FOREST CITY | Eleven years ago, Jenny Johnson described the man of her dreams to a friend.
As a 45-year-old teacher at a Christian school in Minnesota, she wanted a man who was “deep, seasoned and mature. A man who’s a leader in the body of Christ, a man who has an international ministry that (she could) travel with, someone who loves well and it would probably have to be someone whose wife died.”
Little did Johnson know, at the time, but she had already met him.
“God is really good at remembering things like that,” she said. “I had asked that so long ago. I had forgotten about it, but he remembered.”
Johnson, a Forest City native, traveled to Denmark as an American Field Service foreign exchange student after graduating from high school in 1979, and while she was there, she found an “amazing church and this amazing family” who welcomed her.
The family comprised of Sven-Axel Conrad, the church’s pastor, and his wife, Eni, invited Johnson to live with them and their three children after her first living arrangement didn’t work out.
“It was really life-changing for me,” she said.
It was within the Conrads’ household Johnson witnessed God in a way she never had before and knew she wanted to become a teacher.
When she returned to the United States, she went to Waldorf University, where she obtained her associate’s degree, and attended Concordia College before landing her first of two teaching jobs in Roseville, Minnesota.
During much of that time, Johnson had little contact with the Conrads, who spent about 15 years in Tanzania, Africa, doing relief work, but when Sven-Axel and Eni’s oldest son unexpectedly died in 2001, they took a sabbatical in Dallas, Texas, where they reconnected.
“We had a reunion,” Johnson said, noting that was when she met the Conrads’ three youngest children for the first time.
In 2007, Eni died from lung cancer.
It was around that time, Johnson, who hadn’t really had any serious relationships, said “something had clicked” and she had the sense she was going marry Sven-Axel.
“The long short story, you had a sense of it, and I was not ready,” Sven-Axel said. “I was not ready, so ten years passed before I got ready.”
In 2012, Sven-Axel, who had been a pastor in Denmark, missionary in Tanzania, safari leader and interpreter, started Impact People International, a ministry focused on bringing peace and reconciliation to conflicted areas by bringing Christians together. The ministry has brought him to countries across the world.
And five years after starting the Impact People International, it provided him the opportunity to visit the U.S. and see Johnson for the first time in six years.
“I said on my way back I could probably come by, and we could have a date and find out if this is more than friendship because we had been friends all these years,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out if it was going to develop into something else.”
But in January, after the two had started communicating more frequently, Sven-Axel told Johnson said he didn’t need to wait until June to determine if they were more than friends. He knew.
On the Fourth of July, Sven-Axel proposed to Johnson — with his children’s blessing, and on Sept. 30, the two wed in Mariager, Denmark, in a private ceremony with their family.
“We went from nothing really happening until January, and then it was very sudden,” said Johnson, who now has five children and 15 grandchildren. “From nothing happening for my 56 years, and then all of a sudden, in one month we’re on the fast track.”
After the couple’s Denmark wedding, they had their reception and honeymoon in Africa before returning to Denmark and then the U.S., where the couple had receptions in Iowa and Minnesota in November.
Johnson, who retired as a teacher this summer, plans on traveling with Sven-Axel for his ministry. The couple will reside in Denmark.
“It’s just surreal,” she said. “I feel like I got plucked up from this very ordinary life and all of a sudden I’m in Denmark and next thing I know it’s Africa.”