I prayed with Johnny’s great grandfather when he accepted Christ as his Saviour in Lebanon in 1962. Later his grandparents and father prayed with me and received Christ. It was also my privilege to marry his parents here in Australia. Johnny was a very sincere, committed Christian. He had unusual ability in football (rugby style-without padding) and made the professional ranks at the age of nineteen. He became a public role model for a football-loving nation with the flash of publicity that such athletes receive.
At the age of twenty he was diagnosed with cancer. After heavy chemotherapy, he disciplined his way back (rare and almost impossible) into shape to play twelve more professional games. Then the cancer reappeared.
Last Friday morning about 2:30 am, the doctor told his mother Abbey that it wouldn’t be long until Johnny would be gone. She said she would tell him. “Johnny, it won’t be long now. It’s almost time to go and Jesus is waiting for you. Shall we call the family?” He replied, “Yes, and let’s call the relatives to come too.” She questioned, “Johnny, it’s very early in the morning. Are you sure you want to call them too?” The nurse appeared to give him a morphine shot for the unbearable pain. Johnny declined, saying he wanted to see everyone and it wouldn’t be possible if he took the shot.
When Pastor Nabeel Zaydan of Faith Baptist Church (Johnny’s uncle) arrived at the hospital after the 40-minute drive, he found several cousins talking and joking with Johnny and he was telling them that he had no fear of death because he was going home to be with Jesus. Johnny said, “What took you so long, Pastor?” He insisted on telling each relative goodbye individually. Then he asked them all to gather around him and sing a couple of hymns. They sang “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul” and “Some Golden Daybreak.” A Lebanese family in the room next door said they got goose-bumps and had never seen nor heard such an event!
Johnny was gasping for breath and in terrible pain. He asked for the nurse to come and give him the shot of morphine. Then he asked for everyone to leave except his immediate family to spend the time with them. One of his 3 brothers is also a Christian professional footballer well known in the football community. All this time Johnny was smiling and jovial. Alex, a close friend from Faith Baptist Church arrived and came in. “Johnny, Alex is here.” Alex said, “Johnny, you’re my hero. I love you.” Johnny replied, “I love you too.” Johnny was gasping for breath and almost sat up in bed and was straining his wide-open eyes. “Alex, I can’t see you.” Johnny continued, “Mum, who turned off the lights?” She said, “Johnny, it’s not the lights, it’s the valley of the shadow of death. But soon it will get bright and you’ll be in heaven.” His older brother urged, “Just commit yourself into the Lord’s hands and don’t hesitate.” Johnny was struggling to breathe and said, “Bright. It is bright!” Then his face broke out into a huge smile two times as if he were seeing something. He gasped and then lapsed. Within a few moments the family realized that the Lord had taken him and he was gone.
His death made big headlines in the newspapers, TV, radio and online news. His coaches called him the perfect gentleman whose life was guided by spiritual values, a lion heart and iron man who never complained one word or even gave an exasperated sigh during all his suffering, a 23 year-old who had taught them so much and who had made them and their players better people. The National Rugby League is establishing a yearly Jon Mannah Trophy Game that will pay tribute to him. Morally, they would like for all their players to imitate his character and strengths.
About 1500 people heard short Gospel messages during the three nights of condolences for the Mannah family at the church. After counting 2400 people inside the church for the funeral service, the men had to close the church doors. There was no place left to stand anywhere in the building. Many were left standing outside. The media reported 3000 mourners. Another two thousand people viewed the funeral online on the day and many more are still viewing it on http://www.faithbaptist.org.au.
Johnny’s life and death touched thousands in the world. One of the football players from his club who had previously heard the witness of him and his brother accepted Christ during the funeral service. The Lord gave unusual power as Pastor Zaydan presented clearly the Glorious Gospel of Christ with tears and courage. Who knows what God is going to do? Pray with us that the Lord will use the death of this very special, unusual young man for a very special task in our midst for the revival of Christians and the salvation of the unsaved!