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Finding the Heavenly Father

Dysfunctional home life growing up shapes Glenn Garvin’s ministry career.

For Glenn C. Garvin, God’s promise to be “a Father to the fatherless” isn’t just a Bible verse; it’s something he has lived and continues to embrace.

Born to a Long Beach, California, couple he describes as “not ready for kids,” Garvin never knew his mother. His father and grandfather tried to care for him, but struggled after his grandmother died. Glenn was placed in a private adoption at age 4. The adoptive family hoped adding a boy would give a sense of balance and help his adoptive dad be more involved and responsible, but it didn’t work out that way. By age 7, the boy realized the prominent role alcohol played in the home.

Weary of the violence, police involvement, and picking up her husband’s vehicle at bars, Glenn’s adoptive mom moved out, taking Glenn and his sister with her when Glenn was in 6th grade.

“She did a good job,” says Garvin of her efforts, which included taking the family to Cerritos Assembly of God on a regular basis. His adoptive dad died when Glenn was 12. During high school, Glenn started making destructive choices, but attended church to please his adoptive mom. He also noticed an attractive teen girl there who occasionally sang special music.

At the suggestion of another churchgoer, Garvin’s mom decided to send her son to a winter youth camp. Even though he didn’t want to go, she insisted.

“You have horrible friends,” she declared. “You need better ones.”

His mother got her wish: Glenn made a friend on the bus, and more the next day. After a worship experience with 40 young people, he sensed for the first time that his life wasn’t going well. While praying, Glenn says he heard a voice: If you’ll give me your life, I will be your dad. Although he protested, I’m not worth it, the voice spoke again. Glenn yielded.

As he processed the idea of commitment, along with guilt for recent bad choices, Glenn received the gift of speaking in tongues. He believes his immediate Holy Spirit baptism represented an empowerment to stick to his commitment and learn to obey God’s voice. As his faith grew, he realized he had to go back and make things right when he messed up, because he could only hear the “Dad” voice if he obeyed.

As Garvin grew in his faith, he began sensing a call to ministry. At age 17, church leadership spoke prophetically to him about pursuing pastoral ministry. He enrolled in Vanguard University. Also, he began dating Robin, the cute girl he had noticed — who happened to be the pastor’s daughter. Because pastor Frank Triggs had childhood circumstances similar to Garvin’s, he knew how God could redeem the past.

“I noticed his increased involvement in the youth group,” says the 83-year-old Triggs, now retired from full-time ministry but a board member at Paso Robles Joint Union School District. “When I asked about his interest in Vanguard, his motives seemed sincere.”

Triggs maintained high standards when it came to his daughter.

“Glenn had a lot to learn about family dynamics, and we had rules,” Triggs recalls. “But he hung in there and learned. He has led his own family well.”

Glenn and Robin married at age 21 — 40 years ago. They have three married adult children and three granddaughters.

Triggs also enjoyed watching Garvin’s ministry gifts grow, starting with familiar areas like tech and sound, and later developing effective communication skills. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Vanguard, Garvin assisted at a small Bakersfield, California, church, and then in 1984 began helping at Lakewood Assembly, now Life Center Church. In 1988, Glenn and Robin got involved with Royal Family Kids Camp, now known as For the Children, which serves children in foster care. Glenn joined as full-time staff in 2003.

For the Children founder Wayne Tesch says Garvin’s willingness to share from his life experience proved to be a tremendous asset to the ministry.

“God has given him a special gift of communicating powerful truths with humor,” says Tesch, 75.

Garvin, who also holds a master’s degree in leadership from Vanguard, returned to pastoral ministry part time in 2019 with Mesa Church in Irvine, and in October 2020, the Garvins began serving as lead pastors at Life Center Church in Lakewood. Robin, who began working at the SoCal Network office during Glenn’s years with Royal Family Kids Camp, now is the network’s children’s ministries director.

These days, Garvin still feels a burden for broken families and underserved children, as well as the huge need for discipleship. After his mom’s divorce from his adoptive dad, she married a man Garvin considered psychopathic, leading to another divorce and then another less-than-ideal relationship. His mother confided that she stayed in the final relationship because she didn’t want to die alone. She didn’t. Kids and grandkids surrounded her. But Garvin laments her repeated quests to try to fix dysfunctional men.

Garvin believes the Church must address such family situations.

“Fatherlessness is out of control in this country,” he says. “Many pastors and ministers across the nation are the product of dysfunctional homes, the same as me.” Garvin’s book, A Seed of Hope in Toxic Soil, chronicles God’s redemptive work in his life, which helped shape his approach to ministry. He remains close friends with Tesch, and in touch with For the Children volunteers for mutual encouragement in ministry. He also shares his story at other ministries and nonprofits, including speaking to youth survivors of trauma and dysfunction.

With characteristic humor, Garvin often tells audiences, “To sum up my ‘Jerry Springer’ background, it took five adults to mess up my life and one Jesus to redeem it.” His blog posts include prayers that begin, simply, “Dad.” He’s never forgotten that voice of assurance that God is, indeed, his Heavenly Father.

LOWER PHOTO: The Garvin family includes (from left) daughter Janae and Alan Setthaboupha with Ruby and Lucy; son Matthew and Francine Garvin; and son David and Ally Garvin with Millie; Glenn and Robin.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.