When a parent is sentenced to prison, he or she is not the only one being punished. The children suffer too. How especially tough it is for them at Christmas time.
The Angel Tree® program, which has been part of Prison fellowship’s work for almost three decades, has served six million children and brought the love of Christ as well as reconciliation to countless homes during the Christmas season. Chuck Colson believed deeply in this work. And this year, your help and participation is wanted more than ever!
But do you know the story of Angel Tree? Have you heard why, as John Stonestreet says, it had the power to “bring a tear to Chuck’s eye”? In a recent BreakPoint This Week program, Stonestreet interviewed Mary Kay Beard, the founder of Angel Tree, whose story has inspired a generation of those ministering to the incarcerated. He also talked with Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske, who explained why Angel Tree is key to the ongoing mission of equipping the Church to make a difference among “the least of these.”
Mary Kay’s biography says that she “was a safe-cracker, a bank robber, and one of America’s most wanted. Arrested in June of 1972, she quickly collected 11 federal indictments and 35 charges against her. But her 180-year sentence turned into a six-year sentence—during which time she asked God to change her hardened heart.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Through her experience in prison, Beard gained a deep appreciation for estrangement and brokenness of the incarcerated from their families, and how a simple act can give hope, and change the lives of those on both sides of the bars.
That’s why she founded Angel Tree, and why she considers it perhaps the greatest way God has used her since He first changed her heart in prison.
“I am both awed and humbled to have been a part of something so enormously effective,” says Mary. “Being there at the beginning—I consider it one of the highest privileges of my life.”
For Mary, Angel Tree represents an awe-inspiring testimony to prisoners and their families of the Gospel: “The very first Christmas gift,” she reminds us, “was a child.” For those desperate for forgiveness and those desperate for a parent’s love, the simple opportunity to give or receive a gift at Christmas breaks down the barriers which isolate family members in prison from those outside, and makes the story of a God who loves us no matter what come to life like few other things.
Want to get involved? Here’s how: Visit www.AngelTree.org. There you can watch an informative video explaining how Angel Tree works, as well as sign your church up to participate. You can also talk to one of the Angel Tree staffers directly by calling 1-800-55-ANGEL.