Michelle Rainey was 15 when her mother was arrested on drug charges, leaving her the responsibility of caring for four younger siblings.
Her new responsibilities did not allow for what many would consider a normal life for a teenaged girl. She dropped out of school to support the family, and spending for things like Christmas gifts did not fit into the tight budget.
“The first couple of years, [my brothers and sister] did not have Christmas presents,” Michelle says. “It was all I could do to keep us fed. There wasn’t money for extra stuff.”
That would change, thanks to Angel Tree, a local church, and two loving volunteers.
“The first year we found out about Angel Tree, somebody called for gift wishes,” Michelle recalls. “Then, a few weeks later there were presents somebody delivered to our house.”
“That was pretty awesome. The kids finally had a Christmas.”
In an article on The Oklahoman newspaper website, Michelle talks about the first time she and her siblings attended an Angel Tree Christmas party. She remembers her family being picked up by Angel Tree volunteers Dave and Cheryl O’Bannon and transported to nearby Bethany First Church of the Nazarene. There, she was struck by the love and kindness displayed by those in attendance.
“In my life there weren’t people you could trust,” she says. “… We saw a lot of kindness that first Christmas party.”
But it was more than just kindness and gifts she and her family received at that party.
“The very first party that we went to at Bethany First Church was the first time I can remember being prayed for,” she remembers. “That was the first time somebody prayed for me—that I heard what Christmas was. [My mom] didn’t ever talk to us about about a Savior being born on this day, and that he would eventually die for us … to die so that I didn’t have to be ashamed—that I didn’t have to pay for my mother’s sins or for my own sins.
“Had I never been invited to that party, I might never have been prayed for,” Michelle says. “I might never have known what the holiday was about … that it meant more than presents.”
Today, Michelle is a member of Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, worshiping alongside some of those same people who prayed for her at that Christmas party. And in December, she and her four children join the O’Bannons and others at the church in organizing the church’s annual Angel Tree Christmas party, providing gifts—and more—to other families in need.
“For me, Angel Tree started with gifts,” Michelle says, “but it brought caring and hope into my life.”
Michelle’s story is one of many examples of how God has used faithful men and women to change lives and families through Angel Tree. If you and your church are interested in serving prisoners and their families Angel Tree in the coming year, visit www.angeltree.org/registration to find out how to become an Angel Tree church for 2015.