumpa is one great big team, all working together toward the goal of preserving spoken languages, writing the languages down and providing a New Testament for every language in Papua New Guinea (all 800-plus of them)!"

Kristy wrote there was no physical therapy department when she arrived. She had brought along supplies for physical therapy that had been donated. She set up her equipment in a storage area of the clinic and the patients started to arrive.

"I recently have heard comments such as, 'When I usually have this kind of pain it lasts for two months. Now I am better in less than a week,' or 'I didn't know that I would ever be free of this pain. Thank you so much.' I felt like my position here as a physical therapist helps to keep people healthy and well."

Kristy also wrote that she has assisted with educational talks as she helped to increase the level of knowledge for the Papua New Guinea medical staff that work at the clinic and also the ex-patriate clinic staff.

Derek wrote that he found a new challenge in Papua New Guinea.

Derek Johnson, a 1995 Barnum High School graduate, teaches woodworking skills to a student in Papua New Guinea.

"In preparing to teach in Papua New Guinea, I was informed the curriculum was very similar to what I was used to in Mora," he wrote. "However, I was then asked if I would like to teach woodshop, which is something I had not done before. Woodworking was a hobby that I had just begun, and consequently I felt very ill-prepared to teach. Here in Ukarumpa, there are dozens of people who have woodworking as a hobby, so I had lots of resources to ask when I needed help. My woods classes are now the highlight of my day, helping kinesthetic learners find and use their natural abilities to create."

Kristy wrote that the need was great in Ukarumpa and they have signed on as career members for Wycliffe Bible Translators.

"We plan to return to Minnesota for a short six-month furlough in July 2018, where we will work to build up our prayer and financial partnership team needed to sustain us in Papua New Guinea for the long-term. Our plan is to come back to Minnesota every two years for a six-month furlough."

To learn more about the daily lives of the Johnson family, visit Derek and Kristy Johnson's blog at

For more information about Wycliffe Bible Translators, visit


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