The name “Johanniter” derives from the Order’s dedication to St. John the Baptist in whose honor the original hospital and chapel, serving pilgrims in Jerusalem, were named in the 11th century. Literally, the name “Johanniter” means “people of John”. The Johanniter Order, as it now exists, embraced the Christian Reformation during the 16th century and now includes members from various Protestant churches. Today, over 4,200 Johanniter knights serve worldwide in caring for the sick, the poor, the frail and the elderly, also in providing emergency services under the eight-pointed cross. The eight-pointed cross represents the eight Beatitudes of our Lord (Matthew 5:3-11) and has been a symbol of the brotherhood since the early days. In 1863, the Johanniter were instrumental in founding the Red Cross. Members of the Order are requested to respect and to live the three Christian virtues Faith, Hope and Love and the four Knightly virtues Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice in their personal and professional life and in their charitable works.
Other Christian Orders such as the Order of Malta, the Roman Catholic branch headquartered in Rome, and the Venerable Order of St. John headquartered in London, come from the same tradition as we Johanniter and work closely together with us in many local and international services. Today Johanniter can be found on all continents. The headquarters of the Johanniter are in Berlin and since the Reformation we have traditionally had a strong presence in Prussia. For historical reasons, we operate most of our hospitals, nursing homes, kindergartens, rescue and ambulatory services in Germany today. Membership is by invitation only. Invited will be gentlemen who have demonstrated their Christian faith in practical deeds and services, some already in cooperation with us Johanniters. We Johanniter work worldwide together with other secular or religious charitable organizations and, of course with our Confreres of the Order of Malta and the British Order of St. John.
A Tradition of Service
The Johanniter Order represents a tradition of Christian care for the sick, the infirm and frail, and for all who are in need of help and support. It is, indeed, the oldest continuing charitable organization in the world with more than 900 year history in Palestine. During those early days, members of the Order served pilgrims and wounded soldiers from both sides. For centuries, they helped pilgrims, who traveled to Jerusalem to pray at the holy places of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The founder of the Johanniter brotherhood, Brother Gerard has been quoted to say: “Our brotherhood will not perish, because the soil in which it is rooted is the misery of the world and because, God willing, there will always be men who will work to lessen this suffering and the make this misery more bearable.” In Germany alone, more than 40.000 employees and volunteers work for and with the Johanniter.
Johanniter in the USA
We are less than 80 Johanniter in the USA, much too small a group of Christians dedicated to serve the Lord through charitable services in such a big country. We have organized ourselves in clusters around Atlanta GA, Boston MA, Charlotte NC, Dallas TX, New York NY, and Washington DC and a brief history of the Johanniter in the USA can be found here. We work in and with various churches we are associated with. But our initiatives include activities in many other areas, where the Lord sends us: supporting an elementary school in a socially and culturally challenged inner-city neighborhood and building their library, getting involved in activities such as reading competition, career days, and gardening projects; helping a home for battered children and mothers in another city in many and quite complex ways; paying for essential medical services of children whose parents cannot afford the costs; initiating the establishment of a bilingual international school, co-sponsoring and creating a ‘Garden of Hope’ for mentally and socially challenged kids; visiting senior citizens in retirement homes; helping flood or tornado victims in emergency situations, including arranging new housing and new jobs; services in homeless shelters. We also provide individual pro bono professional services in legal, medical, business and other fields.
True to our tradition we enjoy providing special brunch and dinner services at Fisher Houses for military veterans and their families. For several decades we have provided nursing stipends for a hands-on exchange program between the USA and Johanniter institutions in Germany. Also for a long time we have supported a special rehabilitation hospital for children in St. Petersburg. Johanniter in the USA respond on an ad hoc basis to other international needs using our internal internet platform ‘Johanniter Help Web’ which connects us with Johanniters and other partners worldwide.
Our partner organizations are diverse: from the Salvation Army to Jewish hospitals and community social services; they include VA hospitals and many other institutions. We aspire to serve in teams, as we appreciate the brotherhood and fellowship of each other and with those who serve with us. But some Johanniter also work as ‘lone rangers’ in their respective neighborhoods and calling.
We serve our Lord Jesus by ‘serving our Lords the Sick, the Poor, the Needy’ as we say. We never have enough hands, we always need more, and we always are open to new networks and friends.