In 1989, Mayra Alemar was a single mother of three children. Homeless and with her husband incarcerated, she struggled to provide for her family.
"Christmas Eve, I received a package from someone who sent me a gift," she says. It was her family's first experience with Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship® that serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families. In Mayra's case, Angel Tree opened a door to hope.
"I realized I needed help," she says. "I needed help with [spirituality], I needed help with guidance, and I needed help with parenting."
Mayra reached out to a church and soon found a community that loved and supported her and her family. In 1997, she first began working with Prison Fellowship, and has been ever since. Today, Mayra is an Angel Tree program specialist for Prison Fellowship.
Mayra's story is just one of many mothers and families who have found abundant life through Angel Tree.
ABUNDANT LIFE TABERNACLE
Angel Tree volunteer Shaniqua Rogers is looking forward to an exciting day with the Angel Tree children and their families. Abundant Life Tabernacle has invited 300 children from the Bronx for a day of ice skating at Central Park.
"Oh, I'm excited about the kids and their reaction to what's going on because some people don't go to different places," Shaniqua explains, "so, this is going to be a great experience for everyone."
Every Christmas, Angel Tree mobilizes local churches and organizations to minister to hundreds of thousands of children by delivering a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their parent behind bars. In addition, Angel Tree also sponsors various sports clinics throughout the year.
"Not everyone can afford to go to Central Park ice skating," says Mayra. "So, this is wonderful for the mothers to have fun and … to connect with the other parents as well. And the children to see that they're not the only ones that have a dad or mom who is in prison."
'A CHURCH THAT'S OUT OF THE SEATS AND INTO THE STREETS'
For Shaniqua, the mission of Angel Tree is what touches her heart the most, especially when she gets the chance to see lives be transformed.
"People being saved," she says. "People coming to Christ … giving their life to Jesus—that's such an amazing thing for me. That's just exciting."
Mayra agrees. Angel Tree impacts families far beyond the holiday season. "It's not only with a gift," she says, "it's with a year-round ministry … with parenting and doing mentoring, sending the children to summer camps. There's so much that Prison Fellowship [offers] to the families of Angel Tree."
Indeed, it's the mission of Angel Tree that speaks to the church members at Abundant Life Tabernacle. What starts with a gift at Christmas can grow into a powerful ministry to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of prisoners' families.
"We are a church that's out of the seats and into the streets," explains Bishop Jasper Rolle, Jr., pastor of Abundant Life Tabernacle. "We need to touch people and give an account for our existence here—we cannot just be here and not have an accountability."
'WE'RE HERE FOR THEM'
Ninety percent of all the gifts Abundant Life hands out to Angel Tree families, either at Christmas parties or at the children's very own home, are bought by the parishioners of the church. The remaining presents are purchased by organizations in the community.
"We're here for them every year," says Bishop Jasper. "And it gets better and better."
"There's a lot of other people who are going through the same thing," says Mayra. "We need to come together as people in unity, and again presenting to them that Christ is the point here …
"It's just a matter of building a relationship and letting them know that we love them and that they are not forgotten by their parents that are in prison, and that the church in the community is here to support them."
DID YOU ENJOY THIS ARTICLE?
Make sure you don' t miss out on any of our helpful articles and incredible transformation stories! Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter, and you' ll get great content delivered directly to your inbox.
Your privacy is safe with us. We will never sell, trade, or share your personal information.