Amber has been volunteering for Angel Tree® for many years. She coordinates the program in her local church, purchases gifts, and delivers the gifts to families in her area. The single mother of four children admits that it’s not always easy. Gifts can be expensive, families can be unresponsive, and they often live in very remote areas that are hard to find and have limited cell phone reception. But, in the end, Amber is always glad she volunteers, due in large part to stories like this one.
Amber was paired through Angel Tree with a prisoner’s family that lived 45 minutes away from her home. After the initial frustration of receiving no response to a contact letter, Amber called the mother to arrange a gift delivery. That one-hour phone call touched her heart, and allowed God to change her frustration to a sincere passion to reach out to this struggling family.
The mother recounted the tale of how her 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer*, had never had a good relationship with her father. He was incarcerated when she was a baby, and spent most of her life in prison. More recently he had become a prisoner on death row in Texas, some 1,300 miles away, allowing little opportunity for a father-daughter relationship. The previous fall, Jennifer traveled to Texas and spent a week visiting her dad. They both knew his days were numbered, and this visit was her final effort to reach out to him.
During her daily visits to the prison, her dad talked to her about God and salvation. He told her he loved her. And he told her that he had signed her up to receive a Christmas gift and the Gospel message from him, through a program called Angel Tree.
This wish—that his daughter would receive a gift, the Gospel, and a personal message from him through Angel Tree—ended up being his final wish. He was executed a few weeks later.
During the phone call, Amber learned that Jennifer’s mom was an atheist. She didn’t believe in God or in Christmas. But, she allowed Jennifer to choose her own beliefs, and she understood that Angel Tree would offer important closure for Jennifer and her dad. So, she agreed to participate.
After hanging up the phone, Amber thanked God for the opportunity He had given her to reach this family. She knew it would be a difficult delivery, but she also knew how important it would be for that teenage girl.
“By the time their parent goes to prison, they’ve already been through a lot,” says Amber. “Through Angel Tree, they see things are better, and they understand that their parent hasn’t forgotten about them.”
When they finally arrived at the house, no Christmas tree or decorations greeted them. Still, they prayed for God’s wisdom, and entered the atheist’s home bearing gifts and smiles.The delivery was burdened with the usual obstacles. Amber got lost on the way to Jennifer’s house. There was no cell service, so she couldn’t easily call for directions. And she had brought along her four kids, ages 9 to15, who were undoubtedly becoming restless.
Jennifer was excited to open her gift. First she read a message from her father written on the gift tag: Daddy will always love you. When the teenager opened the gift, her eyes filled with tears. It was a locket engraved with heartfelt words from her father: I will always love you. She was overwhelmed with emotion, and was excited to put a photo of her dad in the locket.
After their visit, they hugged the family and wished them God’s blessings. And as they walked out the door, Jennifer’s mom—who didn’t believe in God—said, “Merry Christmas.”
“That just touched my heart so much,” says Amber. “She didn’t believe in God, but I know she saw God’s love through our family.”
When they returned to the car, Amber’s two older daughters began to cry. They, too, had grown up without their father around much. He, too, had run-ins with the law. It was hard for them to learn of Jennifer’s story, but, in a way, they could relate. It meant a lot to them to be able to help her get through her difficult time, and show her that God loves her.
Amber learned a lot from the visit to Jennifer’s home. First, Jennifer and her mom had lived in the area for years, but this was the first year her father had requested an Angel Tree gift for his child. Second, the daughter was 17 years old, which is the maximum age that a child can be to participate in Angel Tree. And third, Jennifer’s father was executed and Amber was carrying out his final wish.
Was this all a coincidence?
“No,” replies Amber. “It was God working in my life and telling me that I could make a difference.”
*The daughter’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.