Ft. Worth church works to restore families

FORT WORTH?Tina Bell wanted the Christmas gifts for her children and nothing more. The Lord had other plans.

Bell was one of several people who testified Feb. 1 during “Restorative Justice & Community Outreach Sunday” at Glenview Baptist Church in Fort Worth of how the church and its related ministries helped lead her to saving faith and a radically different life.

Bell was a drug addict whose husband was in prison. She came to church to receive gifts for her children through the Project Angel Tree ministry of Prison Fellowship. She said she was not interested in religion, but the love of the church’s volunteers attracted her.

Not long after, she prayed to receive Christ as savior. Today, she is working in a management position at a Wal-Mart store?a miracle in itself, she said, because she had rarely held a responsible, legal job.

Roger Holler, executive pastor at Glenview, said the church began prison and restorative justice ministry in 1994 after initial involvement in Bill Glass’ prison outreach events.

The church discussed ways it could minister to inmates, parolees and families affected by imprisonment. “Mercy Heart,” a ministry to families affected by imprisonment, was born and eventually moved to a separate location off the church campus in Haltom City. Every Thursday, 35-40 people meet in a supportive environment for worship, study and fellowship.

Holler said the church knew if it were going to commit to such ministry, it would need to stay with the people involved and help them through the ups and downs of transitioning into life beyond prison.

“People quit these folks all the time,” Holler said. “That’s part of their problem.”

Glenview also sponsors a ministry that meets the practical needs of families in transition called “Family Relief Outreach” and a substance abuse overcomers group called “Mountain Movers.”

Both were birthed from Mercy Heart.

Every year 2,500 inmates are paroled back into Tarrant County, Holler noted, “So we’re helping them find jobs” and housing. He said the ministry keeps a list of employers willing to give parolees work and rental properties friendly to law-abiding ex-offenders.

A newer venture for the church is a small woodframe house that two female parolees are living in as they transition back into society. That ministry is called “New Beginnings.”

Three years ago, worship services started at the Mercy Heart facilities, Holler said. “It’s a very exciting fellowship, lots of ex-offenders. Just a great fellowship and growing and doing well.”

Sebastian Vasquez, a doctoral student at Southwestern Seminary, preaches there on Sundays.

The service Feb. 1 is an annual event to attract church members who might not have considered involvement in such a ministry. Holler said because of attrition the ministry needs 15-20 new volunteers each year out of the 80-90 who are regulars.

Holler told of an ex-offender who was saved through the ministry and has been substantially transformed. After his conversion, he went to trade school and now leads a team of heating and air conditioning technicians. He is also an usher at Glenview and one of its most active members.

“But we’re not without our failures either,” he noted. “They will sometimes crater on you. That’s why this ministry and loving accountability is so important.”

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