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Beyond Prison Ministry

Main Photo

Retired pastor Roy Johnsen of Manheim Township displays his new book, “Break It Down And Make It Plain, Proclaiming Freedom to Prisoners.” Johnsen hopes to see the self-published book utilized by multiple groups, including individuals beyond prison walls.


Retired Pastor Pens Book For All
By Ann Mead Ash

Manheim Township resident Roy Johnsen, who retired from full-time ministry with Westgate Baptist Church, 2235 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster, last fall, has long felt the need to communicate applicable biblical truths to those in prison. In 2004, Johnsen began a book with a scope that reaches beyond prison ministries to communicate the Gospel to all.

“When you’re dealing with a prison population, the majority (of them) are unchurched, and the average reading level may be about fifth grade,” explained Johnsen. “You can’t try to impress them with your degrees and knowledge.”

The concept for Johnsen’s book, “Break It Down And Make It Plain, Proclaiming Freedom to Prisoners,” began to solidify when Johnsen served as chaplain at a state correctional institution in Muncy, Pa., for 12 years. “A number of inmates …. would say, ‘Break it down and make it plain in ways we can get a hold of it,'” explained Johnsen. The chapter headings of the book include phrases such as, “God is God, and you are not,” which provides a clear picture of a complicated topic. “That’s the basic theological principle that everyone has to come to grips with,” explained Johnsen. “It means (that) I am not the center of my universe.”

Although the book was written as a guide to help those in prison ministry, Johnsen sees applications beyond his original purpose. “These chapter headings are slogans the Lord gave me that enabled me to communicate effectively with the prison population,” said Johnsen, “But the same principles hold for good preaching in church (as well).”

With that in mind, Johnsen hopes to see a variety of groups benefit from the book. “It has multiple layers of application,” said Johnsen. Since the book’s pulication earlier this year, Johnsen has been contacted by mothers of incarcerated men and groups such as the Gospel Echoes evangelistic team that provides Bible study materials to prisoners, eager to know more about the book. Johnsen noted that he hopes to hear from other groups as well. “The chapter headings could be a great stimulating Bible study series for individuals, groups, and Sunday School classes,” he said. “Very clearly (the book is) an evangelistic tool.”

A graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, Johnsen first served a church in Marblehead, Mass., while earning a Master of Divinity degree from the nearby Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton. He first began his work with prison ministry in Franklin, Pa. After moving to a church in Williamsport, Pa., Johnsen became vice president of a para-church prison ministry that worked with the small group principle to reach out to prisoners.

Johnsen’s many experiences in prison ministry and as a church pastor helped him to pepper the book’s 20 chapters with anecdotes and stories of those who hit rock bottom before truly allowing God to change their lives. “The temptation is always present to go back to the same people, places, and things, and peer pressure is so strong,” noted Johnsen.

“Break It Down And Make It Plain” is self-published, but Johnsen is offering a percentage of profits back to prison ministries and churches that agree to promote the book through their organization. “At the heart of the book is my deep desire for people to come into right relationship with Christ,” said Johnsen.

Manheim Township Merchandiser – 04/10/2013