At a graduation ceremony for students completing Prison Fellowship’s four-year Prisoners to Pastors program, a tearful dad confessed to me, “I thought my son would never complete anything but a prison sentence!”
We were at South Bay Correctional Institution in Florida. Thirty-six students – who had completed hundreds of hours of rigorous theological study – were dressed up in gowns and tassels. They were like little kids in their excitement. Most of them had never walked in any kind of graduation ceremony in their lives, so this was a life-changing moment of hope and accomplishment! These graduates were being commissioned to change their prison and their communities for Jesus.
One of the graduating students is particularly close to my heart. His name is Derrick, and he’s got decades of prison time still to serve. But he doesn’t mind. He’s on fire. He sees that prison as his “Jerusalem,” the mission field where he can love people and spread the Gospel. Derrick’s adult daughter Christina was there to celebrate with him. She is a phenomenal, accomplished young woman. For many years, Angel Tree helped Derrick maintain his relationship with Christina when he couldn’t be with her physically.
At the graduation ceremony, Derrick and Christina weren’t allowed to hug each other, but the officers let me put an arm around each of them, so they could embrace each other through me. That’s exactly what you do when support Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree. You stand in the breach. God uses you to facilitate moments of connection, joy, and healing that would otherwise not exist.