Who We Are
A Movement of Connection
The mission of Returning to Joy is to guide people through their journey to cultivate joy, where healing overflows, justice is restored, and relationships flourish. Our vision is for the world to be made whole, where all creation thrives in harmony with Christ and one another.
The Heart Behind Returning to Joy
Birthed from a transformative experience in Metro Manila—while staying with a beloved family— Returning to Joy was shaped by the powerful and yet simple ministry of presence. Removed from my familiar Western Christian contexts, I encountered the ministry of presence as the foundation of resilience, identity, and hope. It wasn't sermons or small groups that reached the depths of my brokenness and pain—it was the vibrant, healing community around me. Reminding me of who I am and where I belong by gifting me themselves. Does this behavior sound familiar? Christ first demonstrated this ministry of presence to us. His life and word teaches us how to walk in His ways.
The name, 'Returning to Joy,' echoes what sustained Christ in ministry (obedience to God) and suffering who, 'for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame.' Joy is much more than an emotional state, but a mental, physical, social, and spiritual connection to The Good News that propelled Christ forward.
Our intention is to walk alongside the brokenhearted, the mission-minded, and the spiritually hungry, assisting them in moving from a state of overwhelm to empowerment. We provide the tools for personal and communal transformation by teaching how to be present with Christ, oneself, and others.
Healing and repair is a collective journey. I can’t wait to embark on this journey with you.
-Gabrielle Michelle Leonard, Founder & Director
What We Believe
These values are foundational to who we are and how we show up in the world.
Jesus is Lord
The way of Jesus – who He was, what He cared about, and how He lived – is the foundation of our theology and practice. As the visible representation of the unseen God, we believe that through Him is where we find true unity and connectedness.
We trust the authority and reliability of all Scripture. We obey it, love it, and use it as a guide to understand what’s true. It is both a mirror reflecting our true identity in Christ and a window into God’s beauty, wonder, and love.
Culture & Ethnicity
The church of Jesus Christ was meant to demonstrate the power of the gospel through reconciliation, repair, and sincere unity. We hope to accept, value, and give voice to the beauty and wisdom of every culture in our communities.
We are committed to seeking the welfare of all and actively pursuing the manifestation of God’s kingdom in our contexts, taking action where we have power and speaking up for justice where we have a voice.
Each person has a unique assignment given by God, which the presence and active work of the Holy Spirit makes possible. We work towards empowering each and every believer to hear, discern, and live out the calling of Jesus on their life.
Prayer & Dependence
Continuous prayer and responsive listening are essential for our spiritual health and transformation, and ensure that our actions are in accordance with God's intent. Prayer is a necessary practice for remaining in communion with God, surrendering to His will, and reflecting His kingdom on earth.
Our team embodies the heart of our mission, turning our vision of a world made whole into reality through their skills, faith, and commitment to hope.
Gabrielle Michelle Leonard
Founder and Director
Gabrielle Michelle Leonard is a dynamic speaker, facilitator, certified mental health coach, minister, and podcaster. She is known for being a captivating storyteller and bible teacher who imparts practical wisdom that heals the soul. In 2020, she organized a prayerful protest on MLK Drive, bringing together over 300 people in a unified call for reconciliation and repair.
Gabrielle is the founder and visionary behind Returning to Joy, a ministry that creates guided pathways to wholeness by providing resources and tools to help you connect with God, yourself, and others. As the H. E. Butt Foundation's Storytelling Community Facilitator, Gabrielle designs dialogue strategies, including pioneering the Shared Tables program. A program that brings together neighbors from all over San Antonio to bridge racial, cultural, and economic divides.
She is a founding board member of Wildfire Network and has presented workshops at national conferences on how to foster genuine unity, mutual trust, and equitable decision-making in ministry teams. Gabrielle, also known as the "Movement Midwife," has an innate ability to facilitate connection, discernment, and kingdom creativity.
If you invite her to dinner, she's showing up! She grew up in New Orleans and has a strong appreciation for good food. She enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, traveling to new places, and sharing the joy of a good laugh. When she isn't writing, reflecting, or studying, she is stuffing her face with food that makes her heart sing.
Ready to start your journey?
Explore the different experiences and resources that Returning to Joy offers and find what resonates with you.