James Ackerman is the CEO of Prison Fellowship® and a longtime Angel Tree® volunteer. The following story was originally published for Jubilee®, and is reprinted here with permission.
THE REASON OUR FAMILY LOVES ANGEL TREE
As a volunteer with Prison Fellowship inside and outside of prison, I have seen the impact Angel Tree has on incarcerated fathers and mothers. I have been astounded at how much it softens the heart of a hardened criminal when he discovers that a complete stranger went and delivered a gift to his child on his behalf.
Angel Tree's impact on my own family has been just as profound. Along with our kids, Lily and Holden, my wife Martha and I have been participating in Angel Tree every Christmas for more than a decade. When our children were young, we thought it would be a fun way for them to participate in the real meaning of Christmas---that, like Jesus, our mission in life is to give rather than receive.
Lily and Holden would each pick a boy or a girl around their own age. Martha and I would take them to the store to buy the gift that a parent behind bars had suggested, and then wrapped them and brought them back to the church. We also delivered gifts to prisoners' families in person.
As a family, we have loved continuing to do gift deliveries each year. When we offer to pray for families, they always say "yes," and some ask if they can pray for us, too. We have been invited to join families for meals. We have built bridges. We are humbled by and appreciative of the opportunity to be part of a broader community than we would have known without Angel Tree in our lives.
As Christmas approaches, I am grateful for the many people we have met through Angel Tree. I am grateful for the generosity of our partners and volunteers, which will bring comfort, encouragement, and connection to many families this Christmas. And I am grateful for Angel Tree’s steady reminder that Jesus came to give His life for others, and when we also give, no matter how small the gift may seem, we are walking in His footsteps.