Words: Bethany Peterson Lockett ’20
Photos: Jesse Green
“I just fell in love with the city of Chicago; it’s an easy city to love, isn’t it?” said Lisa Anderson Johanon ’82, reflecting on her time at Wheaton.
Johanon was drawn to the city. While at Wheaton, she requested special permission to live in Chicago. Although it was years before a Wheaton in Chicago program was offered, Wheaton decided to support her desire to devote herself to the city. “When I look back on it, I can’t believe I did that,” Johanon said with a laugh. “But I’m really grateful Wheaton was flexible enough to do that, because not all schools would have.”
That experience began a great love for urban life and ministry that still propels Johanon forward, though she would soon learn to love a very different city—Detroit.
After graduating from Wheaton, Johanon accepted a position with Youth For Christ in Detroit. But after seven years, “they said it was too emotionally and financially draining to do urban ministry. I said, ‘Yes, it is; that’s why we need to be doing it.’”
Johanon felt discouraged by the decision. “Is this the time to pick it all up and go for the white picket fence and the dog and two kids?” she and her husband, Daniel, wondered. But after two years of praying and trying to be faithful in the transition, they felt the Lord calling them to stay.
Today, Johanon is the executive director of Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit, faith-based organization she co-founded in 1993. “We’re here to be salt and light in a community of great need,” she said.
CDC’s work centers on four pillars: education, employment, economic development, and evangelism. The 17 businesses they founded or support include a soup packaging plant that gives teenagers job skills, a laundromat that services a prestigious downtown hotel (and employs community members), a produce market that delivers to vulnerable seniors (once unexpectedly visited by former First Lady Michelle Obama), construction and property management companies, and a five-star preschool (of which Johanon is particularly proud).
“Time and time again I can point to where we’ve seen God’s goodness,” Johanon said.
CDC’s current programs are as different as could be—literacy and home repair. The CDC staff’s emphasis on listening to the community often leads them down unexpected paths.
Still, Johanon said, “I don’t have the answers. Poverty is so complex . . . but I am just blessed and grateful that I even know how to formulate the right questions.”
In the Gospels, there is a moment when Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem and cries out to it, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” expressing his great love and longing for the city’s healing. “That’s how I feel,” Lisa said about Detroit. “I feel confident that this is where God wanted us.”