Pastor's passion translates to book
Pastor's passion translates to book BY JOAN KERN, Correspondent
The Rev. Roy W. Johnsen was preaching in a prison years ago when an inmate called out, "Break it down. Make it plain."
He never forgot it.
This month, Johnsen, of Manheim Township, self-published through AuthorHouse "Break It Down and Make It Plain: Proclaiming Freedom to Prisoners."
"I have a real passion for prison ministry," he says. "The book is my story, giving people an awareness of what prison is all about."
Johnsen's story began 29 years ago, while he was serving a church in Franklin, where he walked past the county prison on the way to work.
"I heard a voice, Jesus or God, saying, 'I'm here. Are you going to come and see me?'"
From then on, Johnsen, who retired in October from Lancaster's Westgate Baptist Church after 41 years in pastoral ministry, was involved in prison ministry, not full-time but "full effort."
He began as a chaplain at Venango County Prison and then Lycoming County Prison. From 1992 to 2004, he was Protestant chaplain at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, a maximum security prison for women.
"Without question, I received far more than I gave as I ministered to those who were incarcerated," Johnsen wrote in a press release. "I discovered many men and women who did not have extensive church backgrounds, and who were at a low point in their lives. They were open to the things of God, but needed to have spiritual concepts presented in simple and easy-to-understand terms.
"(The book) not only relates the challenge of transforming broken lives, it also provides advice and a Christ-centered foundation, based on hands-on experience, for those who are drawn to prison ministry."
While he no longer goes into prisons, Johnsen chairs the board of God's Treasure House, in Schwenksville, a faith-based transitional living center for women and children with a mission "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to release the oppressed."
Previously, he served as vice president of the Harrisburg branch of Yokefellowship Prison Ministry, a cooperative effort among churches across the state to lead Bible studies in prisons, and volunteered for Justice & Mercy, a local faith-based organization committed to criminal justice system reform.
Since retiring, he has updated a mentor training program for ex-offenders that he helped develop for Justice & Mercy. He recently led workshops on the program at Berks County's Yokefellowship and at churches in Butler and Holidaysburg.
"I will do others," he says. "It's an exciting thing to do because one of the missing components of prison ministry is linking ex-offenders and mentors to counter recidivism -- going back to the same old people, places and things and succumbing to the pressure of the old crowd, which contributed to the problems in the first place."
The book has chapter titles that are phrases Johnsen says God gave him "to communicate biblical and theological truth to the prison population in ways they would understand and remember."
For example, Chapter One is "God is God, and You are Not."
"It's the basic theological truth that everyone has to come to grips with," he says. "When they realize they are not the center of the universe, they can open doors and get their lives in order."
The book tells some moving stories, beginning with Gina Stocker. She is the founder and director of God's Treasure House, a Christ-centered transitional living center for women and their children.
"(She) had a very difficult upbringing, had some great successes but ended up in prison, where God gave her the vision for God's Treasure House," he says. "She's the most extraordinary ex-offender I've ever dealt with in terms of doing everything right."
For more information, call Johnsen at 569-5090, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.breakitdownand makeitplain.wordpress.com/ or www.facebook.com/BreakItDownAndMakeItPlain?fref=ts.
nThe Rev. Roy Johnsen shares his love of prison ministry in pages of his self-published work.