Ilene and Peter Ray James live in Grants, New Mexico, where they attend a church with a congregation of 17 people. But the six families of Victory Church of God know that although they are small in number, God has equipped them to share the Gospel in big ways.
Ilene serves as an Angel Tree area coordinator, and her husband, Peter Ray, serves as the Angel Tree church coordinator and a pastor for Victory.
Peter Ray says, “We are a very little church, with a very large heart!”
Last year, Victory Church of God served 13 local children of prisoners with the Gospel message and gifts on behalf of their incarcerated parents. That’s more than two children per church family! This year, Victory is serving all nine eligible Angel Tree children in their area.
Each year, Victory throws an Angel Tree Christmas party a few Sundays before Christmas. They invite the Angel Tree children and their families to attend the church service, where they hear how much God loves them. Then they all enjoy a meal together and a fun time of gifts and treats.
Looking back at her early years, Beth Gadjica considers herself to have been a “picture-perfect child.” But as she got older, an eating disorder tempted her to experiment with drugs, and at the age of 21 she was sentenced to two years in jail.
Soon after beginning her sentence, Beth found out she was pregnant with her third child. “By the grace of God,” she says, she was able to serve the rest of her sentence in the Baby and Mother Bonding Initiative (BAMBI) unit in Texas, where she could keep her newborn son with her to form a healthy parent-child bond. This rare state-run program allowed motherhood to be part of her transformation into the woman God had planned for her to become.
While in BAMBI, Beth participated in Prison Fellowship Bible studies and used the time to plan her future life path.
“I knew I wanted to reach out and help other moms,” she says.
Beth was released a year ago this Thursday. And she’s wasted no time getting back on her feet and helping others.
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. 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:
At a recent event in New York City, I was privileged to introduce Quovadis Marshall to a group pf people who financially support the ministries of Prison Fellowship.
“Q,” as we call him, shared his story: He was raised in poverty by a single mom who worked diligently to feed her kids. His grandma took him to church regularly, and he decided to follow Jesus in his late teens.
As a young man, however, Q ran into trouble with the law. In a heartbreaking picture of the cycle of crime, he wound up in prison at the same time as his father. But Q’s story was only just beginning behind bars.
Q entered a Prison Fellowship program, resumed his walk with Jesus, and began to take his faith more seriously than ever before. Since his release, Q has been a godly husband, father, and servant of the Lord. He is a prayer warrior. We were able to bring him on staff, and he is now leading a prisoner prayer movement.
When Q finished speaking, I asked he people in the room how the stock market had done that day. A round of groans followed, since Wall Street had performed poorly. I then put my arm around Q and said to my friends, “This is the dividend on your investment in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
As you invest in eternal things, the impact of redemption grows, spreading from changed life to changed life. Stocks may go up and down, but the Kingdom’s value never falls. Learn how to join this work financially today by clicking here.
On Dec. 2, 2014, the world comes together to give. Join Prison Fellowship as we participate on #GivingTuesday to support our mission to change the lives of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families through Jesus Christ. We ask our friends, donor, fans, and followers to remember the prisoners on the first Tuesday in December. We made everything easy for online giving.
Here’s how you can help:
- Give to Prison Fellowship through the online gift catalog; or,
- Give to Angel Tree; or,
- Give your time and volunteer for Prison Fellowship and Angle Tree this Christmas
Rick has been one of my star students in Prison Fellowship’s seminary-level program over the past year that we have been holding classes at Salinas Valley State Prison. As a matter of fact, he has given himself to help other students who are struggling, and he even wrote an exegetical paper for the express purpose of teaching others how to write one properly. I now use that paper in all my seminary classes as a model for them to follow.
Imagine my concern last week as I was going over attendance and grade sheets and noticed that Rick has been missing some assignments and absent on more than one occasion.
“What’s going on with Rick?” I asked one of the other students.
“You didn’t hear? Rick’s got a date! He’s going home!”
Benny Se Teo spent many of his early years in prison for drug charges. When he was released, he faced the reality of just how hard it can be to find a job with a criminal record. His break came when he got to train as a chef through a program for disadvantaged youth in London. This opportunity inspired him, and he modeled the plan for his future after this program; he started a business that trains former prisoners in Singapore in the restaurant industry. Benny Se Teo’s restaurant chain with five locations currently employs nearly 70 formerly incarcerated men and women, and four more of his restaurants will be opening next year. This is Benny’s dream: helping former prisoners rebuild their lives.
If this video does not load, please click here to view it.
You can help former prisoners rebuild their lives, too. Prison Fellowship’s advocacy team is presently working to garner legislative support for the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, which Congress originally passed in 2008. Since then, the act has brought dramatic decrease in recidivism rates as a result of evidence-based reentry programs. If Congress does not pass the act, the continuation of mentoring, career training, family-based substance abuse treatment, and more restorative programming may be in jeopardy.
To support the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, which will help former prisoners transition back into their communities as law-abiding and contributing members of society, please visit www.justicefellowship.org.
If you haven’t looked at a calendar recently (or, in the case of much of the country, looked out the window or walked to your car in sub-freezing temperatures), winter is fast approaching, and Christmas is just around the corner. And here at Prison Fellowship, that means the Angel Tree Christmas program is well underway, helping to provide gifts—and hope—to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents.
But Angel Tree is not just a seasonal endeavor.
Camp David of the Ozarks is an Angel Tree partner camp in Missouri that ministers to the unique needs of children of prisoners. Through its camping and mentoring programs, Camp David provides these kids with the love and support that many of them have not known. More importantly, it introduces them to Jesus Christ.
While most people are most familiar with Angel Tree during the holiday season, our camping and mentoring programs provide opportunities to continue relationships with the families of incarcerated mothers and fathers. As the testimonies in the above video reveal, the Holy Spirit remains living and active in the lives of these families.
If you or your church has been involved with Angel Tree Christmas program, or are planning to be involved in the coming weeks, and would like to continue to reach out to these families year-round, please visit the Angel Tree website and find out what opportunities are available in or around your community.
In the conversation about building safer communities, it’s easy to get caught up in the big topics: record-breaking incarceration rates, headline-grabbing crime trends, and large pieces of criminal justice legislation.
But it’s often the littlest ones among us who are hurt the most by crime. Young children do not understand the reasons for a parent’s absence, and older children feel hurt, betrayed, and confused. The incarceration of a parent will have a massive impact on a child’s present and future, yet they often get pushed to the side.
Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program shines the spotlight on boys and girls on the margins of society. In word and deed, volunteers show prisoners’ children they are special, beloved, and worthy of time and attention, as they present them with a Christmas gift, the Gospel message, and a personal note from their parent.
Thousands of churches are already partnering with Angel Tree to serve children this Christmas, but we need more, especially in the areas of greatest need. Would you and your church consider coming on board? There’s still time!
Here are the top five counties with the greatest unmet need:
- Los Angeles County (CA): 699 children
- Hidalgo (TX): 641 children
- Shelby (TN): 612 children
- Saint Louis (MO): 533 children
- Wayne (MI): 480 children
Is your church in one of these counties, or do you know someone who is? Is the Spirit leading you to take a step of faith and obedience to love the littlest victims of crime? Call 1-800-55-ANGEL to speak with an Angel Tree program specialist today.
Don’t look now, but the holiday season is right around the corner. Thanksgiving is only two weeks away, immediately followed by the retail-driven Black Friday and Cyber Monday, encouraging people to go out and start making their Christmas purchases.
And then there is Giving Tuesday.
What is Giving Tuesday?
In the midst of all the craziness of holiday shopping, Giving Tuesday is a day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, people from around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
With so many worthy charitable causes deserving a donation, to whom should you give, and how? You can give to one cause or you can give to many. You can give $10 or 10 hours of volunteer work. The point is to give something so that others will be blessed by your generosity.
On December 2nd, we ask that you consider giving to Angel Tree.
Angel Tree is simple: Incarcerated parents sign up their children to receive Christmas gifts. Church volunteers deliver these gifts on behalf of the parents. What makes Angel Tree unique is not only that children, many of whom would have no Christmas otherwise, receive a toy truck or a doll. It’s because the gift they receive is from daddy or mommy. These kids know that even though mom or dad is behind bars, they are loved and not forgotten.