In an amazing story of grace and redemption, a former prisoner who spent more than 30 years behind bars has become Saddleback Church's new leader of Mercy Ministry, a ministry to prisoners.
According to a press release made available to The Gospel Herald, Danny Duchene was sentenced to prison at the age of 19 for killing two men. While in prison, he read Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life, and was compelled to reach out to the pastor.
"In prison, I read Pastor Rick's bestseller Purpose Driven Life, and wrote to him. The prison soon started buzzing with cell groups to study the book. Inmates were baptized inside the prison campus. Saddleback's Celebrate Recovery program began in the prison, and gave an opportunity to prisoners to have support to now do the right thing for the first time in their lives," Duchene recalled, ChristianToday reports.
"At first, this Good News seemed over my head. It seemed unbelievable and too good to be true that God loved me and that He wanted to show me mercy after all I had done to hurt others. From growing up, I honestly didn't know how to trust," he continued.
After embracing Christianity, Duchane started the Sierra Christian Center, a small nondenominational church at California's Sierra Prison where he was incarcerated.
32 years after he was was imprisoned, Duchene was freed, partly in response to a letter sent by Pastor Rick Warren to the parole board asking that they do so in order to allow him to hire Duchene as a pastor at Saddleback Church.
"I trust him...and we are extremely grateful," Warren said last weekend during the ceremony to install Duchene as leader of Mercy Ministry at Saddleback.
The press release notes that the book not only changed Danny's life, it resulted in a Saddleback-inspired "Purpose-Driven Church" started by inmates in the prison in 2004, and the adoption of Saddleback's Celebrate Recovery program by the correctional institution as its official recovery program.
Duchene's testimony brings to mind the story of the Apostle Paul, who, according to the account provided in the book of Acts, was a violent killer dedicated to the persecution of the early disciples of Jesus Christ.
However, after experiencing a dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul emerged as one of the greatest missionaries of all time, spreading the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and writing 13 books of the Bible.
"You cannot be what God wants you to be on your own," Duchene said. "You need support, you need a small group. I'm sure my life would have been very different if I had the support of a godly small group as a teenager."