Every year, Prison Fellowship assists churches in ministering to the families of incarcerated parents through its Angel Tree program. Angel Tree is a ministry that reaches out to the children of inmates and their families with the love of Christ, offering churches an opportunity to share Christ’s love by serving the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the families of prisoners.
During the Christmas season, local church volunteers purchase and deliver gifts and the Gospel to children in the name of their parent behind bars. Thousands of families are served every year by church members who generously give of their time and resources.
Unfortunately, the opportunities to minister through Angel Tree often exceed the number of volunteers in certain areas. As of December 2, the total number of Angel Tree children still to be assigned is 32,642. Below are the 50 counties in the country with the largest number of children signed-up for the Angel Tree program that are not yet assigned to a church:
I’ve been to lots of prisons, but this past week was a first: I saw the hula being doing behind bars!
I had the privilege of going to Saguaro Correctional Facility to visit inmates who are from Hawaii, but are doing their time in Arizona. I was there with dozens of volunteers who flew from Oahu – on their own dime – to share the Gospel with the inmates at Saguaro and disciple the men in the faith-based dorm there. In addition to ministering to the Hawaiian prisoners in their own culture and language, they brought 1,700 Christmas presents – enough for each inmate at the prison!
As I watched the volunteers share the Gospel in a culturally relevant way with many inmates on the yard, I thought of how Jesus came to human culture, communicated in our language, and walked where we walk. The hardest of men felt the expression of grace, and even though it was cold and rainy, they stayed, singing, laughing, and clapping during all the presentations. Eventually dozens raised their hands to say “yes” to following Jesus.
After the closing song, we formed a human hallway for the men to walk through, so that everyone would shake their hands and say goodbye. I was the last guy in line before the door. I had a chance to hug each man and tell him I would be praying for him. Many were holding back tears. All were grateful.
As you gather with loved ones this holiday season, I ask you to join me in remembering and praying for those who are far from home, longing for grace. And know that I am grateful for you and every step you take to bring restoration to prisoners and their families.
As 2013 comes to a close in just a few weeks, we thankfully reflect on the many lives of prisoners that God has restored over the past 12 months. Although the world is a broken place, God has worked miracles to rebuild shattered lives and restore hearts to Him. We invite you to celebrate with us some of the amazing things God has done through Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) this year:
February: Charles Colson Task Force
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee set aside funds to establish the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections to make recommendations to increase public safety, improve criminal accountability, reduce recidivism, address victims’ services, and control costs. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) says, “Chuck made arguably one of the biggest impacts on prison reform following his own incarceration, and his kind heart, strong Christian values, and committed work will live on through the Colson Task Force at a time when it’s needed most.”
In October, allU.S. Credit Union ran a contest called “Pay It Forward.” Each day between Oct. 17-30, the first 10 people to bank at allU.S. Credit Union were given $10 and the opportunity to tell the branch’s videographer how they would use the $10 to pay it forward in the community. A panel selected 10 finalists, whose videos were voted for on Facebook and YouTube. allU.S. Credit Union awarded the winner $500 to donate to the charity of his or her choice.
The winner was Chloe Brown and she chose to donate the $500 to Angel Tree!
“Dear Angel Tree,
My name is Chloe Brown. I heard about your charity through K-Love. I loved how you guys were helping kids and showing them love through God. This organization means so much to those kids and their families. I wanted to donate so bad, but I was unable because I am a college student who makes very little. When I got to the bank one day they had a contest. It said they would give $500 to the charity of your choice and when I saw it, I had to jump on the opportunity. This was God telling me I needed to do this. I voted and so did my family and when I got the news it was the most awesome feeling. I knew that the money going toward Angel Tree was going to make the biggest impact on the kids’ lives and it was all possible because of God. I think what you are doing is amazing and I am so happy to be a part of it. I hope this money will help many kids in your organization and keep up the amazing job of spreading the news of God.
With much love: Chloe Brown
Hill Harper is an actor best known for his roles on the television shows “CSI: NY” and “Covert Affairs.” Perhaps lesser known to fans of those programs is Harper’s second career as an author of motivational books. In his most recent book, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones, Harper reveals an ongoing conversation with a young man behind bars, the advice he has to offer him, and what he has learned from the process.
In an interview on National Public Radio, Harper explains how the idea for the book took root. Some time after publication of his first book, Letters to a Young Brother, he began receiving reviews of it from prison. “Some judges started assigning it for young men they were incarcerating to write book reports,” he says. “… And then letters started showing up through my publishing company. … And one letter stole my heart.”
While working in a chaplain-type role for a state prison in North Idaho, Todd Holcomb has seen, from the inside, just how vital diligent volunteers are to the successful rehabilitation of prisoners. He shares his thoughts on the importance of investing in the lives of prisoners and their families below in an adaptation of an article originally published on MissionTV.com:
They call me a chaplain, but I’m really just a coordinator. A Volunteer and Religious Services Coordinator. VRC for short. Or VCR, or VHS; nobody really seems sure because the position is still relatively new. It’s only been within the last three years that the Idaho Department of Corrections switched from hiring state chaplains to contracting out for VRC’s.
As a VRC, I do not lead or participate in any volunteer or religious activities. I simply coordinate them. I work with volunteers who want to come to the prison to serve. I help them with the paperwork, training, and scheduling. I work with administration and security to find a place for them in our strict schedule. And I serve as their liaison with staff. I shuffle the papers and do a lot of talking, but it’s our volunteers who really do the work.
Prison volunteers are some of the most courageous people I have ever met. I’ve spent time on the mission field and in local ministries, but there’s glory in all that. There’s a spotlight on foreign lands and local pulpits – even community kitchens on Thanksgiving. But prison work is thankless. It is obscure, feared, and even reviled. And there is no thicker wall to beat your head against.
A number of celebrities, many from the Philadelphia area, are joining together to promote a national campaign that will raise public awareness about mass incarceration, its causes, and effects.
“Familiar Faces Against Mass Incarceration” will emphasize the importance of community in reducing recidivism and the necessity of family in decreasing future incarceration rates. It will also raise up justice reform issues that need to be addressed on behalf of people currently dealing with the struggles of incarceration.
The campaign will launch in Philadelphia this weekend and spread nationwide in December via an advertisement in movie theaters. The ads will also air during shows such as VH1′s “Love & Hip Hop” and Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Terrance Tykeem, a recording artist, label executive, and reality-TV producer who previously served a sentence in prison, is spearheading this campaign. He says, “The ads are designed to really jolt people, to get people to talk about this.”
Other celebs involved:
- Danny Glover, actor
- Angela Davis, activist
- T.D. Jakes, pastor
- Meek Mill, rapper
- Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter
- Patty Jackson of WDAS FM
- Bernard Hopkins, boxer
- + more
While running recently, I listened to a recording of the Book of Nehemiah. It takes about 9 ½ kilometers to listen to the whole book (unless I skip some of the genealogical parts).
Two things jumped out at me. First, Nehemiah confesses that “God put on his heart” the call to rebuild the wall of the devastated city of Jerusalem. It wasn’t something he thought of or planned; it was God’s idea.
Second, Nehemiah paints a picture of how the people worked side by side toward a common goal. Next to one another, they accomplished a nearly impossible task.
Along with its thousands of frontline volunteers, financial supporters, and prayer warriors, Prison Fellowship is on a mission to rebuild communities that, like the ancient city of Jerusalem when its walls were destroyed, have no peace and security. By serving prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families with the transformative love and truth of Jesus Christ, we will once again see safety and tranquility established in places ravaged by crime and incarceration.
This is not a mission that we have undertaken of our own accord. God has called His people to remember prisoners and their families and be part of their complete restoration. Nor is it a mission we undertake as individuals. If we are to succeed, we must work shoulder to shoulder. Will you work next to us as we do what God has put on our hearts?
Dr. Margo Nance is one of the lucky ones.
She and her six siblings grew up in a safe, loving environment, with Christian parents to protect and instruct them.
“When we left church and came home, it was an addendum to church,” laughs Dr. Nance, remembering how Christ-centered activities permeated the four walls of her childhood abode.
Many children living in America today – 2.7 million of them, including one in nine African-American children – aren’t building such rosy memories, because they have an incarcerated parent. Living with a relative or in foster care, these children’s lives are frequently filled with instability, confusion, fear, and shame over the mistakes a parent has made. Too many have never crossed the threshold of a local church, and they go about their days with their deepest needs unmet. They are the forgotten victims of crime.
Dr. Nance is on a mission to reach out to these kids, thousands of whom live near her in Illinois’s Cook County.
There seemed to be nothing good about the imprisonment of the biblical character Joseph. For years, he languished in Pharaoh’s dungeon, seemingly with no hope or purpose for his life. But God had not forgotten Joseph. He used those years of captivity to humble him and build up his character, and when the time was right, God called him to lead.
We received a letter recently from another Joseph, currently a prisoner in California. “My name is Joseph,” he writes, “and I am contacting your office to express my appreciation for partnering with [Prisoners to Pastors] (a ministry of World Impact) that is now offering college/seminary level biblical courses to us who are incarcerated at Salinas Valley State Prison. I have been enrolled in these courses for approximately one year now and it is having a positive impact in our lives and in our chapel. There are many men here who love the Lord Jesus, desire to learn and grown in their relationship with Him. Please keep up the good work, knowing that your labor is never in vain when it is done unto the Lord for His glory.”
God is still in the business of cultivating godly leaders behind bars. Students in the Prisoners to Pastors program, like Joseph and many others, are discovering that God intends to redeem their pasts and make them His ambassadors behind bars and back out in the community. Might God be calling you to support this program that’s already changing lives and prisons across the country, whether by your service, your prayers, or your financial support? Learn more today at our Prisoners to Pastors web page.