Pastor Richard Johnson

by Tonya Dixon | January 9th, 2013
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Pastor and First Lady Johnson (Photo by Mykel Media Company)

It wasn’t unheard of for Richard Johnson to spend days and nights on end binging in drug houses and drinking himself into a stupor. His prevalence to overdose was commonplace and expected. From the time he was born, his life had been nothing but turbulence, turmoil and temptation. Nevertheless, from the outside looking in, the vast majority of the time, everything appeared to be copasetic.

Richard Johnson is the pastor of an outstanding church, We Are One Christian Fellowship located in Greensboro, N.C. He is the overseer of other churches as well as the founder of other faith-based ministries. However, the Mississippi native has traveled a long road to redemption and even further to complete healing. He was raised during the Jim Crow era and is no stranger to hard living and hard work. He vividly remembers the outhouse, the slop bucket hanging on the line and the scrub board. It was a way of life for him as well as all other blacks who lived during that time period.

Drugs, alcohol, prostitution and violence were also a way of life for Johnson and his family. He dealt with dysfunction from both sides of his family. His mother was disowned by her wealthy family and his father’s family was mired in death and witchcraft. Ironically, he was afforded the opportunity to attend a private catholic school during his early educational years until his family relocated to Hartford, Conn. It was the beginning of dealing with a life of extremes, for him which he would never begin to deal with or confront until many, many years later.

The dysfunction within his family was so deeply embedded it didn’t even appear to be dysfunction, rather just a way of life. “I grew up in a violent, bloody home in Mississippi,” says Johnson. “I learned to numb the pain with heroin and cocaine. Unfortunately, my family and I turned to narcotics and prostitution; that’s how we lived.” Things became so bad that Johnson’s mother sent him to Piney Woods Country Life School, a boarding school in Mississippi. It is one of the oldest boarding schools for African Americans in the country. The discipline the school imposed and the hard work required was good for him. He was forced to slow down and toe the line. Days were spent alternating class and attending to the farm animals. After graduating from Piney Woods, he attended Alcorn State University (formerly Alcorn A&M University). He elected not to remain there; instead he chose to move to New Jersey where he could find work at his uncle’s McDonald’s franchise.

Johnson appeared to have it all together. He was working, he had money and he dressed well. He never bummed off anyone; not even for a cigarette. However, it was all a facade, a part that he played and played very well. It was the life he lived. “No matter what city I moved to people would act like they knew me. I lived a life of duality—I was nice and nasty,” he says. “I was nice and professional in the business environment, and I was successful. I’ve never been broke. I’ve never looked bad but I was an addict.” Not only was he an addict but he was in denial.

After living in several different areas from Newark, N.J. to Brooklyn, N.Y., Johnson moved to North Carolina and began running one of his uncles McDonald’s restaurants on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was one of many times that he relocated but it was the one that proved to be the catalyst for complete change and reformation within his life.

Johnson recalls the day his life changed forever. He remembers coming home on a Sunday morning from a four day binge at a drug house, so high and drunk and depressed that he doesn’t even recall being lucid. He just remembers meandering from one room to the next and on his way to the bathroom his girlfriend, who would soon become his wife, stops him and says we are going to church today. After a few minutes of refusal, he soon relented when he realized she wasn’t going to back down. What followed was nothing short of a miracle. They attended a college ministry service located in the student union on the UNC campus. Johnson says it’s important to note that he didn’t want to be there. He reeked of gin, and continued to still drink on the way to the service. He was also still high from all the cocaine and other drugs still pulsating through his veins. Even sitting through the service he remembers hanging his head, not because of an overwhelming sense of guilt and conviction but out of disdain. He even says he was sizing up the women.

As the service continued the preacher began to read a scripture. St. John 3: 1-3. In an instant he couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the same scripture his blind aunt had made him learn back in 1958. As the minister read, he was able to recite. He found himself walking down the aisle with many other young people. He couldn’t believe what he was doing or why he was doing it. Even while committing himself to God he wasn’t thinking spiritual. It wasn’t the typical conversion experience. Mentally he was even questioning himself. “What are you doing?” He told himself he wasn’t going to let this “preacher-man” do a bunch of stuff to him. He began to brace himself and recite what he would tell him and what he wasn’t going to do.

On October 19, 1996 not only did he receive Christ into his heart, but he was instantly detoxed of the alcohol and narcotics. He says he didn’t really know what he was doing but he did it anyway. “If anyone had ever asked me if I thought God could deliver me from drugs, narcotics and alcohol I would have said no.”

Nothing but sickness kept Johnson from missing a day of church from that point forward. The ministry eventually moved off campus and began planting churches elsewhere and Johnson became the pastor of a church planted in Greensboro. After dealing with many often overlooked and under evaluated issues and even scandal within the organization he began to realize that the church as a whole was not dealing with the root issues that many people face; issues that prevent true healing. There were issues that he struggled with himself, even though he was a leader.

“We teach people to polish their act. On the inside they are bruised from bad marriages, bad parenting, and bad choices. We are not dealing with the issues of the heart. People are getting tired of it,” he says. “We are sensationalizing an inundating people with church services, but when you go home your marriage isn’t any better. Your ability to process pain and unhealthy thinking patterns, and unhealed emotions has not been helped. How do we begin healing?”

Johnson believes he has been given a mandate to help lead people to their place of healing and reconciliation through Jesus Christ by establishing Real Love Ministries. It is a faith-based organization that seeks to look at the implications of an individual’s background and what happened to them in the past and how it effects their present day situation. He realized he needed this help for himself. He became very transparent with his own church and told them he needed healing. He realized that he went from escaping into drugs to escaping into church work. He even suggested that all church organization leaders take at least a year and deal with these issues in order to make themselves better individuals and thereby become better husbands, wives, friends and soldiers for God.

“My family is full of drug addicts, convicts, prostitutes and unsuccessful marriages. I am the curse breaker for my family. I will teach people how to identify these generational patterns,” says Johnson. I will do a genogram chart with them and identify the drugs, abortions, rape, murder, divorces, substance abuse, conflict and violence. We are going to identify all of these relational patterns that keep repeating themselves in our families and then, if people want to be, I will help empower them to be the person that says, it may have happened in my family; it may have happened to me, but from here on out I’m making sure that this thing will not continue to perpetuate my family tree.” “That’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

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