In prison, former church planter 'utterly broken'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Jan 17, 2012 5:22 PM
In prison, former church planter 'utterly broken'
CHICO, Calif. (BP) -- A former church planter in prison on murder charges says God has gotten his attention and now he is "utterly broken," realizing he had an inflated attitude that God needed him in order to start and restart a string of churches.

Bill Breunle is one of three men accused of beating and leaving for dead a medical marijuana grower in California three years ago. He faces a jury trial in March and has entered a not guilty plea. A decade ago, Breunle was a North American Mission Board church planter who had helped launch 38 new congregations. He left the NAMB missionary force in 2003.

Don Overstreet, a current church planter in the Los Angeles area employed by NAMB and the California Southern Baptist Convention, shared with Baptist Press some excerpts of letters Breunle has written to him from prison. Overstreet has known Breunle for 17 years and helped him start his first church in the Riverside, Calif., area.

"Bill had had a rough background," Overstreet said. "He never knew his dad. His mother adopted him out when he was a baby to a good Christian family."

Breunle got into weightlifting and then bodybuilding, even becoming a professional wrestler. Eventually, he was caught smuggling steroids. He became a Christian in prison, which later led to his appointment as a missionary.

In 2002, Breunle "walked away from God," Overstreet said, adding that his contact with Breunle became sporadic for the next eight years. Then Breunle was back in prison.

"All I know," Breunle wrote to Overstreet last March, "is He wanted me to be close to Him like never before."

In another letter that month, Breunle wrote, "You know, Don, I have been ... His child since a young boy.... I have started and restarted traditional churches, been a part of God really changing lives. Yet there was always that little seed of arrogance.

"It was always God and me. I used the gifts He gave me and sat right next to Him on the throne," Breunle wrote. "What makes me cry and laugh at the same time ... is He loves me enough to show me how great it is when He is the only one on the throne. I am nothing, He is all. I know He loves me. I am truly consumed by His love all day and night. I only want to speak and move when He prompts me. I am set free."

In a letter to Overstreet last April, Breunle said he had been a poser in his ministry, "having the right words, concepts and even emotions down." But now the "narcissistic mask" is gone, Breunle wrote, and he has nothing to boast about.

"Don, I am so utterly broken. I find nothing in me to bring to the throne of grace," Breunle wrote. "I am a small child voice crying for mercy every day."

For years, Breunle preached about the emptying of self, that salvation is a gift, he said.

"I have read over and over again Jesus saying, 'Apart from me you can do nothing.' I can spew out all the Greek words to make it sound 'deep' or more 'profound.' ... Yes, born-again, yes, sincerely doing ministry, yes, wanting to please God," Breunle wrote from prison. "But I was always there doing it. I always had the sense that God was pretty lucky to have me on the team."

Because of the work God has done in his life while in prison during the past year, Breunle told Overstreet he would not trade being there for anything. He reads and prays "almost 100 percent of the day," and God wakes him up around 3 a.m. to worship, pray and read.

"I do Greek and Hebrew word studies and memorization for a while. Read and pray some more," Breunle wrote last May. "My whole day and night is consumed with awareness of His presence and love. I have such joy and peace … doing so wonderfully. ... When Paul and Silas are singing away, praising God in prison -- I get it!"

Overstreet told Baptist Press Breunle is no longer in solitary confinement, and he continues to share Christ with fellow prisoners.

"In the last letter I got from him, he said it's a little rough because he's being made fun of because he's a Christian," Overstreet said.

"But one of the toughest guys in the jail who is a shot-caller came by him and stood up in front of everybody and said, 'Don't bother this guy. This guy's a real Christian. He's trying to live for Christ even though he has murder charges against him,'" Overstreet recounted.

"So that was an outstanding comment, and he's still witnessing to that guy and trying to talk to him one-on-one about the Lord."

Overstreet asked for prayer for Breunle, particularly that justice would be served when the jury takes up his case next month.

"God is still in charge, and He redeems and restores," Overstreet said.

Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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