Most people serving two life sentences in jail don’t believe in miracles much less experience one. But Danny Duchene, who served 32 years in prison, is just that guy. Danny has just been appointed the newest pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He will lead the newly formed Mercy Ministry which will minister to those incarcerated. Who better to serve in that role than someone who has spent more than half his life in prison? Don’t get me wrong. This guy was responsible for his crimes. He has taken responsibility for them and has paid 32 years of his life. What were you doing in 1984? That’s when Danny went to jail for being involved in a crime that cost two men their lives. He was 19 years old. We have become numb and at times antagonistic to people who have “found Jesus” while in prison. We have heard and read about these “conversions” for so long that we just say “whatever”, and keep on about our business.
Danny story is different than the average prison conversion story. Danny became a Christian in county jail before he had been sentenced, way back in 1984. He decided to own up to his mistakes and truly wanted to know God better. I can’t believe he was thinking anything else at the time, knowing he was probably going to be sentenced to life, which he was. But unlike other stories, Danny’s pursuit of God didn’t end there. Fast forward to 2002 when Duchene read both The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church. He was so inspired that he had a few inmates started the Sierra Christian Center, a non-denominational church, located within the prison. Soon, over 200 inmates signed up for the 40 Days of Purpose, a campaign that the entire Saddleback church was going to be involved in over the next two months, and the prison was soon changed. The warden called Pastor Rick Warren and demanded, “What did you do to my prison? It’s peaceful.” The Center grew and Duchene pastored over the inmates.
In 2014, Pastor Rick wrote to the parole board at the prison asking that Danny Duchene be released. He pointed to the lives changed because of what Duchene had committed to. The board agreed and on December 14, 2014, Duchene was released from jail. Danny has since married and now begins a new chapter in his life. When I saw him this weekend at church, he humbly said to the crowd, “If God can use me, He can use anybody.”
I hope this story encourages you. There are people out there doing good, we just don’t hear about them on the news. It’s so easy to forget but God is in control. Can you live with that?