Returning Hearts Celebration, Part 2

By J. Michael Broyles

In the last INCM E-Magazine, I shared the story of the Returning Hearts Celebration (RHC) at Angola Prison in Louisiana. Our journey with RHC began when we sent two men, our prison ministry chaplain Joe Feinstein and another member from our church (Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, CA.) to help “check-out” the RHC event at Angola. The men went as family assistant volunteers and were so impacted they came back and said, “Why don’t we host a RHC at our local county jail (Pitchess Detention Center)?” For the next year, Joe and I prayed as he began to tell the story of what God was doing at Angola. That was the beginning of our story of how God used one church and over 300 volunteers to reach out and touch the lives of 40 inmate fathers and 80 kids, as well as 30 guardians, moms and grandmothers.

After spending the year praying and sharing this story, Chaplain Joe, by the grace of God, finally broke through the red-tape and was given the green light to lead and host the first RHC in the state of California. We began planning for the event hoping to be given a year of preparation time. However, we were given less than six months to prepare the event. That was a big step of faith.

I prayed and asked God for 15 of the best leaders at our church to help me on this faith adventure. The Awana Lifeline Ministry leadership was a huge help and came to Southern California to train us since only two on our team had first hand experience with this event. The Awana leadership helped us prepare a game plan every Wednesday night. We met for two hours, praying and planning, and God brought the ministry together with numerous “divine encounters!” We’ve collected many stories of the miraculous God connections that brought our event together, from vendors, businesses and all the donors who contributed.

We knew we would need hundreds of volunteers to pull off the event. The only date that the jail could give us was a Friday and we knew that most people would need to take a day off work to participate. We prayed and asked for volunteers from our church to give us that day. In addition, we knew many of our church family had never been to a jail and realized it would be a huge step of faith for many. But something amazing happened; in my 37 years of ministry in local churches I have never seen so great a response from our people. 400 people volunteered for RHC and for the first time ever, I had to “fire” 80 of our volunteers because we had too many people. Wow, that was a first!

We shared our RHC vision with my wife Debbie, who is the Vacation Bible School Children’s Director at Grace. The VBS leadership and all the kids took an offering, giving over $16,000 to provide toys, Bibles, backpacks and food for the inmates and their children for the event. Every child at the event would receive a good, age appropriate Bible as a gift from our Grace VBS kids, which the inmate dads were able to present to them.

RHC is a 5 hour day that provides carnival style games and an outreach hour for singing and communicating the Gospel of Christ. You can imagine all the issues that just relate to security that had to be worked through.

The RHC was a huge success! People came to Christ, fathers were reconciled to their children and our volunteers were greatly impacted for Christ, as well as the kids and dads involved.

Here are a few of the stories we have received from our volunteers and prisoners:

“It was such a blessing and honor to serve in Returning Hearts. It was one of the best ministry days I have ever participated in. My family was Gabriel Sr. & Gabriel Jr.(3 1/2 years old). When I saw them meet, my heart was broken and thrilled at the same time. I can not imagine what it must be like to be separated from your child. He had not seen him for 8 months. To see the tears and joy in Senior’s eyes when Jr. would do something was amazing. When Jr. knew the words to the songs we were singing the wonder in his daddy’s eyes was a sight to see. (I later found out that he attends a church pre-school.)

Gabriel said he would like to start coming to church when he gets out and asked me if Grace was close. I told him it was and we’d be glad to have him come. Gabriel Jr. was young but I pray we helped to create good memories of his dad for him that he will always remember and that he’ll have the opportunity to make many more.

I pray that Gabriel Senior remembers the look in his son’s eyes and does all he can to see that look again and again for the rest of his life here on earth and on into eternity. That’s what we were trying to do, give these guys and their kids a little taste of eternity with our Heavenly Father and how much He cares, loves and waits for us to come to Him.

“I thanked Gabriel’s mother for sharing him with me and giving me the opportunity to care for him that day. It was truly an awesome opportunity to serve in a very tangible way and I look forward to our next Returning Hearts event. I will always hold the two Gabriel’s close to my heart and lift them before my Abba…Thank you” Lauri – Volunteer

“I just wanted to say thank you so much for the opportunity to serve in this ministry. Yesterday was truly amazing. This day was one of the best days of my life (other than my wedding day and the birth of my 3 great kids of course). I had a little boy, about 8 or 9 years old, tell me “that this was the best day ever!!!!!” I asked a teenage girl and her little sister if they and their little brother had fun and they were so thankful and said they had a great time. The teenage girl told me she was excited to see her dad. All of the men were so grateful and pleasant. Seeing them smile and laugh with their kids was awesome. I am just so thankful for this day,it was such a huge blessing for me. I feel so blessed that I was able to go. Thank you again. I look forward to next year.” Caroly – Volunteer

“RHC has made a huge impact on my relationship with my children. Word’s can not express my gratitude for the staff and volunteers that participated, including the LASD deputies. Thank you very much and yes, this is only the beginning for me in being a good, responsible father again.” Inmate

“I have never experienced such a wonderful and positive event in my life. This event definitely laid stronger relationships, connections and spiritual foundations with my children. Thank you for granting me the opportunity to be a parent at this wonderful, heart touching experience.” Inmate

We are making plans to return to Pitchess Detention Center for another Returning Hearts Celebration. Maybe you and your church can pray about bringing a team and starting your own RHC at your local prison or jail. Please feel free to contact me at:[email protected] or call (661) 296-8737 if you have any questions. Our desire is to bring this ministry to as many prisons possible. Our goal is to offer the message of reconciliation (Malachi 4:6) to inmate fathers and their children and we would invite you to come along!

For the past twenty years, Mike Broyles has served Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, as Executive Pastor, Christian Education Pastor and Family Life Pastor. He is blessed with a wonderful wife of 36 years (Debbie). They have two sons and daughters-in-law, Jon and Jocelyn, and Dan and Carli. They also have four grandchildren.

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