Johanna Linschoten glanced out the window at the lanes of cars racing past her. Every few miles, massive billboards and signs crowded the edges of the interstate. Beyond them was a wall of trees, sunlight glinting off the neon-green leaves. She found herself wishing for a glimpse of the ocean and its white sandy beaches—only a 15-minute trip away no matter where she was back home in Hawaii. But the ocean, like home, was a long, long ways away.
Still, Johanna wasn’t homesick or scared. She was excited for a new adventure in Louisville, Kentucky. It was the time and place to keep her promise.
Her adventure really started several years earlier at Urbana 12. Having just started college, Johanna stared down at her commitment card and thought, I have so much time to do things, so I think I can commit to a year somewhere else that isn’t on the island. But that would be crazy because I’ve never lived anywhere else.
Time passed, and Johanna’s commitment slipped to the back of her mind. In the months leading up to Urbana 15, God started prompting her to visit urbana.org. Though she wasn't planning to go to this Urbana, Johanna found herself looking over the lists of organizations who would be represented in the exhibit hall. Love Thy Neighborhood*—an urban ministry that offers specialized internships centered around evangelism and social justice—caught her attention. A few minutes later, she found herself filling out an application for the yearlong internship track dedicated to reaching out to women in Louisville’s adult entertainment industry.
“God just knows me because if I think about something too hard beforehand, I usually don’t do it,” Johanna laughed. “But when I looked into them after I applied and got a response, I realized this is something I really wanted to pursue at one point. It just ended up falling into place with the timing and my ability to go over there.”
It took a while for it to sink in, but once Love Thy Neighborhood responded, Johanna remembered her commitment from Urbana 12. It only confirmed for her that this was God’s will.
In September 2016, Johanna arrived in Louisville to live in an at-risk neighborhood, serve the community, and spend the next year ministering to women in the adult entertainment industry. As she walked into a strip club on her first day, she didn’t expect that anyone would talk to her since she was brand new. But her bubbly, outgoing personality soon had many people opening up.
“God really used the testimony of him calling me to a land so far away to interest many. It let me share why I love him and how he continues to bless my life,” she said.
One woman particularly stood out to Johanna. In their first few conversations, she’d said she believed in God and that being a good person and going to church made someone a Christian. But when it came to having a deeper relationship with Christ, it was clear she wasn’t interested.
As weeks passed, they continued to meet and build a relationship. The last time they saw each other, the woman told Johanna, “I don’t know what it is exactly, but I feel like I need to be closer to God. I don’t think I can do that here.” She looked around her dressing room for a second. “I’m trying to find another job, somewhere I can be closer to the light.”
Johanna’s heart fluttered in her chest. “I just realized that wasn’t anything anyone could have told her. That had to be her own revelation. It was beautiful to see her allowing the Spirit to speak to her. Her heart was getting softer!”
God used the year Johanna spent in Kentucky—the year she’d committed to him at Urbana 12—to help her reconsider her ideas about vocation even when she returned to Hawaii to be a middle school teacher.
“Before I always thought I’m just going to be a teacher for the rest of my life. But through this experience and attending Urbana, I have to remind myself, ‘Don’t put God in a box.’ If a moment arises when I feel the nudge to go somewhere else, I should pray about it and consider it because that might be a new avenue. There’s a time for everything.”
*Love Thy Neighborhood is an urban missions agency for young adults, ages 18–30, impacting homelessness, the adult entertainment industry, crisis pregnancy, orphan care, healthcare, refugees, low-income housing, education, sports and recreation, neighborhood renewal, book editing and publishing, podcasting, visual arts, media and design, and nonprofit leadership. Love Thy Neighborhood equips and mobilizes the next generation of Christian leaders to work with the poor, the suffering, and the marginalized.