Jean prodded her horse forward.
The horse was frightened of the swirling water and yet there was only one way ahead. Jean Horning and her horse had to cross the river. She was alone and what was she to do if she got stranded halfway across? With a quick heavenward prayer and a gentle urging of the horse, they both made it safely across the river. It had been a challenging day as, after making the long trip to visit contacts in a remote Muslim village, she arrived to find that no one was at home. She had gathered women and children, probably under a mango tree or around a well, to tell them a Bible story only to be disrupted by groups of noisy men determined she would not speak. But it had been a good visit as well as she had met the newly-appointed village chief. He was a young Muslim man who had recently been visited by some boys from the leprosy colony. The chief had been friendly to Jean that day. She wondered if there would be more opportunities to share with him in the future.
Jean Horning was born in Ancaster, Ontario on October 9, 1921. The third of four children in a farming family, she had learned to love and appreciate outdoor life. After coming to faith as a teenager Jean went on to become a lab technician, followed by four years of study at Prairie Bible Institute. Jean arrived in the walled city of Kano, located in northern Nigeria, in 1950 and was assigned to work at the SIM Kano leprosarium. Jean, along with seven other missionaries, ministered to 500 leprosy patients. They treated them medically and educated their children. Jean was an able teacher and delighted in training young Nigerian men in developing lab technician skills. It was always a great joy for both missionaries and patients when patients were healed from leprosy and were able to go outside the compound to live a normal life. Many of the patients became Christians and went on to become dynamic witnesses for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As much as Jean loved the leprosarium ministry, her first love was trekking into the surrounding villages. Each weekend, on her two days off, she would saddle up her horse and, armed with two bananas and a bottle of water, she would ride out into the villages. Jean was compelled and driven by her God-given desire to see the Muslim people in the surrounding villages hear the gospel. She saw eternity written on the faces of all she met. Jean was fluent in the Hausa language and when she met Muslims who spoke other languages, she would use tape recordings to share the gospel with them. One wonders how many of those gospel recording machines she wore out over her years in Nigeria. Jean sold thousands of tracts and only God knows how He used them in the lives of those who bought them.
Recently SIM received a treasure. It came in a simple manila envelope. It was the diary of Jean Horning, recorded from 1960-1975. The diary contained 200 pages of tiny handwriting on foolscap paper that listed each visit Jean had made to 68 different villages. The name of each person visited was carefully written down alongside the date of the visit. These 68 villages were visited regularly over the fifteen years. Thousands of names are recorded on the pages. Jean was tireless in sharing the gospel. Many listened but many others refused to listen. Nevertheless, Jean would visit and revisit them. She suffered ridicule, hardship and indifference. But Jean cared more for the souls of these Muslim people than she cared about what they thought of her. She lived to serve her Saviour and longed to see others come to love and worship Him. Beside those thousands of names there are very few comments that the person had come to faith. Jean had to leave the results to God, but she was found faithful in “gossiping the gospel” wherever she went.
When the leprosarium was taken over by the government, Jean went on to teach Bible knowledge in the government schools and at Tofa Bible Training School. She loved teaching, but even more she loved village work. In 1981 Jean had to return to Canada to care for her mother. Right up until the time of Jean’s death in December 2008, one would find her standing in malls and outside of public buildings sharing the gospel with whoever would stop to listen or take a tract. Only eternity will reveal how God worked through this amazing woman.