Last February, Jim Stella, a supervisor of guest services at AdventHealth Orlando at the time, and his wife, Karen Stella, were shopping at Hobby Lobby when his wife saw wooden hearts and asked, “Why don’t you do something with those hearts?”
He began to write Bible verses on them, and brought over 30 hearts to the cancer center at AdventHealth Orlando in hopes of encouraging patients and team members. They were all gone the next day, and the “Ministry of Hearts” program was born. Since then, Stella, who recently retired after 10 years at AdventHealth, and his team of 25 student volunteers have given out over 70,000 hearts to patients and team members across AdventHealth Orlando.
In the beginning, the hearts could be found at guest services, and team members would come up to the desk every day to take a heart and say, “Let's see what God has to say to me today." Now, AdventHealth Orlando patients and team members can find the hearts at five locations around the hospital campus.
The hearts became a way to show sympathy and provide hope. A doctor at the children’s hospital gave one to a mother while he explained the surgery her son needed. At the women’s hospital, a mother from South Carolina had her baby prematurely while she was on vacation. She collected over 40 hearts and strung them together to drape in the baby's room. She wrote a card to Jim to express her gratitude, and asked him if she could take the hearts to her youth group back home and have them mail the hearts to him to give out. These are just a few stories of the many who have found solace in the hearts.
“To think that God would call on me to do anything is just overwhelming,” said Stella. “It’s encouraging to all of us, and that God would use me in any way is amazing.”
The program became such a success that it expanded outside of the hospital system. Waterford Lakes Eye Care heard about the impact of the hearts and asked for 500 of them. Another 500 went to a homeless shelter in Downtown Orlando after the director called Stella to thank him for the heart he received during a recent hospital visit. After that experience, he wanted to provide the same encouragement to the homeless. After Stella provided the 500 hearts to the homeless shelter (with the help from his wife and student volunteers at a local school), the director continued the act of kindness and started writing Bible verses on hearts himself.
Due to the high demand for hearts, Stella and his wife appreciate the contribution of the student volunteers. Also, the daughter of two AdventHealth team members is writing Bible verses on the hearts as part of her school’s volunteer program.
Stella says being able to share hearts and hear about how God’s word has helped others is a blessing. Since retiring, he has written over 5,000 hearts, and with the help of his volunteers he will keep spreading the word of God as long as he can continue to afford the hearts.
“I love our hospital and the mission, so it will continue somehow,” said Stella. “God will make a way.”
The story appeared on “AdventHealth TV,” AdventHealth’s internal newscast for its Central Florida Division team members. Watch here: Ministry of the Hearts - AdventHealth TV Story