For those on the wrong side of the law, court is rarely a visit to look forward to. But as the founder of Bridge the Gap Ministries (BTG), Chaplain David Burgher believes there is hope for every case.
“Mercy is an option we all have. You can choose to accept God’s mercy, but you don’t get to choose judgment. It is mandatory,” said Burgher. He founded the ministry in 2003, after he received a master’s degree in Religious Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He served in three churches in a religious education level. After 18 years of closed doors, God prepared him to create a door unknown across our nation. Burgher is a deacon at First Lilburn Baptist Church, and has dedicated most of his time to working ‘the mission field’ at the courthouse.
“No one in the country is doing what we do here. Whenever I tell people that we are a ministry that runs in the courthouse, I get blank stares like it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s truly unique what we do,” Burgher said.
The court hall is the front end of prison ministry. Reentry transitional centers are the back end of prison ministry. “That’s the gap I’m trying to bridge, the gap between God’s mercy (optional) and his judgment (mandatory),” Burgher said.
He comes in to talk with and pray for those waiting before their court appearance. Burgher and other volunteers involved with BTGM always pray with purpose. They pray that those facing charges will have a change of heart, accept their wrongdoing and receive divine redemption and forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus. This is the main focus providing the spiritual resources and emotional support to ensure those they meet at court begin taking steps towards positive futures in a local church.
They also consider legal redemption and pray for the judges and the jury to have discernment in a weekly corporate prayer time.
Through BTGM, Burgher treats those at the Gwinnett County Courthouse like members of his congregation. “People I’ve met at the courthouse have come to our church. The church is a place for our spirits to heal, and it’s when people start “missing church” that’s when they wind up going to court, because their life is off track.” The courthouse was always meant to be a spiritual restoration center to return back on track with God.
Preventative prayer is another approach they take. Not everyone in the courthouse is in for the same reason, but Burgher considers everyone a prime subject for their prayers and literature. He frequently meets with couples at the marriage licensing center and put in a few words of advice for those getting their marriage certificate. He comes to them as a complete unexpected surprise to receive counseling on the biggest decision of their life – marriage. The literature given them covers everything they will need to build their new life together on a strong foundation of faith.
Restoration/encouragement of BTGM volunteers also has taken a quiet almost obsolete gift of handwritten postcards to inmates, judges, elected officials in Gwinnett Co. and State / Federal The impact is an amazing response. He also collects used Christian books and reading materials from local churches to deliver to men and women in the Gwinnett prison system. BTGM has a network with local partners through the Greater Atlanta Reentry Alliance to provide resources in the way of housing and job opportunities.
“I had never heard of a courthouse ministry before,” said Patricia Johnson who started a chapter in Dekalb and Clayton courthouses. “I would say it’s very useful and helps save those who don’t have a mother or father to be there for them as they wait to hear what’s going to happen to them. It’s amazing how rewarded our prayers are — sometimes we also say a word to the judges on their behalf, and sentences have been reduced.”
Tommy Anderson recalls the day he met Burgher at the courthouse on Langley Drive. Anderson faced doing time, but Burgher talked and prayed with him without judgment. “I felt like he was the only one who understood me at the time. My family was there for me, but they didn’t talk to me the way he did. Something about the way he talks just calms you down,” Anderson said.
Reflecting on the influence BTGM had on his life, Tommy Anderson was not immediately able to articulate. At last, he said, “I think it just gave me hope to try to do better and get back to my faith.”
When Juan Burnett met Burgher, he wasn’t facing any charges. Burnett was at the courthouse to finalize his divorce. The day was off to a rough start, and Burnett remembers reading a scripture (Psalm 37:28) when Burgher happened to stroll up and begin quoting the very same verse he was reading.
“I knew then that I was to listen to what he had to say,” said Burnett who soon got involved with the ministry’s prayer meetings held in the Courthouse auditorium every Friday. Today, Burnett serves on the ministry’s Board of Directors.
Chaplain Oscar Lopez has recently joined full time to reach the Hispanic community and bridge gaps created by language barriers. “People were broken, just helpless to change their lives, and whoever ministers to them can help shine a light on their lives and hearts. We’ve seen families come together and be reunited through BTG, and it’s just because they’re free from all these chains and problems,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s work with the BTGM entails ministering to those who end up behind bars. His passion is helping them grow their faith and repair relationships with their families. Example:
Michael Hale considers that influence life-changing. Hale was raised in New York by a law-abiding his family, but as a young adult, he began dealing drugs and found it difficult to break the cycle of crime. Although he’s always been a Christian, Hale never took the initiative to surround himself with positive influences until after his incarceration.
“I had come to Christ in 1996, but I didn’t have the proper mentorship and support to change. I didn’t change my environment. I was still hanging with the wrong crowd. So, I backslid, and I kept on living a life of sin for about twenty years,” Hale said.
After meeting Hale at a Bible study, Lopez has become somewhat of a mentor to Hale. The two text daily, sharing scriptures and prayer requests.
After his release, Hale married, bought a house and graduated from college with a degree in auto mechanics. He currently works at a car shop and stays active with the church and local reentry ministries, performing Christian hip-hop and preaching to those in prison.
“God has given me a second chance to raise my kids and be a good role model to them,” Hale said. “I wasn’t a good role model for my first kids. I was still living a life of sin, but now I have a second shot,” said Hale, who has six children ranging from ages three to 22.
HISTORICAL COURT HOUSE BACKGROUND
Most people are unaware or have not really associated the court system on earth with the court system in heaven where Almighty God rules in majesty over His heavens and His earth. There are books to be opened on every human being who ever lived on earth for judgment and rewards to be rendered. What God has already established in His court room in heaven, He has also declared and established in every county on earth. It is His visible prelude to the eternal court system in heaven. (Revelations 20:12-15)
The very “first courthouse” on earth was the Tabernacle Tent in the Old Testament. Exodus 25-26. God said, I want you to build a tabernacle where Moses, judges, and priests all come together to build a system of law and order to reveal His dwelling presence, His mercy seat, and His commandments for His people.
The Tabernacle Tent later became a permanent Temple of splendor through the heart of King David and the builder of King Solomon. Yet its glory over time began to fade into corruption from within the judges, priests and the Israelites people.
Its climatic consequences came when Israel failed to recognize that the Temple built was God’s symbol of their prophesied incarnated Savior, born of a virgin, Jesus Christ. He was the incarnate God in flesh to be their ultimate judge, sacrifice, and payment for their sins. He was their Advocate of atonement before God the Father the Judge of His Universe. Proof was openly displayed when the Temple curtain was ripped open from top to bottom. At Christ’s brutal death and glorious resurrection this ultimate sin debt was paid in full was for all mankind for all generations.
This failure by the Jews brought complete judgment of God on all of Israel in 70 AD when the Roman Government completely demolish Jerusalem and the Temple. To this very day is the wailing wall in Jerusalem for the Jews for God has officially declared there reminds no need for blood sacrifices when Christ paid in full he sins debt all of mankind owes.
Yet we are all witnesses that the Spirit of God’s mandatory judgment for His broken laws still remains written in every court system around the world. The law enforcement officers are assigned to execute these broken laws 24/7.
But the church’s authority to offer God’s mercy through the priesthood of believers in Christ “somehow” has failed to return to the court system to offer prayers of repentance and mercy for the sins of its local citizens in trouble with the LAW.
The enemy, over the centuries in desperation, has publicly proclaimed and coined the phrase “separation of church and state”. It is the biggest lie! We are all guilty of sin and need mercy through Christ. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” The state was authorized by God to execute His judgment while the church was authorized by God execute His mercy. The courthouse is workings of redemption story through the cross which is the intercession of God’s judgment and mercy.
That is the gap we are seeking to bridge in our modern court system – restoring God’s grace and mercy where judgment is being pronounced every day. Grace – receiving what we do not deserve. Mercy – not receiving what we do deserve.
THE “CITY GATES” IN EVERY COURT HOUSE
Conviction of SIN headquarters building. First established when every town was instituted and built just as God instructed.
Conviction of the consequences of sin attracting the backslidden and unworthiness in believers and the lost spiritual condition in unbelievers that their best efforts brought them there.
Retribution of God’s money stolen with a 100% success rate receiving “tithes and offerings”.
Conviction of reconciliation by settling all disputes among unbelievers and Christians.
Conviction of fornication and the sacredness of marriage through the issuing of all marriage licenses and many of all marriage ceremonies.
Conviction of resolutions in marriage counseling, disputes through mediation or divorce where there is an impasse.
Honoring support to loved one in handling all death certificates and disputes involved.
Honoring support of children as pro-life in all birth certificates, adoption of children.
Conviction for reconciliation, restitution, and forgiveness through accountability records.
An ADVOCATE that ministers (priest) daily to the “hidden congregation” in churches in issues the church in uncomfortable with or not equipped to handle.
In the fifteen years since it was formed, BTGM has touched many lives. Many who met Burgher at the courthouse will later contact him sharing how they were impacted by the ministry, and Burgher includes these stories as testimonies in his monthly newsletter. While he admits that quantifying the ministry’s impact is virtually impossible, he has a hunch that when we get to the heaven’s courthouse, God will track of all those branches of impact. It will be overwhelming.
BTGM has an ultimate goal with their ‘Court Hall Ministry’ is to expand to every courthouse in Georgia, and one day, the country. In recent months, BTGM has caught on in courthouses in Dekalb, Clayton, and Fulton counties.
We always need volunteers, and if you want to join with us and pray for people, just give him a call, to set something up,” Burgher said. Call directly at (770)601-0265.
Additional testimonies about the ministry’s impact can be found online through BTG’s monthly newsletters via http://www.bridgethegapministries.org/get-btgm-news/.
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