The Los Angeles-area faith community is quite familiar with the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Rocellia Johnson. While he passed away in 2018, he left an indelible mark that many still imitate today.
Johnson not only founded Bethany Baptist Church of West Los Angeles in 1958, but he also established Bethany Christian Bible College (BCBC) in 1978 and served several years as executive director of the National Evangelism Movement (NEM).
Throughout his long ministry, thousands of people accepted Christ as their Savior and an equal number accepted their call to preach the Gospel. Johnson influenced countless lives and now, author Harry Mitchell III is relating the tremendous extent of the evangelist’s reach in a new book, “An Untraditional Fire: The Extraordinary Ministry of Rocellia Johnson.”
Mitchell, who was a Bethany member under Johnson for a number of years, said his goal was not to write a history book, but to “tell the story of Dr. Johnson and Bethany that people didn’t necessarily know or remember.”
His two-fold mission was to introduce Johnson to “the next generation of pastors and Christians that didn’t have the opportunity to meet or serve with him” along with sharing insight into Johnson’s “unconventional approaches to evangelism and discipleship in the Black Baptist Church.”
To prepare for the undertaking, Mitchell consulted with Johnson’s daughter, Rosalyn, who gave her blessing and offered to assist. After developing an outline, he went on to contact pastors, church members and other individuals to obtain their recollections of the noted theologian.
“At least 40 current and former church members participated, along with pastors that knew Dr. Johnson well and served with him over the years, like Pastors Reginald Pope, Sylvester Washington, Dr. L.A. Kessee, Dr. Lovely Haynes, Richard Williams III, Lester Heath, Dr. Warren Stewart from Arizona, Ray Brown from Texas and others,” said Mitchell.
“Thanks to people like Emile Duncan, Daisy Stewart and Ed Russell, [who] were able to provide a wealth of memories, [they also had] old church documents and obituaries to provide a historical framework for the story to be told,” he noted. In addition, Mitchell was able to incorporate quotes from Johnson into the narrative, which “allowed him to speak in this book in his own words.”
Another advantage Mitchell had was his own personal experiences of Johnson. He was baptized and later served as a young deacon, Sunday School and Bible teacher, evangelism counselor and minister during the pastor’s tenure.
However, the author learned even more about the character and personality of Dr. Johnson as he conducted his research. Referring to him as “a man ahead of his time,” Mitchell begins by tracing how Johnson migrated from Oklahoma to Los Angeles and utilized his gifts as an innovative leader and servant shepherd.
In the “Ministry” section, he covers Johnson’s approach to theology and doctrine, the organizing of Bethany, the church’s various auxiliaries and Johnson’s creation of “24-hour Gospel Marathons,” which gained citywide stature. Mitchell also highlights Johnson’s love of teaching that was manifested in the founding of BCBC and passion for witnessing, which inspired NEM.
Outlining the appealing aspects of “An Untraditional Fire,” the author said, “I think that all Christians, will enjoy this book, especially the Black pastor, because the book shows how Pastor Johnson related to the many other pastors, often younger pastors, in the work of the evangelism movement and spoke to their concerns in the context of the Black pastor and the Black church.
“I think [readers] will be helped by understanding the man and his methods of ministry and be inspired by what he accomplished and the example that he set.”
“An Untraditional Fire: The Extraordinary Ministry of Rocellia Johnson” by Harry Mitchell III is now available at Aworddigital.com and soon at Amazon.com.