Mercy Heart ministry reaches out to Texas’ shadow culture

FORT WORTH?An entire subculture exists in many Texas cities?a people group riddled with fear, shame and embarrassment. And most Texas churches don’t even know they exist. Mercy Heart ministries, led by Roger Hollar, executive pastor at Glenview Baptist Church in Fort Worth, identifies and reaches out to these people with the good news of Jesus Christ.

“Mercy Heat is a vision born out of a need for the church to respond to broken and discarded families in the crisis of incarceration,” Hollar said, who has been serving at Glenview for 18 years. “This is a group of people who are ignored by society. It’s a shadow culture. These are folks living in the shadow below the surface. They are folks who are in our churches but because of shame or embarrassment and because of family members in prison they disappear and hide out.”

Hollar estimates that roughly 25 percent of the population in Texas has a loved one in prison or inside the restorative justice community. “There are more people in our churches [dealing with this issue] than most people realize.”

“[Mercy Heart] is needed because our communities are devastated by the lack of male leadership in the homes,” Hollar added. “It’s needed because these mothers and children are highly vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, stress, fear and are much more likely to find themselves involved in drugs or other illegal activity. So it continues to decimate a community.”

In response to this need, Glenview Baptist Church began a prison ministry with the Bill Glass Organization in 1993. By 1995, Glenview members saw a larger need existed to minister to the inmates’ families who were struggling with life on the outside. Mercy Heart was founded to assist these “at-risk families” through the transition of incarceration. By partnering with a Full Gospel church in Fort Worth, Hollar estimates Mercy Heart has assisted over 1,000 families in the last 10 years.

“We’ve probably ministered to 35 families at any one given time since the beginning,” Hollar said, averaging 10-15 professions of faith each year. Although noting the numbers of salvations aren’t large, Hollar said the church is consistently carrying out the Great Commission by all means spiritual and physical.

The Mercy Heart ministry springs into action from the very moment incarceration begins.

“The transition of incarceration can begin when a mom and dad get a phone call from the county jail saying ‘We have your kid in jail.’ Now we’ve been doing this ministry long enough that if that happens, they call me right away,” Hollar said. “That starts at the very point of an arrest. We call those family members and begin to provide support.”

Family members are encouraged to attend weekly meetings that include a free meal prepared and hosted by Glenview volunteers. Age-graded Bible classes for adults and children and a time of encouragement follow. Hollar noted that women and children comprise the majority of people to which Mercy Heart ministers.

“One mother told me, ‘when my kids go to school, the other kids or people around them make them feel different because they have a parent in prison. But when they come to Mercy Heart, they feel special’,” Hollar said.

Identifying and reaching out to children of at-risk families is one of the most important elements of Mercy Heart ministries. “Children of inmates are six times more likely to commit a crime or exhibit delinquent behavior than their peers. I believe the number is 70 percent of children of inmates of will end up in jail without intervention,” Hollar said.

“These families are victims. They didn’t ask for what happened. They aren’t the ones that held up the bank or took the drugs,” he said. “In most cases, the decision was made by a son or husband?now they’re serving time too, only in a different way. Now the mom is responsible for putting food on the table and putting clothes on her kids backs.”

To assist single-parents in meeting basic needs for their families, Mercy Heart added a third dimension to its Bible studies and support groups called the Community Family Outreach effort. Through this emergency relief ministry, Mercy Heart provides food, clothing, and rent and utility assistance. Mercy Heart also helps network for jobs and social agency needs like fo

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