Westmont Magazine Family-based Ministry
A Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tripp Johnston went on to earn an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. For 15 years he worked as an investment banker, advising companies on mergers and acquisitions and becoming COO of the Capital Markets Group of First Union Bank (now Wachovia Bank).
As a lifelong Christian, Tripp sought to serve the Lord in his work. “God showed me how to be a witness in the business community, and I felt like He used me,” Tripp says.
“But as I was enjoying more and more success in my career, it was becoming less and less interesting and rewarding for me,” he explains. “I started praying about whether God was leading me into some type of full-time Christian service.”
After discussion and prayer with his wife, Alison, Tripp decided to leave his position in 2000 and explore opportunities for ministry. Even before he resigned, a friend invited him on a short-term ministry trip to Ethiopia with a professional, all-Christian soccer team.
“As I was in Ethiopia, God began to give me a great love for the Ethiopian people and an appreciation for using sports as an evangelism and discipleship tool,” Tripp says.
When he got home, Tripp talked with his family about serving in Ethiopia. Alison had done cross-cultural missionary work as a teenager, and she was willing. “She always thought God was going to call us to do something big and different,” Tripp says.
But what about their three children? Would their daughter, Morgan ’07, want to spend her senior year of high school in Ethiopia?
“Morgan sensed that God was calling her in this direction,” Tripp notes. “Her support was a positive influence on our younger children, Barrett and Anna, who followed her lead.
“We concluded that the best place for any of us to be is in the center of God’s will.”
Despite fears and questions, the Johnstons agreed that God was calling them to a sports-based ministry with SIM. They arrived in Ethiopia in 2002.
Tripp and Alison had the hardest time trusting God with their children. “Some people even said to us, ‘How can you take your children to such an unsafe place?’ ”
The family has faced difficulties: They’ve been robbed and have suffered from illness and accidents. Power outages occur often, and the level of poverty, human need, illness and death they confront seems overwhelming.
“But God has shown us that His grace, peace and power are sufficient. We have been blown away by God’s goodness to our children,” Tripp says. “They’ve had great experiences.”
A year of ministry has increased Tripp’s passion for using sports to build relationships with children, youth and young adults. With nearly three-fourths of Ethiopia’s 65 million people under the age of 21, this approach makes sense. Young people in Ethiopia have few entertainment options. A Christian with a ball is overrun with enthusiastic participants.
“Sports ministry is a new concept in Ethiopia,” Tripp says. “Our vision is a bold one: to see a nationwide movement of thousands of churches reaching millions with the love of God through the platform of sports. We view ourselves as a resource to existing churches, to train them in sports ministry.”
While Alison works with the sports ministry, she has other interests as well. “I have a passion for those suffering from HIV/AIDS,” she says. “Through the Mother Teresa’s AIDS orphanage and SIM’s outreach to the displaced and/or terminally ill with AIDS, I hope to make a difference in the lives of people affected by the devastating virus.”
Eventually, Tripp hopes to share his experiences and working ministry models in some of the 40 countries SIM serves. “We feel we are being swept along in something big God is doing,” he says.