"I can't believe you want to know my story. No one has ever asked me my story. No one has ever cared before."
That's what one woman said at a family retreat designed for moms and female caregivers of prisoners' children. She couldn't get over her surprise—surprise that someone cared about her situation.
Picture her sitting by a campfire on a cool August night. It's the same wooded place where her children attended a week of Prison Fellowship®'s Angel Tree® camp a few months before. They had probably come home bursting with stories to tell—from swimming and horseback riding, to making new friends, to learning about Jesus at evening chapel.
Now she's telling her own story, maybe through tears, seated around a fire with women she might not have met anywhere else. These women share her struggles. Each one speaks in turn, baring even the darkest parts of their pasts, under a canopy of stars.
This isn't just a place to make s'mores. It's a place to start healing.
Sometimes the first step is knowing you're not alone.
ONE FAMILY FOREVER CHANGED
That's how another mom, Bethany, felt attending a retreat at Camp David of the Ozarks, a long-time Angel Tree Camping® partner. Her son Clayton was the first of her four children to attend Camp David on an Angel Tree scholarship.
When Clayton came home, Bethany knew something had changed. He had given his life to Christ, and prayed that God would help him deal with the anger, hurt, and shame he felt having a father in prison.
"As a mom, it is heart wrenching to see your children suffer," says Bethany. "I constantly felt like I was fighting a losing battle. 'Don't feel ashamed' versus 'Sh, honey, people get uncomfortable when you mention where your dad is.'"
Then Bethany went to a retreat at Camp David, where volunteers and other caregivers simply "get it," she says. "This was life-changing for me. While everyone else abandoned us, God had not, and He finally provided me with the relationships I needed to be the mom my kids needed."
GIVING HOPE ALL YEAR
Caregivers of children with parents in prison bear seemingly endless burdens. A 2014 report by Rutgers University cited stigma and shame, physical and emotional stress, increased financial strain, and lack of external resources as common struggles among these families.
Angel Tree Camping® is an opportunity for Angel Tree churches to keep connected with the families they served at Christmas. Children get a week away from home that lets them stretch their horizons and exposes them to the message of Christ's love. The caregiver gets a week of respite. And the incarcerated parent may be deeply moved to know that his or her child was cared for in this special way.
You can help prisoners' families create a memory that can long outlast the summer! Click here to find out more.