John Harrison's taste buds are insured for a million dollars.
His passion for God's work behind bars? Priceless.
The jovial, sweet-toothed Californian made a living as a flavor developer and "Official Taste Tester" at Dreyer's, a subsidiary of Nestle. His prized tool is a golden spoon; he's helped concoct dozens of new flavors and product lines. Harrison even stakes a claim as the inventor of cookies and cream.
But Harrison says he has found an even sweeter calling: prison ministry.
I recently got him on the phone to hear more.
Emily Andrews: What got you interested in prison ministry?
John Harrison: I started with a smaller ministry back in 1980, in the city jail and the county jail, and before I knew it I was going into prisons like San Quentin. Preaching, teaching the Word, helping the chaplains, teaching life skills—there's so much to do. I learned about Prison Fellowship® specifically after participating in Angel Tree in Northern California.
Were you nervous about volunteering behind bars?
I've never spent a night in jail or prison, but I recognize that [God's] given you and I life, and He wants us to give it away. He gives us time, talent, and treasure. And we can choose how to use it.
What were your first in-prison volunteer experiences like?
I realized that prisoners, like all of us, are people. Like all of us, they have made bad choices. And the ones that come into the arena of our programs are making a conscious choice to be taught, to change course, to get their GEDs.
How are you volunteering these days?
My wife and I go into Chuckawalla Valley State Prison every Thursday and do a module with TUMI [The Urban Ministry Institute, curriculum for intensive, seminary-level leadership training facilitated by Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers]. We've also gotten to teach classes on parenting, like Inside Out Dads, and classes on healthy boundaries.
Has anything surprised you about volunteering in prison?
Many of these programs teach the basics that these men never got, if they came from broken homes. They just soak it up. It's great to show them what healthy habits and boundaries are, because those can make life more peaceable. Everyone wants peace, and a lot of people don't know how to get it, especially in prison. And even in prison, people's lives can really change—sometimes right before your eyes. They don't have to wait to get it on the outside.
How have you seen that that happen?
I've seen many, many people come to Christ through Prison Fellowship programs and experience transformation. I was talking to one guy [in prison] just last week, a strong believer who wants to get out and do things for Jesus. We had been listening to speakers, and he turned to me and said, "John, I've been wrong, but tonight I'm on track. There are a lot of things I want to do when I get out, but my first ministry when I get out is to my wife and family."
What would you say to someone who might want to get involved?
A lot of people want to complicate ministry. Just get out there, get on the front lines where you can. And where you can't, see if you can donate. My wife and I continue to donate. But here's the bottom line: you have time, talent, and treasure. If you have some kind of desire to go and give, I challenge you to do it. Answer Jesus' call. And you will never be able to out-give God, but you will have fun trying. You'll have purpose, and peace, like never before.