Converge global worker's message: Tomorrow could be too late — love people today
Pastor & writer
The murder of Mark Strandberg gave his 13-year-old sister, Jami, a plain, unending clarity about life.
“It put upon my heart the desire to share Christ with people,” the Converge global worker recently said. “I need to love people today because tomorrow could be too late.”
On the night of November 9, 1976, an intruder broke into the Strandberg home and shot Mark in his basement bedroom. Jami found Mark facedown beside his bed when he didn’t come upstairs to prepare for school. As Jami left to get their mom, she felt the cold Minnesota air flowing through a busted basement door.
Ever since the day Jami couldn’t wake her brother, she’s stirred people, especially those with severe trauma, to sense the love of God. 2024 will be her twentieth year as a Converge global worker in Mexico.
“God taught me about the urgency of the gospel,” she said as she reflected on her brother’s sudden death. “We don’t know when our neighbors or friends are going to die.”
A missed bus moves the mission
Jami felt called to missions in India even before her brother’s murder in 1976. Rather than being shattered, Jami’s faith survived her horror partly because of Romans 8:28. She knew God accomplishes good, even out of life’s worst moments.
A slow transformation from pain to purpose didn’t take long to begin.
A few months after Mark’s death, her dad missed his bus home from work in downtown Minneapolis. What he saw across the street — a travel agency — unintentionally redirected his teenage daughter’s future. Gordon Strandberg spoke with a travel agent and later bought his family a getaway vacation to Mazatlan, Mexico.
They went on that trip in early 1977, a week away to continue grieving and adjusting to Mark’s absence. One night several weeks later, Jami and her dad went to church for an evening event. After the activity ended, Jami felt burdened to pray and went outside as her dad chatted with people.
Standing on a sidewalk, looking up at a cross atop the church’s steeple, she reflected again on the message of Romans 8:28. While praying, she committed anew to going wherever the Lord wanted her. And he responded.
“He said, ‘You will go to Mexico to bring glory and honor to my name,” she recalled.
Get ready...now go
In response to God’s voice, Jami started studying Spanish and took a mission trip to northern Mexico in 10th grade. An Iowa church later welcomed Jami on its Mexico mission trips. Plus, her family continued vacationing there for at least 10 years. By the early 2000s, Jami had traveled to Mexico 40 times for missions, studying abroad and family vacations.
Ultimately, she earned a master’s degree in Spanish and taught Spanish at universities and community colleges near her Minnesota hometown. Teaching Spanish at a Catholic university improved her understanding of Hispanic religion, culture and life. She also completed a psychology degree and a seminary degree.
It’s important to help develop leaders for this region to help them become more effective in their ministries.
In everything, God wove together a perfect plan for Jami out of all her loss and life experiences. Jami has been living in Mexico since 2004. First, she was in Guadalajara, then Guanajuato and then back to Guadalaraja in 2014.
She is a teacher at Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary. Her classes have included her favorite — personal evangelism — plus leadership formation, theology, youth ministry, missions and the Bible.
Emmanuel Seminary equips students for ministry, especially in the Bajío in central Mexico. Less than 4% of the millions of people in the region of seven states know and follow Christ. People live in fear, trying to please a god of their understanding through various sacrifices and good works.
“It’s important to help develop leaders for this region to help them become more effective in their ministries,” she said.
One of those leaders is Irma, a seminary graduate who also worked at a high-end salon in Guadalajara before she started a salon of her own. While still a seminary student, Irma offered hair-cutting classes in a community 30 minutes away. She did this to share the gospel or Bible verses with her students.
The Lord has led at least one person in those classes to Christ. Irma teaches leadership development, spiritual formation and Christian education at Emmanuel Seminary.
“That’s exciting to see the multiplication, to see students on fire for the Lord and investing in other people and multiplying their lives and their knowledge of the Lord in other people,” Strandberg said.
Related: Larry Caldwell has seen similar multiplication as a seminary professor in Asia.
Evangelism, empathy light eyes up
Jami’s passion for personal evangelism comes through in the classroom and her ministry at two churches. She has different opportunities at each church but focuses on Bible studies, especially with nonbelievers or young Christians.
“Their eyes light up,” she said as these people encounter new truths from the word of God.
The Lord has also arranged a few times where Jami’s pain and grief ministered to Mexicans who lost relatives to violence. They’ve often thanked her, saying she is the only person who understands their pain.
“The grieving process is different” for traumatized people, she said. “At the time, it’s just too overwhelming. And so you bury it — but it’s below the surface. And at any point, it can reveal itself.”
The pain returns
In 1990, 14 years after Mark’s murder, the Strandbergs found a typed letter in their mailbox.
“He described what he did,” she said of the letter’s message. The anonymous person wrote that he heard a pop, got scared and ran. Then, realizing the killer was alive, Jami showed a gospel-centered conviction she’d learned many years before.
“We don’t know where he stands with the Lord,” she concluded after seeing the letter. “I need to pray for his salvation.”
That heart, given to her by God, is what she hopes to impart to her students as they encounter people far from the Lord.
We don’t know where he stands with the Lord,” Jami said of her brother’s murderer. “I need to pray for his salvation.
For example, Strandberg remembers two evangelism students doing outreach in a downtown plaza. One led worship while another woman shared the gospel as she’d learned in class. As a result, two people went forward that day and accepted Christ as Lord.
“Glory to God how he’s using them to reach out to others,” she said of her students. “It’s exciting for me to partner with people like that who have that kind of a passion for the lost.”
Another graduate of her seminary is Jorge, a pastor in Puerto Vallarta. When the pastor started his ministry, he asked God to use him to start four churches. The Lord, who can do more than all we can imagine, answered the pastor’s prayer by starting 18 churches throughout Mexico.
She’ll never stop sharing
Two decades in Mexico haven’t dimmed Strandberg’s memory of the lessons from God about the cold realities of life. She hasn’t forgotten life’s fragility or the gospel’s value.
God has worked all things together, just as his word promised a 13-year-old girl in the winter of her life. Over time, in God’s plan and wisdom, Strandberg has come to hold the Mexican people in her heart, just as she carries the unknown person who shot her brother.
The family still seeks closure to Mark’s death 46 years ago, but God has given Jami clarity about her life. She still recalls stepping out of a Minnesota church in 1977 while her dad chatted inside. What she said to God then is what she still says:
“I will go wherever you want me to go. I will do whatever you want me to do. Here am I. Send me.”
Converge is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation. Learn how we are playing a role in accomplishing the Great Commission and how you can be involved.
Ben Greene, Pastor & writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.Additional articles by Ben Greene