Christians around the world celebrated Easter Sunday in church, but for one congregation in Carrollton that service came with a twist, one that will impact families of all faiths and walks of life.
Stephen Hayes was 17 years old when he was hit by a car while crossing a street. He was in a coma, a blood clot removed from his brain and doctors told his parents he would not walk or talk again.
Mike and Kathy Hayes, pastors of a Covenant Church in Carrollton, turned to their faith and their congregation, praying around the clock for a miracle.
After 12 days in intensive care and no hope from doctors, Stephen woke up.
"I asked her for a drink of water and this nurse fell to her knees," said Stephen Hayes. "This woman had given 12 hours of her day for the last 12 days to care for me on rotation and knew my story -- my family, my church, they'd been doing 24-hour a day prayer at the hospital. And to see me awake and talking and knowing my base, it just blew her mind."
Six days later, he walked out of that hospital, back to his family and church, with a miraculous new lease on life, that led him closer to God.
When his father retired, he took over as pastor. "It was just a natural transition," Hayes said.
As pastor, Hayes was able to connect to the many families, who not only prayed, but gave money to help pay off the medical bills his family racked up.
"I felt the pressure of that, and just the thought -- what brings me to tears -- is the thought of people who don't have that kind of support but are under the same amount of pressure," said Hayes.
In his Easter sermon, Hayes told his church about one of the statements Jesus made on the cross before his death, he said the word 'tetelestai.'
"When you were in debt to someone, when you reached the end of your payment plan and paid off whatever you were in payment toward, they would write like the big red 'paid' stamp they would put on the invoices, they would write the word, 'tetelestai.' Jesus in that moment was saying 'guess what, it is finished, the debt of sin had been paid,'" Hayes said during his sermon.
Thinking of that scripture, Covenant Church is giving the community its own Easter gift. Covenant is donating $100,000 to the charity RIP Medical Debt. A debt collector turned debt forgiver, RIP Medical Debt buys medical debt for pennies on the dollar and then forgives it.
"The $100,000, you invested Covenant, paid off a total of $10,551,618! Gone, gone, gone, done!" Hayes told the congregation.
The gift from Covenant church will eliminate medical debt for nearly 5,000 families in Carrollton, Crossroads, Colleyville, and McKinney, all places where Covenant has churches.
Hayes said this is money they would have normally spent trying to get new members for their growing, diverse, congregation.
"Historically a lot of churches have done it, we've done it -- where you spend upwards of six figures to send out a mailer in a creative ways. I don't think [it's] a wise investment, so we decided this year for Easter to send a different kind of mail, it may not be to as many people but it will have a much great impact," said Hayes. "An 'it is finished' kind of letter in the mail just like Jesus did for us. What we celebrate on Easter, these families will get to celebrate that personally in their home. The bill is finished, it's been paid, it's forgiven."
Covenant heard about RIP Medical Debt as part of our coverage of the medical debt epidemic in North Texas.
Covenant's donation combined with one made by our parent company NBC Owned Television Stations, and many of you who have sent in checks have led to more than $18 million in medical debt eliminated in North Texas in the last six weeks.
Envelopes will go out soon letting you know if your debt has been eliminated and if that happened thanks to the donation made by Covenant, NBC Owned TV stations, or our viewers.