Building Relationships

Jan 15, 2018

by Chris Flohr, PCA Board Member

The December/January 2018 issue of Reader’s Digest has an article written by Daniel A. Gross entitled The Prisoner and the Encyclopedia Editor.   It’s a fine story of two unlikely people who develop a relationship due to words.  Robin Woods, a prisoner in Jessup, Maryland, the location of the first PCA congregation over 30 years ago, bought and started reading Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia.  

Woods was on a mission to improve his life and lack of education.  He had plenty of time on his hands in prison, so his goal was to read through the encyclopedia which had over 25,000 alphabetical entries beginning with the first word Aachen (a German city) and ending with zymogen.

One day while reading the massive nearly five pound book, Woods reached the entry for the 11th century ruler Toghril Beg who had entered Baghdad in 1955.  He quickly realized 11th century ruler and the date 1955 don’t fit.  It must be a misprint.  It should have read 1055.  This was the genesis of Woods' relationship with Mark Stevens the editor.  Woods wrote to Stevens from prison about the misprint.

Woods grew up in tough neighborhoods and schools and was often bullied because of his light skin (his mother was African American, his father mixed race).  His attitude toward life and people was embittered.  He was angry, hurting deep within and was shuffled along in school never learning to read or write.  He “passed” grades by being assigned various chores around the school like working in the cafeteria and collecting attendance slips for the front office.

Once out of school Woods found himself on the wrong side of the law for various reasons and in and out of prisons often serving time in solitary confinement.  One day, when the library cart of books came around, he decided to get a book and try and teach himself to read.  His self-education journey began which eventually led him to the massive Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia.

Woods went on to find other errors/misprints in the massive work which resulted in additional letters to the editor Stevens.  The letters Woods wrote were always friendly.  One day Stevens wrote back thanking Woods for his findings and encouraged him to keep up the good work!  And thus a relationship was born.  There is more to the story.  I encourage you to read it.

Relationships are what PCA is about.  Building relationships with mainline denominations and prison officials to plant congregations in prisons across America.  Nurturing relationships with prison pastors to proclaim the good news of God’s mercy and love in Jesus Christ to and with inmates.  Inmates growing in their relationship and trust of God promises that nothing will separate them from God’s love.  It’s about relationship!  We invite you to be in relationship with PCA.  Feel free to contact us or learn more about at


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