A Woodturning Wonder

March 5, 2020

Written by Alex Nieves

“There’s such beauty waiting to be released from captivity,” says Roy Johnsen, reflecting on the art of woodturning.

Roy, a resident of Garden Spot Village since September 2017, has been utilizing his woodturning skills in an extraordinary way—he donates all of the profits made from the sale of his wood pieces to organizations helping with disaster relief in areas such as Puerto Rico, providing him with a life of purpose and meaningful impact on others.

Since the beginning of his benevolent journey, Roy’s pieces have travelled all over the world—his wooden plates and chalices can be found in other countries including Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and more.

“The woodshop is my place of therapy,” says Roy as he describes his work. Many of the pieces he creates are made from scraps of wood, and visualizing what he can do with them excites him. “I listen to the wood until it speaks to me,” Roy says. A large amount of the wood he uses could just be thrown away, but Roy values wood highly enough that he doesn’t want to see it wasted. He values being a good steward above all else, committing himself to the selfless service of his actions and believing in the usability of the wooden scraps. Rather than throwing the pieces out, he turns them into pieces that can benefit others.

Most recently, he has been donating the funds raised from the sale of his work to aid in the reconstruction of a children’s church in La Plata, Puerto Rico that was totally destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The $225,000 project has since been completed, and he and his grandson Sebastian flew to Puerto Rico in mid-February to participate in the celebration and dedication of the completed church.

This trip allowed him to have an impact on not only those who attend the church, but on his grandson as well. Anyone of any age possesses the ability to lead, support and change others’ lives for the better; by allowing his grandson to travel with him, Roy is able to change his life as well and create memories between them that will last forever. According to Roy, the trip was originally going to be earlier, but was delayed by the recent earthquakes that have rattled much of Puerto Rico’s southwestern coastline near Ponce.

Roy shared the account of his clear calling to ministry as a teenage boy of 14. He attended Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster to major in religion. He also had an equivalent second major in psychology and sociology, and a third major in classical Greek. He pursued his seminary education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

During his seminary years, Roy worked in a small manufacturing business making fireplace bellows, which were sold to gift shops throughout New England. Woodworking became both his primary hobby and second profession. As his love for woodworking deepened, his abilities progressively improved.

Even during his years as a pastor, he continued to build his skills in woodworking, building his shop in the basement of his church’s parsonage. As he received gifts of money, he saved to buy machinery and tools. He was very involved with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, and in the early 1980s was generating about $1500 a year, donating the proceeds to the organization.

Following the completion of his seminary education, he was ordained in the American Baptist Churches. He pastored churches in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Franklin, Pennsylvania, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania; he completed his pastoral ministry at Westgate Baptist Church in Lancaster.

In Roy’s denomination, you don’t continue to attend the church where you’ve served upon retirement; therefore, he and his wife Judy have now joined Neffsville Mennonite Church. Because of his countless years of work as a pastor, he is able to draw upon the skills he has developed over his lifetime and use them to benefit the church; he continues to serve through the ministries of his church and the broader Mennonite church. For the last three years, he has put a table of his wood items out for sale at his church, Neffsville Mennonite, donating this money to the Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS), a community of volunteers from Anabaptist churches dedicated to helping relieve victims of the negative effects of natural disasters in the U.S. and Canada.

This has filled his retirement with meaning and purpose; instead of using his retirement years to relax and indulge himself, he has used these years for the benefit of others. What he does impacts others in an immensely positive way, filling their lives—and in turn, his—with light. He likes knowing that his work is going towards the Lord’s work, and he is excited to continue improving others’ lives as his volunteering and woodturning efforts progress even further.

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