From Prisoner to President: American Bible Society CEO Tells All in Autobiography

From spending time in a Mexican prison to being president of the one of the country's most enduring nonprofits, Roy Peterson has found himself in many unique situations. Peterson credits the power of the Bible with transforming his life after he became a Christian in prison. He details his fascinating journey in his new book Set Free, which releases today.

"Since the moment the Word of God changed my heart during one of my darkest moments, I have dedicated my life to telling people about the Bible," said Peterson, American Bible Society's president and CEO. "I hope my story shows how God has a plan for all of us, through life's ups and downs, and how he uses the Bible to speak to us, encourage us and guide us. When I was arrested in a foreign country, I never could have imagined just how much the trajectory of my life was about to change, nor could I have possibly realized the impact a Bible in my own language could have."

In these excerpts from Set Free, Peterson begins his story by describing the terrifying ordeal he faced after being arrested in Mexico when he was just a teenager:  

Few things sound more final than a jail cell door slamming behind you. As the bars clanged shut and the Mexican guard threw home the lock, I felt fear climbing up my throat. My heart slammed against my ribs like a wild animal in a cage. The guards stared at me with hardened faces, rifles slung over their backs. They had separated me from my friends, who had been arrested with me. I was nineteen years old, terrified, helpless and alone. (Page 19)

Later I would learn that because we had been in my car when we were stopped, I was considered the leader. And, since there were more than six of us involved in what we thought was going to be a one-day joyride across the Mexican border, our offenses were classified as gang activity. As far as the Mexican justice system was concerned, I was a gang leader. And I was in jail. (Page 19)

I was about to become a poster child for those who ignore the common-sense teachings of the Bible. (Page 23)

Peterson has been leading American Bible Society since 2014 and has been in Bible ministry since 1988. Prior to American Bible Society, he served as president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators and The Seed Company. He and his wife, Rita, also served in South America as missionaries with Wycliffe.  

In Set Free, Peterson shares personal stories and insights to explain how the Bible helped him develop guiding principles for life and leadership, including:

  • Reliance on the Lord
  • Freedom in Christ
  • Stepping out in faith

Set Free, with a foreword by Mart Green, is available for purchase from American Bible Society at American.Bible/SetFree and Amazon. All proceeds will benefit a translation project for the Ngöbe people.

About American Bible Society
Since 1816, American Bible Society has worked to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message. One of the nation's first and most enduring ministries, today's American Bible Society provides resources across a variety of platforms, enabling first-time readers and seasoned theologians alike to engage with the best-selling book of all time. For more information, visit American.Bible.