Angel Tree

From Camper to Mentor

By Prison Fellowship | Posted May 14, 2015

For a long time, Trisha thought she was alone and that no one could understand what she was going through.

As a young girl, Trisha’s father would lock her and her four siblings out of the house for extended periods. He was involved with drugs; strangers filed in and out of their house constantly. She served as default caregiver for the younger children, and her brother searched the neighborhood to steal food so they could eat.

When Trisha was in the third grade she and her siblings were taken away from their dad because he was making drugs in their basement. His first of two jail sentences left them homeless. Then, while staying in a shelter, they learned that their brother had gotten blood cancer from exposure to the chemicals their dad had used to make drugs. From this point, the five children bounced from relative to relative. First they lived with their aunt, then with their grandmother, and then with their grandfather. The children went back and forth until finally the court decided they had to stay in one place—back with their grandmother.

Trisha’s childhood was a dark and lonely time. She watched her abusive father put a gun to her mom’s head. Her brother is thankfully cancer-free today, but he still wrestles with drug abuse and violence, the issues that plagued their father.

“It’s hard to watch,” she says.

Angel Tree Steps In

Trisha remembers the broken deams and the sadness. She remembers the Christmas they didn’t receive any gifts. Returning to school after Christmas break she had a writing assignment from her teacher: Write about what you got for Christmas. Trisha had nothing to write.

But something changed that first Christmas Trisha and her brother and sisters took part in Angel Tree. She was 9 years old, living in her grandma’s apartment, when Angel Tree volunteers arrived, arms stacked high with gifts. Trisha still remembers a baby doll as her favorite.

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A Home for Davion

By Steve Rempe | Posted April 14, 2015

Long-time visitors to this blog may remember the story of Davion Only.  In 2013, the then-15-year-old Davion stepped in front of a church in Florida and asked if someone would adopt him.

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Davion and Connie. (Reprinted with permission of The Tampa Bay Times. All Rights Reserved.)

Davion was born in prison to a mother he never knew.  He entered into the foster care system at a very young age, and bounced from family to family, hoping to eventually find a permanent home.  By the time he reached his teenaged years, Davion decided to find out what he could about his birth mother.  An Internet search revealed a mugshot of his mom—and the sad news of her passing weeks earlier.

Instead of becoming despondent over the loss of the mother he never knew, Davion became committed to finding a family that he could truly call his own.  Wearing the only suit he owned, and with a Bible provided by the boys’ home where he was living, Davion addressed about 300 parishoners at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Naples, Florida, and asked if someone would be willing to adopt him.

“My name is Davion,” he said, “and I’ve been in foster care since I was born. … I know God hasn’t given up on me, so I’m not going to give up, either.”

Thanks to the Internet, Davion’s plea became national news.  Over 10,000 people contacted the foster family agency assigned to Davion, inquiring about possible adoption.  He was interviewed by Barbara Walters on national television.  A pastor in Ohio agreed to adopt Davion, and he moved north to begin a new life with the minister and his family.  However, a physical altercation with one of his new siblings caused his new family to reconsider adoption.  He returned to Florida, once again alone and without a family.

But now, Davion has finally found the family he has been seeking.  And, as it turns out, he didn’t have to go very far.

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Why It Matters

By Jim Liske | Posted March 23, 2015

Liske_154Many friends like you help us with Angel Tree year after year, whether it’s by praying, giving financially, wrapping a gift, or working at a Christmas party. This past Christmas, you helped us match 330,663 children with volunteers who delivered gifts, the Gospel, and personal messages from moms and dads behind bars.

But have you ever wondered whether Angel Tree truly matters? Does its impact continue once the wrapping paper has been thrown away, or the gift is worn out and forgotten?

Here’s just one story from an Angel Tree church coordinator, whose testimony reminds us why Angel Tree matters throughout the year, and often for all eternity:

We have an [Angel Tree] family, who had their inmate step-father and father die in prison last year. We, as a church, have continued to walk alongside the mother, Jennifer, and her kids. She has been attending our church for a few years and was able to lead her inmate husband to the Lord before he passed away. This year is the first time she has been able to participate with the program and she made deliveries. She was so elated to help and so blessed to share with other families. She wants to do it again next year.

Angel Tree supporters didn’t just give Jennifer’s children a gift at Christmas; they helped connect Jennifer and her family with a caring church community that walks beside them all year long, in joy and pain, and helps draw them closer to the God who is restoring their lives. What gift could matter more?

Learn more about the continuing impact of Angel Tree at www.angeltree.org.

A Purple Bible

By Denise Gatlin | Posted February 20, 2015
Denise and her grandson  Zach shop year-round for Angel Tree supplies.

Denise and her grandson Zach shop year-round for Angel Tree supplies.

I have been an Angel Tree church coordinator for many years, but 2014 has to have been the best ministry year yet.  God blessed our ministry in so many ways throughout the year and in a great way during our Angel Tree party. Our church volunteers purchased gifts for over 50 children, sent cards to their parents in prison, and provided support for their caregivers. Some of these caregivers are single moms, grandparents, and even great-grandparents who have limited resources.

I had two young moms, both unchurched and unemployed, who helped me organize and wrap the Angel Tree gifts.  One of their ex-husbands is in prison, but he did not sign his kids up for Angel Tree. Our church made sure we served his kids anyway.  While these two moms were assisting me with Angel Tree, God reached out and touched these families. Now they are attending Sunday school, church, and our AWANA program.  Also, they both found jobs and started working the first week of January.

Out of the 50 children we gave gifts to this past Christmas, there was one little girl’s story I will never forget. She told her mom that she wanted a purple Bible, but she didn’t think it would be possible to find one. I purchase Bibles throughout the year, so I went to my shelf and sure enough I had a purple Bible!  I received a note from the little girl’s mom after Christmas thanking me for making her child’s Christmas so special.  She will never forget that God answered her request for a purple Bible.

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A New Beginning for Wayne

By Prison Fellowship | Posted February 9, 2015
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Prison Fellowship evangelism events are now reaching prisoners in every state.

Wayne spent 12 years in prison, but if you ask him about it, he’ll say, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

You see, it was in prison that Wayne met Jesus. He was in prison when he turned his life—and the lives of his family—around.

“I remember the first year I signed my boys up for Angel Tree,” Wayne says. “When I called home that day—my eyes still tear up when I think about it—there was excitement in my wife’s voice.”

“Angel Tree brought Christmas back into my boys’ lives,” Wayne remembers.

As they told him how thrilled and thankful they were for the gifts that had been given in his name, he couldn’t help thinking, “There really is a God, and He does care.”

The walls that a life of crime and its consequences had built around Wayne’s heart were beginning to tumble down.

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Behind the Scenes of an Angel Tree Party

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted January 22, 2015

If you weren’t able to participate in Angel Tree this season, you can still snag a glimpse of the difference the program is making in the lives of children with incarcerated parents. We’re taking you to Palma Ceia Baptist Church in Hayward, California, where kids gathered on Dec. 13 to learn about God’s love and receive Christmas gifts as reminders that their parents in prison care about them. You’ll hear Rev. Tommy Smith Jr. share why he and his church participate in Angel Tree, and some of the families who attended the Angel Tree party will tell you what the program means to them.

If this video does not load, please click here to view it.

Looking Back on 2014

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted January 16, 2015

AT party Baltimore 2014 093 vWith the help of so many volunteers and partners around the country, Prison Fellowship spent 2014 bringing the Gospel to prisoners, helping former prisoners successfully return to their communities, and supporting families affected by crime and incarceration. This past year, thousands of men and women behind bars surrendered their hearts to Christ, and 50 new “bridge churches” began walking alongside newly released men and women. We’ve seen God work through Prison Fellowship and our partners to transform lives and equip Christian leaders to change the culture of prisons and communities.

Here are just a few of the incredible ways God propelled prison ministry, justice advocacy, and Christian leadership forward last year:

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Taylor Hears From Her Mom in Prison

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted January 8, 2015
Children receive a message from their mom or dad on their Angel Tree gifts.

Children receive a message from their mom or dad on their Angel Tree gifts.

This past December, Angel Tree took gifts and the Gospel to children with a mom or dad in prison all around the county. At Prison Fellowship, we’ve been hearing amazing reports from our Angel Tree volunteers about the lives and families that were touched through the program this Christmas.

A volunteer named Fran writes to us from Tennessee. She’s been involved in Angel Tree for a decade now, and at her church’s Angel Tree banquet just a few weeks ago she met a teenage girl named Taylor* whose mother is incarcerated.

Fran writes, “Before she received the gift, I wanted her to know that it was from her mom and that we helped out as a testimony of what the gift of Christ has meant to our lives.”

Fran asked Taylor for her mother’s name. She told her, and Fran asked to pray for Taylor and her mother.

As Fran prayed, Taylor buried her face in her father’s shoulder, sobbing. This was the first time that Taylor had heard from her mom in 11 years.

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Sharing Our Inheritance

By Jim Liske | Posted December 22, 2014

   If you found out tomorrow that you had received a sizable inheritance, what would you do with it? Pay off debt? Buy a new car? Take a vacation?

This month William, a prisoner serving a lengthy sentence in Virginia, did something astounding with an inheritance he received: He gave a substantial portion of it to Angel Tree, so that the children with an incarcerated parent can receive a Christmas gift and the Good News of Jesus Christ. A letter enclosed with his gift said simply that he “wanted to share.”

As believers in Jesus, we also have received an incredible legacy. In Ephesians 1:11-14, Paul writes, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Our inheritance as Christians is not meant to be hoarded, but joyfully shared with others through words and actions as we spread the message of the Gospel. It’s simply too good to keep to ourselves. Will you, like William, help us spread the Good News of Jesus Christ with prisoners, their families, and all those affected by the cycle of crime and incarceration? Learn more today by visiting www.prisonfellowship.org.

Angel Tree Having an Impact in Local Communities

By Steve Rempe | Posted December 22, 2014

Christmas is only a few days away, and already we are hearing great stories telling how Angel Tree is transforming the lives of men and women behind bars and their families.

In James Island, South Carolina, Angel Tree volunteers at Harbor View Presbyterian Church have been providing gifts to the children of prisoners on behalf of their parents for many years.  And the impact of those gifts is something that they are seeing in their own neighborhood.

“The reason I like the Angel Tree so much is we’re helping people our own community, in our own zip code,” says Sannie Cook, who has participated in Angel Tree for 18 years.  Reflecting on her years serving families, she says, “Sometimes in life you just do something, and all of the sudden, it becomes a part of your life.”

To Sannie, the greatest rewards are the letters of thanks the church receives from these prisoners or their kids. “I really appreciate what your church is doing for my babies,” a recent letter reads.  “May God continue to bless each and every one of you!”

A church in Roanoke, Virginia, is also having an impact on the lives of families in its community, helping to provide gifts some of the 600 kids in the Roanoke Valley who have a parent behind bars.

Micah Alderman, a young volunteer, says he participates so that other kids “get to be noticed and think that other people know them and want to help them.”

Have you or your church been involved in Angel Tree this year?  We’d love to hear your stories!  Please click here to share.




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