Mark St. Julien

“Uncle Mark, can I pray for us?”

“Uncle Mark, can I pray for us?”

That one meaningful sentence solidified for Mark St. Julien, 30-year-old inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the message Malachi Dads embodies within his 13-year-old nephew.

Malachi Dads is a program through Awana Lifeline that uses biblical principles to teach reconciliation between incarcerated men and their families.

St. Julien, an inmate for 15 years, brows furrowed and eyes filled with pride, recounted the memory from Awana’s 2016 Returning Hearts Celebration, the sole day in an entire year in which inmates can spend time with their children in person.

Referring to the moment as the greatest blessing he’s experienced while involved in the event, St. Julien remains in awe over the blessings God has revealed to him over the years.

Returning Hearts Celebration Mark St Julien Father Son Reconciliation

“When I came to Angola in 2002, I was 16 and I didn’t have a relationship with Christ. I didn't really have a relationship with Christ until 2010. I was living a normal, sinful life,” he says. “I started going to Malachi Dads in 2009 and I was baptized Aug. 27. It was a blessing.”

Malachi Dads — a curriculum produced by Awana Lifeline teaches biblical fatherhood — challenges and teaches Christian men how to grow into godly parents, equipping them to spiritually train their children regardless of circumstances and intentionally building a legacy of faith in Christ. The program develops inmates’ skills in five key areas: parental, spiritual, educational, moral and vocational.

The blessings grew for St. Julien through ministry within his own “family” — the smaller subgroups within the Malachi Dads program — that he co-facilitates and extends to his nephews.

To become a Malachi Dad an inmate must complete a yearlong course comprised of reading books, Bible studies, group discussions and mentoring. The program builds on Malachi 4:6: “He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

The overwhelming gratefulness and humility surrounding St. Julien’s life is evident as he consistently gives God the glory for every breath he takes and for the men who helped him get to this point. A humble St. Julien recognizes the grace of God through each action of his life. He uses his past experiences to minister to schools who tour the prison as well as his own nephews.

Every visit as a blessing and opportunity to teach the love of God.

“I want to be a blessing to my nephew,” he says. “He blesses me and I want him to know I appreciate that he prays for me.”

Returning Hearts Celebration, however, gives St. Julien an entire day to minister to his nephews while spending time with them.

The love expressed in Returning Hearts between dads and their children is a vital part of Malachi Dads, which aims to build legacies in families through Christ. St. Julien says watching the seeds he sows in people’s lives grow into something beautiful is a testament to the Gospel message and God’s grace.

This year, St. Julien’s 12-year-old nephew accompanied him during Returning Hearts, allowing him to minister one-on-one to the youngest of the two boys. In his heart, he is at peace with his incarceration at the Angola, La., prison as he has fully committed his life to God, ministering to people every opportunity he has.

“People make sacrifices because God is really moving in their lives and I am one of those guys who God has touched. I have seen guys in Angola be touched by God and they were never the same,” St. Julien says. “To love someone and have somebody love you back is a blessing in itself.”

Story by Hannah Tamimi, CBU

Photos by Katie Ring, CBU

Produced by Lifeline Global and California Baptist University