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Blackwood: South Africa more than a mission to Jane Lawson; it's home
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Jane Lawson will be home for Christmas.

Home used to be the North Hall home of her parents, Lee and Naomi Lawson. Now, it is a Baptist missionary compound on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.

January will mark 15 years since Jane boarded an airplane that took her to her new assignment. She said it was on the long flight between Georgia and Africa that she had her only moments of doubt.

She has adapted to life in a foreign land and said when she returns to Gainesville, she is a visitor.

For 13 years, Jane was a nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. She felt the call, a tug at her heartstrings, that her nursing skills could be used for a different purpose.

On that day in January 2001, her parents walked her out to the departure gate to see her off on her mission. You can’t do that anymore because of what happened nine months later.

“It was about 4 p.m. and someone told me I should go and watch what was happening on TV,” she told me.

A satellite feed of U.S. news channels gave her a view of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. It was one of those moments you don’t forget.

She remembers well her first trip back to the United States after 9/11.

“I was standing in the line for customs and people started applauding,” she said. “I found out they were applauding for military personnel who were coming through the airport in service during the war on terror.”

Jane provides support for missionaries scattered across Africa. She is their connection to health care when needed.

In addition to the different climate, Jane is reminded of where she is when she sees the rolls of razor wire that secure the compound where she and other missionary personnel live.

She left last week to return to her adopted home after a visit that gave her some time to see family and friends.

I asked her what she missed and her answer surprised me.

“Diet Mountain Dew,” she said.

It seems the regular version of the soft drink is available, but not the diet variety.

There is a twinge of sadness as some of her missionary colleagues were offered and accepted early retirement. The International Mission outreach of the Southern Baptist Convention has seen a decline in church offerings that pay for missionaries.

I can remember growing up in the Baptist church and learning about a woman who left Cartersville to go to China in 1873 as a missionary. Her name was Lottie Moon. She became an advocate and voice for women who wanted to serve God as missionaries. She faced famine, plague, revolution and war during her time in China. Interestingly enough, Lottie Moon faced a situation where the mission board was also in financial straight.

The annual offering at Christmas in the Southern Baptist Convention now bears her name.

I learned about Lottie Moon in Sunbeams, the name given to a training program for young children to learn about missionaries. I think that name has gone by the wayside, but like the name of Lottie Moon, it sure stuck with me.

Jane is 51 and has now been a missionary longer than a hospital nurse. She has a visa for mission work in South Africa through 2018. As with many foreign missionaries, an uncertain political climate could affect the future of her work beyond that time.

Until then, she’ll be at home half a world away.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on