Doug Johannsen, pastor of GCI’s churches in St. Paul and Champlin, Minnesota, sometimes wonders about his bloodline. “My wife Betty and I love to take cruises and have a strong suspicion that we must be of royal blood as the service we receive on a cruise ship feels so natural.” His life story leads one to know he is joking.
“I was born and raised on a farm/ranch in western South Dakota, in the days when farms were just completing the transition from horses to tractors. I remember getting our first telephone, electricity and trading the pot-bellied coal stove and the wood kitchen range for ones using propane.”
No stranger to hard work, Doug and his family never did have running water. “Plumbing meant digging a new hole and moving the outhouse over it. We raised cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, and of course had the customary cats and a dog or two. The main crop was wheat, and occasionally corn, cane or sorghum. Western South Dakota is fairly dry, so fields don’t produce as much per acre as in many other places.”
Doug attended a Methodist church when we was quite young, but stopped attending before age 12 when he began listening to The World Tomorrow on WNAX radio. “For some reason, I had a deep desire to understand the Bible. The question that hooked me was, ‘Which day is the Christian Sabbath?’ I didn’t realize until the mid 1990s that the question should’ve been, ‘Who or what is the Christian Sabbath?’ – or better yet, ‘Who is Jesus?’”
Doug went to South Dakota State University after high school and received a B.S. in chemistry. A few months later he was drafted into the US Army. “My training was in infantry and since the Viet Nam war was going on, that training specialized in jungle warfare. After training most of us were sent to Germany instead, where I spent the remainder of my tour of duty as a company clerk in a mechanized infantry company (think Radar in M*A*S*H without the glasses and teddy bear!).”
After returning to South Dakota, Doug was hired by the State of South Dakota as a health inspector. He moved to Rapid City and was responsible for the western third of the state. It was at this time that he renewed his interest in church. “It just felt like it was the right time to do something about my interest in the Worldwide Church of God so I began attending the WCG congregation that had been formed there about a year earlier. The Rapid City church was part of a circuit that included parts of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Nebraska.” Shortly thereafter, Betty came into the picture.
In the summer of 1973, a church family from Texas came to Rapid City to visit relatives and when they attended church they thought I reminded them a lot of a family they knew in Dallas. Of course, that family just happened to have a daughter that they thought I should write to. I wasn’t exactly a fan of blind dates or pen pal stuff, but I had always wanted to go to Texas and thought it might be easier to go if I knew someone from there. So Betty and I began to write to each other. Eventually we started talking on the phone, but we didn’t actually meet face to face until the fall of 1974 when I flew to Dallas to visit and attend the feast in Big Sandy.” Doug and Betty were married about three months later and will celebrate their 38th anniversary this December. They have two daughters, Lara and Dana, and no living grandchildren, but their daughter Dana is expecting in early 2013. “Our daughters and son-in-law (Eric) are a great source of joy for us.’
After marriage, Doug and Betty moved to Nebraska where Doug became an optician. He worked there for 10 years until they moved to Rapid City to manage an optical lab. “Because the Rapid City church circuit was so large, there was an exceptional need for volunteer help to assist the pastor. As time went on Betty and I were doing more and more volunteer work and I was ordained an elder in 1986. I continued my optical career in Rapid City until 1991 when I was hired full time into the ministry.”
Doug and Betty moved to Omaha, Nebraska and served as associate pastor in the Omaha, Lincoln, Nebraska and Sioux City, Iowa church circuit. In 1995 they transferred to Lawton and Ada, Oklahoma, then in 1999 to the Twin Cities where they live today. Doug now serves as a District Pastor for Minnesota, North Dakota, part of South Dakota and part of Wisconsin. He has also served as coordinator of the Wisconsin Dells celebration and on staff in the Northern Light and Snowblast Winter youth camps.
Doug commented on his hobbies and interests: “My hobbies include photography, an interest I picked up in the Army. After moving to Rapid City I purchased darkroom equipment and began developing and printing photos. The Worldwide News had just begun, so I wrote an article and included a couple of photos. I remember my surprise and joy when the article and photos were published. I wrote many more articles after that. My other hobbies are travel and wood turning.”
Life in GCI has never been dull: “Pastoring puts one into contact with a wide variety of interesting people and we experience with them some of their best and worst moments.” Doug relishes memories of baptisms, weddings, funerals, worship services, classes and long discussions. He loves the specialness of all the people. “I just can’t help but wonder what this will look like when the Lord puts it all together.”
In spite of their share of tragedies, Doug and Betty remain strong and encouraged by their relationship with God. “I used to think that having good things happen was the only sign of being close to God. But since 1995 we’ve experienced so much trauma in our lives (deaths of parents, siblings, suicide of a close family member, death of a grandchild, lightning fire destroying our house, and so on) that I’ve come to realize that Jesus doesn’t take away most of our trials in this life, but he accompanies us through them all. It is as if I hear him say in the midst of such trials, ‘Doug, I know this hurts, but I’m with you. Just trust me that this is important for you to go through and I’ll make it all right in the end.’”