Honoring the Life and Legacy of
The Reverend Harold R. Johnson (1921–2014)
The Reverend Harold R. Johnson—the “Grandfather” of NAPAD—died on September 6, 2014. He died of illness, a peaceful death. He was 93 year old. Johnson was born on March 18, 1921 in Martins Ferry, Ohio, as the son of Harry E. and Ruby Zane Johnson. He graduated from Bethany College, West Virginia, and the University of Pittsburgh.
Johnson served churches in Pennsylvania before moving to Indiana, where he spent the rest of his life, engaged in various forms of ministry. Initially he served Indiana congregations as director of youth and, later, as director of Christian education. From 1961 to 1968, he served on the general church, the United Christian Missionary Society. When the Disciples restructured in 1968, he joined the staff at the Division of Homeland Ministries, serving first as executive coordinator of program and strategy and then, since the early 1980s till his retirement in 1990, as the executive for evangelism. While at DHM, Johnson also assisted the Board of Church Extension, to train ministers for new congregations, and the Council on Christian Unity, to help it engage in ecumenical conversations with the Consultation on Church Union.
While he distinguished himself as a leader of the general church, Johnson’s most significant legacy lies in the North American Pacific/Asian Disciples (NAPAD). Johnson, more than anyone else, was instrumental in establishing this community centered on Asians and Pacific Islanders within the Disciples. It was he who first envisioned and advocated for a denomination-wide community of Asians and Pacific Islanders, something that was not part of his DHM portfolio. His efforts led to the establishment of the Fellowship of Asian American Disciples in 1978, which became the American Asian Disciples in 1979, before becoming NAPAD in 1996. In building NAPAD, Johnson worked closely with other key leaders in the community, especially Grace Kim, David Kagiwada, and Soongook Choi.
Though a European-American, Johnson saw himself as one with the Disciples of Asian and Pacific Island heritages—and was accepted as such. For this reason, Johnson was affectionately called by fellow NAPADers as the “self-appointed advocate for Disciples of Asian origin” and the “Grandfather” of NAPAD. Johnson was recognized for his contributions at a luncheon at the 2009 General Assembly in Indianapolis, where he was presented with a plaque that honored him as a founder of the NAPAD.
Johnson was preceded in death by Ruth, his wife and partner in ministry for 64 years. The couple had no children, but Johnson is survived by brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces and beloved friends at Downey Avenue Christian Church and NAPAD. Downey Avenue Christian Church plans to hold a memorial service sometime in October; NAPAD will also hold an event to celebrate Johnson’s life and achievements.
Memorial contributions may be made to either
Downey Avenue Christian Church,
111 S. Downey Ave.,
Indianapolis, IN 46219
P.O. Box 1986,
Indianapolis, IN 46206.
Rev. Jinsuk Chun
Executive Pastor of North American Pacific/Asian Disciples (NAPAD)