Here are some suggestions on how your church can continue your ministry throughout the year and encourage prisoners and their children to stay connected even after the Christmas season is over. Regardless of which ministry or activity you select, following a few basic steps can enhance your success and lead to a more meaningful impact in the lives of these children and their families:
- Engage a group of volunteers to assist in the planning so that all responsibilities do not fall to one person.
- Determine the scope of your event or activity by surveying your congregation for talents, skills expertise, interests, and business relationships. Planning an event around existing resources is often easier than trying to find resources to fit a predetermined event.
- Prior to each event, determine how many you want to invite and recruit enough volunteers so the event runs smoothly.
- Select the date and invite the guests of honor with adequate lead-time.
- Pray for God’s guidance and blessing.
- Share the Gospel and Jesus Christ’s message of love with the children and their families while hosting the event or activity.
Existing Church Ministries
Invite Angel Tree children and caregivers to join in your church’s existing youth or adult ministries, Vacation Bible School (VBS), and special worship services, events and activities.
Back to School Event
Determine the gender, grade and number of children you wish to serve and purchase the required school supplies. Providing extra support during specific times in the year can relieve caregivers from added financial pressures and ensures children have the supplies they need.
Family Fun Day
Food, moon bounce, face painting, games, whatever. This is a day to introduce Angel Tree families to other families in your church. It’s a time to get together to simply have fun, meet new people, and build deeper relationships.
Caregiver’s (Mom’s) Night Out
Providing caregivers with an opportunity to enjoy a break from the children and the company of other adults is usually a rare and welcomed luxury. Organize onsite daycare for the children and consider having the initial ‘Mom’s Night Out’ at the church in order to decrease potential anxiety from leaving the children.
Letter Writing Club
Writing letters is often the best form of communication between children and their incarcerated parents. It is less expensive and allows both the child and parent to think through what they want to say to each other. Angel Tree offers a letter writing kit you can order to help facilitate the process. Consider using the kit during a back-to-school event or Angel Tree Party. Be sure to obtain each parent’s Department of Corrections (DOC) number and mailing address for the facility, and find out what rules the prison has on sending mail. For example, some facilities allow photographs to be sent while others don’t. Call 1-800-55-ANGEL to request our Letter Writing Kit to help you start a letter writing club at your church.
Start a Support Group for Children and/or their Caregivers
One way to reach out to families of the incarcerated is by starting a small group or support group for the kids and/or their caregivers. Some great resources for developing these supportive resources are:
- Extended Family for Kids – This is a complete curriculum written for children of prisoners. It’s a secular curriculum that is easily adaptable for church use.
- Wings Ministry offers Wings for L.I.F.E., which empowers youth and families through education. Life-skills are taught and relationships are built for the future.
- Child Evangelism Fellowship – local staff can give your church information on how to start a Good News Club for kids in your area.
Parental visits are an important tool for reconciliation. However, facilitating visits can be difficult for the care-giving parent. Prisons are often very far from where the families live. There is often no public transportation available, and the cost of gas can be prohibitive. Providing transportation for prison visits can be a powerful ministry. In order to be effective, you must communicate with the caregiver and with the prison to determine available visiting days, the parent’s status for visitation, clearance requirements, and other rules for visits. Consider bringing the caregiver along for at least the first few visits to support the child and reduce any fears and anxiety. Provide an opportunity for the child and parent to talk about their experience afterwards.
There are a number of books related to children living with the incarceration of a parent. Giving children the opportunity to hear about how other kids cope with similar experiences can prove very helpful. Utilizing additional books to share the gospel or moral values is also a great way to begin. During the event (typically at the end) allow the children to talk about their thoughts on the book. Also provide time for them to write or draw what they think as some children may not want to share verbally. Consider sharing the children’s thoughts with the incarcerated parent. Some resources include:
- One Hope’s Book of Hope – Family Freedom Edition for Children. This resource is accessible at www.onehope.net
- What Will Happen To Me? by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Howard Zehr. This resource is a book of portraits and stories of children of the incarcerated and their caregivers. There is a section in the back of the book that offers helpful information for churches, schools, and others interested in reaching out effectively to children experiencing the incarceration of a parent. This book is available on Amazon.com.
- Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) offers the Truth Chasers Club – formerly called the CEF Mailbox Club. This is a series of free Bible lessons and there are lessons geared specifically for children of prisoners. When a child completes a lesson and returns it to CEF, volunteers review the lesson and write back with supportive comments along with the next lesson. This resource is available at www.cefmailboxclub.com.
Hosting a movie night does not need to be at a theater. Converting a classroom or fellowship hall into a comfortable environment will allow children to relax and enjoy a special event they may not normally get to experience.
Other ideas include:
- Providing inspirational books or magazine subscriptions, caregiver Christmas gifts, Thanksgiving Day cards or food basket.
- Starting an after-school or tutoring program
- Sending birthday cards to the children
- Identifying and meeting specific needs (food/meals, house painting, etc.)
- Sending Angel Tree children to a Christian summer camp