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Woodbury's Pastor Ralph writes book

Pastor Ralph Olsen, a Woodbury resident and founder of King of Kings Lutheran Church, has written his first book, a memoir titled "Shaped by God's Hand."

Pastor Ralph Olsen, a Woodbury resident, hasn't lived the most ordinary life.

Olsen grew up in Chicago's inner city in a poor neighborhood. His father, a factory worker, struggled with alcoholism.

"Growing up with an alcoholic parent, I became a surrogate husband to my mother by the time I was 10," he said. "I really didn't understand what that is, but I'm her emotional support."

When Olsen was 15 years old he started working with his father in the factory.

"One night at dinner time I said 'I want a different life, I want to go to college,'" he said. "My father basically told me I was nuts."

Olsen did go to college before entering the seminary.

Olsen eventually founded King of Kings Lutheran Church in Woodbury.

"Looking back now, God's hand was in this," he said, "but at the time, I didn't know what it was - I just thought it was life."

Olsen decided to put his life into words with his first-ever book, a memoir titled "Shaped by God's Hand."

The book was released late last month.

A 'dash' of inspiration

For many years, Olsen said parishioners, friends and family members would tell him that he should write a book because he has lived such an interesting life.

But Olsen never really had the drive to write until last summer when he read "The Dash," a poem by Linda Ellis.

The poem tells the story of a man standing at the grave of a close friend reciting the eulogy.

In the eulogy he notes the dates on the tombstone, but says that the most important dates fall within the dash between the birth and death dates.

Reading "The Dash" got Olsen thinking about his own life and how he's gotten to where he is today.

"That started something about thinking about all of our lives and the time spent on Earth and what are those situations or instances that have shaped our lives and influenced our lives and maybe guided us to where we are today and what we do," he said.

As fate would have it, Olsen was contacted by someone from Guideposts publishing, who had his name. The person asked him if he ever thought of writing a book.

Ultimately, Olsen said he decided to write a memoir in honor of the family historian, on his wife's side, and to have a legacy to hand down to his children and grandson.

"If it's not written down, once you leave, everything is forgotten," he said.

"Shaped by God's Hand" features stories about racism and prejudice, integrity, dating and situations where Olsen was faced with difficult decisions.

"They're little stories that I think we all experience in our lives," he said.

Olsen's book also touches on several stories from his time in ministry, including a baptism, a wedding, visiting Africa, being touched by a family of a boy who died and ultimately how Olsen came to the Union Gospel Mission to work as the planned giving officer.

"King of Kings didn't end the way I hoped," he said, "but, when a door closes, a window opens."

Olsen said he has already started thinking about his second book, which he hopes to focus on his six mission trips to Africa.

"That was the moment in my life that really changed me," he said.

Olsen said he hopes his book touches people's lives in a positive way.

"My mission is to make a difference in life by being a person of compassion and understanding," he said. "My hope for the book, more than anything, is that readers see that each of us have the opportunity to make a difference in other's lives, in our community and in our world."

Pastor Ralph Olsen's book, "Shaped by God's Hand," is available for purchase on Amazon and on Olsen's website,

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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