Answering the Call
The summer of ’69…so much more than a Bryan Adams song, this moment in time held many momentous occasions in our country. Neil Armstrong and crew ascended onto the moon. The New York Mets miraculously claimed their title of World Series Champions after notoriously falling into the spot of underdog for much of the season. A music festival of epic proportions, known as Woodstock, was held for the first time ever in Bethel, NY. These events and so many others took our country by storm for much of the summer. Yet while these historic occasions, known by all, were transpiring, it was in the quaint village of North Palm Beach, Florida, that a phone call, placed from hundreds of miles away in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, occurred which would go on to impact the lives of foreign dignitaries, multiple US Presidents, countless members of our armed forces, Hollywood actors, and the lives of so many others that it would be truly impossible to enumerate.
That call, made by a loving grandmother, Elsie McCreery Longwell, to her daughter and son-in-law, the young parents of two small boys, who had just moved to the small village, involved an urgent and clear directive that they must “get those boys baptized.” The parents took this call very seriously and began to phone those they knew in the area to see if they just might, by chance, know of a church that could help them fulfill this directive, preferably one that was Presbyterian. Much to their relief, the calls produced the name of a church which had just recently built a quaint, new chapel that would be perfect for the occasion. On the next business day, a call was made, and the parents were connected with a pastor by the name of Jim Anderson, who declared he would be happy to baptize “those boys” as long as the family would make at least one visit to the parish. The next weekend, in their Sunday best, the family arrived at North Palm Beach Presbyterian Church which quickly became their church home. On the morning of the baptisms, Jim Anderson called the parents, Bob and Joan Johnson, to the front of the chapel for the blessed occasion and “those boys,” dressed in matching outfits, were dedicated to the Lord. It is safe to say that Anderson had no inclination as to the magnitude of the influence this baptism, and this family, would have on the church AND the world. The Johnson family, which grew to include a daughter and another son, Piper and Chet, have not only become a cornerstone of this church, but they have also become known as the embodiment of grace and beauty under pressure, devotion to church and country, and servitude to their fellow man. And, to think, it all began with “that call.”
We have all received at least one call such as this at some point in our lives. Whether it was a phone call, or maybe a calling from above, there have been those moments which have been the catalyst for something beyond what we hold in our current purview. In the life of the Johnson family, there have been many of these calls, beyond the one placed by Elsie, that have changed the trajectory of their lives. Bob, for example, received a call to participate in a seminar on evangelism, aptly named Evangelism Explosion, and after attending, emitted such a passionate desire to share the love of Christ that he immediately returned home to walk his sons, Colin and Erik, now eight and nine, through the journey of making their profession of faith. Another profoundly significant call was made by Colin who, phoning from the University of Florida campus, proclaimed to his parents, “I want to join the Marines! I want to serve my country before I go to work!” After recruiting his roommates, Dane, John, and Cedric, and perhaps anyone else who would come along, to join him, Colin went to Officer Candidate School and became a Captain who went on to play a commanding role in guiding his fellow Marines out of Somalia in the 1990’s, among many other covert missions. Throughout his career in the Marines, Colin became well known because there was just something about him that was different, genuine, real, consistent, oh, and his superhero like stature helped a bit with that as well. Speaking of this stature, it was one that would cause the most evil of characters in war stricken countries to flee and equally had some of the most notable dignitaries in US history requesting his presence when he moved on from the Marines to eventually serve as an agent in the Secret Service. Colin stood out most though because, well, as his mother so eloquently states, “Colin equals complete unselfishness, a man of strong character, admired for his bravery, spiritual faith, moral values and decency, a man others pattern their lives after, wanting to emulate him.” And, to think, it all began with “that call.”
Oh, if only Elsie knew! Although, if you think about it, she did know. She knew the importance of urging her beloved daughter and son-in-law to raise their children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Bob and Joan knew the importance of providing deep and strong roots for their family. These roots are so evident throughout Colin’s journey through the Marines, his time spent as an actor, and his service to our government. It was these roots and this love for God, country, and family that undoubtedly led to a very significant call, this time placed by former First Lady Barbara Bush, who was so struck by Colin that she wanted to personally request him for her detail. Years later, having served through five presidencies, Colin was again called for, this time by current President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, General John Kelley, whom adopted him as a surrogate son as he lost his own son in combat. With all the world at his fingertips, Colin could do anything and go anywhere, yet his choice has always been to return home to his beloved family, and church, any chance he had. When he found “the one,” where did he propose? Why, in the front yard of his family home, with his father playing the role of DJ, of course! With the ability to be married in the most exclusive of places, there was no place Colin would consider conducting his nuptials than at his home church. When it came time to baptize his sons, his home church is where these momentous memories were made. While there have been many impressive roles Colin has fulfilled, there is one set he has referred to as the greatest honor of his life, and those are husband to Fanny and father to Maximo and Magnus. And whenever he could, he brought them home, to his little village, his fiercely loved nieces and nephews, his family, and, of course, his church. Can you imagine, or even muster up, a love and devotion so deep? And, to think, it all began with “that call.”
In September of last year, the beautiful spirit that exuded from Myles Colin Johnson, left his earthly body, and graduated to his heavenly home where he was embraced by his older brother Erik. But Colin’s spirit lives on, and will remain, in every soul he touched. From the staff of the White House kitchen who would come out to gush about him to Bob and Joan when they would visit; to his brother, Chet, who when Colin fell ill, was by his side without a thought because it was simply the reciprocation of the love of Jesus that Colin had shown him throughout his life; to his sister, Piper, who remembers as a young child, the touch of his hand, embracing hers as she sat through the church service on Sundays and the way that, to this day, even the thought of the embrace causes her to feel the embodiment of being loved the same way she so notably felt as a young girl. Just as Elsie did through her call, Colin left some directives of his own through a list he would keep on the refrigerator for his young boys. This list embodies who Colin was, and while the first few pertain to his boys, in his own covert way, it seems safe to say, Colin meant the rest for all of us:
- Play and have LOTS of fun!
- Explore, and think, and discover, and imagine, and create, and learn, and sing, and dance!
- Be kind and gentle and loving!
- Be strong!
- Be polite!
- Pray, and praise God, ALWAYS!
Let Colin’s life be a catalyst that calls you to share God’s love with others. Love. Inspire. Invite. CALL. Colin left this example by serving his family, his country, his church, his world, and he was inspired to do so because of his love for Christ. Colin’s inspiration was stoked by the flame he first felt when presented with the Gospel and that flame was fanned through his family and the pastors and fellow members at First Presbyterian. That flame brought so many people closer to Christ from the University of Florida to the Pentagon and beyond. That flame can live on as it has for over 50 years as we follow Colin’s lead and share God’s love with others. Elsie’s call set the stage, but Colin made it his own. In honor of Colin, who will you call?
Join the Johnson Family in honoring and celebrating the life of Myles Colin Johnson on September 7 at 2:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary. A reception will follow in Fellowship Hall.