John Edmund Haggai, who went to be with his Lord on 18 November 2020, played a significant role in the demographic shift and globalization of Christianity. Dr. Haggai, whose personality was zealous and magnetic, was nevertheless, by his own intention, an often-unheralded contributor to the explosion of Christian faith worldwide — especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
John Haggai was born on 27 February 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky, son of Waddy Haggai, a Syrian immigrant from Damascus, and Mildred Steere, a New Englander whose English ancestors settled in America in the 1600s. An alumnus of Moody Bible Institute and Furman University, he received numerous awards and honorary doctorates on both sides of the Pacific.
Haggai was a prolific author. His book, How to Win Over Worry, has sold millions. In Be Careful What You Call Impossible, he expounded on one of his primary principles: “Attempt something so great for God it’s doomed to failure unless God be in it.” That’s exactly what Haggai did in 1969, when he launched the ministry that would be known as Haggai International. Some doubted his vision of equipping indigenous leaders in developing nations to become evangelists and missionaries to their own people. However, the global impact shows that God was in the vision that would have been “doomed to failure” otherwise.
Dr. Haggai married Christine Barker on August 3, 1945. “The first time I saw her, I flipped,” he wrote later. Christine was an accomplished vocalist who had the opportunity to sing with leading groups in the Big Band era of the 1940s and was offered a scholarship to Juilliard. However, she made a commitment to use her talents for God’s glory rather than personal acclaim.
Their son, Johnny, was born November 27, 1950. The physician who delivered the child was inebriated and caused brain injury. The nurse supervisor on the case told John Haggai that “it was the most inexcusably bad delivery” she had ever seen. Nevertheless, Johnny Haggai, though severely restricted physically, lived 24 years, and was an example of dedication, patience, courage, and intercession.
Later in his life, Dr. Haggai said he had learned through Johnny’s experience a lesson that stood out to him more than any other: “God allows no need in our lives for which He does not provide adequate supply.” That philosophy and attitude would be important to John Edmund Haggai as he stepped into a ministry that would contribute greatly to the transformation of the map of global Christianity.
Though Dr. Haggai’s early years were spent as a pastor in the United States, and one of the most successful evangelists of the American South’s revival era, his passion from early youth was to get Christ’s Gospel to unreached people. As early as 10, John Haggai wanted to be a missionary to China.
After many years on the revival circuit as one of America’s most-sought evangelists, Dr. Haggai, in the late 1960s, seemed to vanish from public view. “Whatever became of John Haggai?” many asked in that period. The answer was that, after knowing public acclaim, impressive platforms, pulpits, and bright spotlights, John Haggai turned from all that to pursue the God-given vision to walk what many would consider the world’s back-roads, many regarded as God-forsaken. But Dr. Haggai knew such places were very much in God’s love and focus.
Never content to follow the crowd, Dr. Haggai initiated a unique and forward-thinking mission plan in obedience to the Great Commission. A visit to Asia in the early 1960s convinced Dr. Haggai that changes in global geopolitics, brought about by the end of colonialism, required a new strategy for world evangelism. In 1969, after years of research, prayer, and development, he presided over the first Haggai Leader Experience, designed to empower and mobilize nationals to reach their own people for Christ, demonstrating and presenting the Gospel across the developing world.
Haggai International has now mobilized tens of thousands of Christian clergy and lay leaders working in almost all the non-Western countries of the world. They multiply their effectiveness significantly by passing on the skills they learn to an average of 100 other leaders. The total number equipped through the initial Haggai International programs for top leaders, and the seminars they conduct in their countries is now in the millions.
John Haggai would have never claimed the title for himself, but he was truly apostolic in the literal sense of the New Testament Greek word, which means “one who is sent.” Dr. Haggai, though a profound thinker and scholar, did not seclude himself in cloisters, but was compelled constantly to be out in the fields “white unto harvest.” He made his 104th trip around the world when he was in his 90s. Nor was he whisked in and out of places where he ministered and spoke, avoiding interaction, but lingered, and engaged with people, offering them hope from the wellspring of a life that had learned to drink from the deep waters of God’s promises and joy.
John Haggai was a great learner, all the way to the end of his life. “Gather in your resources, rally all your faculties, marshal all your energies, focus all your capacities upon mastery of at least one field of endeavor,” he counseled. And he was a prime example of the philosophy he preached. Many of John Edmund Haggai’s generation threw up their hands in the face of 21st century computer technology, but he mastered and used it. Even in his 90s, the passion to hone his knowledge and skills kept John Edmund Haggai from succumbing to the hubris of thinking he knew it all. It would be impossible to have a five-minute phone conversation or e-mail exchange without Dr. Haggai firing questions, wanting to know what the person with whom he was communicating could teach him — even those many years his junior.
Dr. Haggai often said that his wife, Chris, and son, Johnny, taught him much. Chris was her son’s primary caregiver, enabling Dr. Haggai to minister to the nations. Her faithfulness in the ministry to Johnny — as well as in music that glorified God, at Dr. Haggai’s side as much as possible — blessed and encouraged him. Johnny’s own endurance of pain and limitations strengthened Dr. Haggai.
In his moving book, My Son Johnny, Dr. Haggai wrote: “I like to think of our son in Heaven, walking and running at last. What an enormous victory it must be for someone like him, to have been a lifelong prisoner in a body wracked with discomfort and pain and then to find release in the horizonless vistas of eternity. I miss him. Terribly, sometimes. But Johnny is free, free at last . . . .”
And now, so is Johnny’s father.