“When, after seeing our true character we realize that we are sinners, that we are on death row and without hope, we sense our need of a Saviour. Then the good news of the gospel becomes truly meaningful.”
Don Johnson, “What the Bible Says # 88.”
“The light of Uncle Don Johnson, is a light shining too bright to be snuffed out.”
Kristen Knecht, March 11, 2019
Many of you know Don Johnson through his ministry, his radio addresses, and through his Bible studies at Riverbend. Whether Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, Methodist, Unitarian, Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise, many of you have been touched by the depth and sincerity of Don’s faith.
For those who have gotten to know Don over the years, and who have been able to explore his past, Don’s faith is truly remarkable. Prior to Don’s arrest in 1984, he had no faith. As he remembers it, he was empty inside, living in darkness. He tried to fill his emptiness, and light the darkness, through avarice, selfishness and deceit. This failed, and led him to death row.
According to his lawyers, Don was not born bad, instead he was led into the darkness as a child by those who should have been his protectors. He was unwanted, beaten and abused. He witnessed great evil against his mother. He witnessed his father play the role of a respected member of the Church in public, while being something so different at home. To a child’s eyes he saw the vilest hypocrisy.
As a child when Don tried to escape the evil, flee the hypocrisy, and evade the abuse, he was punished. When he ran way, he was punished. When he acted out, he was punished. No adult, whether pastor, teacher, priest, police officer, or juvenile court judge ever asked what he was running away from, or why he was acting out. No one offered little Donnie Johnson any protection. Instead, he was sent to Jordonia, “Alcatraz for Juveniles”, a notorious “concentration camp” infected with all manners of abuse. After Jordonia failed to whip him into staying at home, he was sent to Pikeville, or “Hell; ” an institution where children were beaten by guards as punishment for the most minor infractions, beaten by fellow inmates, and, if that wasn’t sufficient, where all boys, once per week, were paddled on “general principles (GP).” The sadism of Jordonia and Pikeville did not instill good morals, or a Christian Faith—rather, those institution were merely “Prep Schools for the Pen.”
It is important to know that Don Johnson blames his troubles on himself, and takes responsibility for his wrongs. The emptiness that was in his heart does not excuse him. The darkness does not absolve him. Sociologists and lawyers can debate why he turned to evil, but their debate does not free him.
Don knows that he escaped his life of evil by surrendering himself to God. God filled the emptiness in his soul, and brought him into the light. Surrender led to faith, and faith to commitment and good works. Since his surrender, Don has spent decades in study, prayer, more study, and ever deeper commitment. Where once Don was an empty vessel—that stole from all around him—he now is a giver of comfort and a spreader of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We all learn so much from Don. He challenges us to surrender our worries and selfish desires, and to devote ourselves to the people around us, whether friends, neighbors or complete strangers. Don encourages us to strengthen our faith. Don proves that with faith, great things are possible.