In the summer of 1974, Charles W. "Chuck" Colson, the former special prosecutor for President Richard Nixon, entered the gates of Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama. There he would serve seven months, having plead guilty to an obstruction of justice charge connected to the Watergate break-in and cover-up.
Prison is, by its very nature, a lonely, isolating place. And this is especially true during the holidays, when families are separated by thick walls and iron bars. For Chuck Colson, the Christmas of 1974 was one spent far away from his wife and kids.
In a commentary for the Christian Post, Chuck's son, Chris, reflects on those days separated from his father. And while he remembers the pain of being apart during the holidays, he also sees how that incarceration was, ultimately, a gift—both to his family, and to many others.
I can say with the benefit of hindsight that my dad's prison sentence was the best thing that ever happened to him and our family," Chris says. "Instead of a curse, it was a gift. ... And God didn't just use my father's scandal and incarceration to bless our immediate family; because of the time he served, my dad went on to found Prison Fellowship almost 40 years ago. Through the prison ministry movement he helped to launch, God's love, grace, and truth have transformed countless lives."
Chris tells how his father partnered with Mary Kay Beard, a former bank robber who was once on the FBI's "most wanted" list, to start Angel Tree, a ministry that provides Christmas gifts, as well as the Gospel, to the children of incarcerated parents every year. In the over 30 years since the program was launched, over 10 million gifts have been distributed to kids on behalf of their parents behind bars.
"Over and over again, former prisoners tell us that their life transformation began when followers of Christ loved their families unconditionally," Chris says. "A season of despair became a time of renewal and preparation. They learned to lead their families and contribute to their communities after they were released. Take it from me: that's the very best gift a prisoner's family can receive."
PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE PRISONER
At Christmastime, we remember the gift of God's son, sent to redeem us from our sins and to restore us to our Heavenly Father. But it is also important to remember that God has called us to share that Good News with those around us—to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners ... to set the oppressed free." Even in the midst of personal trial, God can use His people to be a blessing to others.
As we finish our Christmas errands and check off our final gift purchases, may we be reminded that the greatest gift was one that was already given over 2,000 years ago. By sharing the love of Christ, we become the means for God's grace to others—a gift that keeps giving.
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