Thirteen-year-old Wyatt walked into an Arkansas church one December evening. His aunt had insisted that he go, but she wouldn’t tell him why.
He looked around the room and saw kids decorating cookies, making bracelets, creating Christmas ornaments, and taking goofy pictures in the photo booth. Wyatt thought all these kids attended the church. He sat back and watched, too shy to introduce himself to anyone.
This was the first time that Greenbrier Church of the Nazarene had hosted an Angel Tree® Christmas party, where local children and teens that had a parent in prison could come to have fun, meet other kids in the same situation, and hear about Jesus’ love for them. Children who attended the church played with the children being served by the Angel Tree program, while some of their parents and other helpers led the party activities.
Volunteers invited Wyatt and the other kids to go through two Angel Tree stations. First, they shared the Gospel with the kids, and then they handed out Christmas gifts on behalf of the children’s incarcerated parents.
“You should have seen all the kids’ faces,” Wyatt recalls the excitement in the room.
Wyatt’s dad has been incarcerated since Wyatt was 6 years old, and his mom had recently returned to prison. She signed Wyatt up to receive gifts through Angel Tree – a Nerf gun and a Razorbacks T-shirt.
But that night, Wyatt gained much more than some cool presents; he grew closer to Jesus and met some people he would soon call family.
Volunteers invited Wyatt to visit the letter-writing station, where kids could make Christmas cards for their incarcerated parents. A church volunteer named Jake Stroman was standing behind the table when Wyatt walked up. It didn’t take long to spark a conversation about their mutual love of football. Then they discovered that Jake was a teacher at the same school Wyatt attends.
Jake introduced Wyatt to his wife, Kristy, the church’s creative director and volunteer Angel Tree coordinator.
The Stromans felt a natural connection with Wyatt, and they invited him to the church’s youth service the next day.
Soon Wyatt was making friends, feeling comfortable at youth group, and attending church with Jake and Kristy. The Stromans began spending more and more time with Wyatt, inviting him over to watch football, helping him with his homework, and teaching him money-management skills like saving and tithing.
The Stromans’ relationship with now 15-year-old Wyatt has become a valuable mentorship. Wyatt sees Jake and Kristy as his “guides” in life, and their little daughter has become “like a cousin” to him.
“The connection has grown so much that he is now considered part of our family,” Kristy says. “But if it weren’t for the church taking part in the Angel Tree program, we would have never had the chance to establish the connection.”
The Stromans keep very busy with their jobs, church activities, and raising their daughter, but making Wyatt a part of their everyday life has felt natural. They’ve adjusted to leaving early to pick Wyatt up from his uncle’s house on their way to events or on their way home. This school year, Jake requested to have Wyatt in his class, so Wyatt often stays after school to ride home with Jake.
“All it takes is including [him] in whatever [we] are already doing,” Kristy says.
Through the Stromans and their church, Wyatt has gained a sense of family and community that he didn’t get to experience before he attended the Angel Tree party. The Stromans have watched him become more self-confident, outgoing, and a better communicator. His grades have improved, too.
“I’m 100 percent confident now,” Wyatt says. “It changed my life a lot.”
In March, Wyatt accepted Christ into his heart, and he’s gotten to go on several church trips where he’s gained more friends who are also following Jesus. Wyatt does tasks around the church to earn money toward the trips and mows the Stromans’ yard to earn some extra money. This past summer, Angel Tree provided a scholarship to help Wyatt go to church camp in Missouri, where he grew closer to God and his friends.
Wyatt is thankful for the new family he has found in God, the church, and the Stromans. “The Angel Tree program has brought a whole new section in my life and has brought Jesus closer to me,” he says.
The Stromans’ mentorship with Wyatt has not only benefited Wyatt; it has also blessed the Stromans.
Jake says, “He’s actually taught us a lot more about ourselves that we couldn’t have learned if we had never met him.”
The Stromans encourage other families to be looking for kids in their communities that they can share their everyday lives with, too. “You, as a believer, have been given the key to the door that leads to life,” Kristy says. “Don’t keep the key in your pocket because you are too busy to use it.”
GO DEEPER: Learn how to serve children like Wyatt at www.angeltree.org.