Rick Warren appointed former prison inmate Danny Duchene as pastor over Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He will lead Mercy Ministry, a program that ministers to those that are incarcerated.
Duchene was nearly 20 years into his double life sentence when he first encountered Pastor Rick Warren, through his bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life.
Duchene shared his story during the commissioning ceremony, which was a part of the church’s The Miracle of Mercy campaign.
“My life was out of control. I robbed and stole and hurt others because I chose to please myself,” he said. “I was reckless and never worried about getting caught for my crimes, and I certainly didn’t consider the consequences to others.”
“I was only thinking of myself. All this came to a crisis when I was part of a crime in which two men were killed,” he said.
Duchene was charged with a double life sentence at the age of 19. He said that during that time in his life he hit rock bottom but that God in his mercy sent Christians to share the Gospel message.
“At first, this Good News seemed over my head. It seemed unbelievable and too good to be true that God loved me and that wanted to show me mercy all I had done to hurt others,” he shared. “From growing up, I honestly didn’t know how to trust.”
In 2003, Duchene read Warren’s bestseller and it changed his life. Warren’s second book Purpose Driven Church also inspired Duchene and other inmates to start Sierra Christian Center, a small nondenominational church at the California’s Sierra Prison.
Saddleback Church quickly got behind a correctional recovery program called Celebrate Recovery after the small ministry doubled in attendance, Baptist Press reported.
In the past 13 years, thousands of lives have been changed and prisons across America have followed Sierra’s example.
“I trust him…and we are extremely grateful,” Warren said during the commissioning ceremony.
Warren is responsible, in part, for his release. He sent a letter to the parole board asking that they do so in order to allow him to hire Duchene as a pastor at Saddleback Church.
On December 14, 2014, after 23 years in prison, Duchene was released and has been “riding on the wave of God’s mercy” ever since.
“The Bible says in James 2:13 that mercy triumphs over judgment, and my life is an example of that truth,” Duchene said. “I now know that God has brought me from the inside out to proclaim that God’s mercy is the key to inner freedom.”