When Belinda's world turned upside down, Prison Fellowship® and a message of hope turned it around.
One day, Belinda's dad sat behind other proud parents at her high school graduation in San Diego, California. Weeks later, he sat behind prison bars.
"A lot of changes were happening, and we were just in survival mode," recalls Belinda, who was 17 when her father went to prison. Now she's 32. She'll never forget that first summer without Dad at home.
A SURPRISING CONNECTION
As a teen, Belinda had planned to attend college in New York, but she didn't feel comfortable leaving her family while Dad was away. Mom was juggling two jobs and three kids. Gas was expensive, so visits were sparse by the time Dad was transferred to a prison farther from home. Times were tough.
Belinda's dad had come to know Christ not long after he went to prison. He encouraged his family to get involved in a church, and they started attending Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon.
As Christmas approached, he signed up his children for Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship®. Angel Tree serves incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for restoring and strengthening their relationships with their children and families. Prison Fellowship mobilizes local churches and community organizations to give hundreds of thousands of children a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their incarcerated parent.
"My mom was hesitant to get something from Angel Tree at first," Belinda admits. "She didn't want to ask for handouts. But once she saw that it was a gift from Dad, and she saw the reaction of her kids, it meant so much. We weren't getting a gift from just anyone."
Volunteers from Shadow Mountain delivered the gifts that Belinda's dad suggested: lacrosse sticks for his daughters and Lemony Snickets' books for his son. Through Angel Tree, Belinda and her siblings also received their first Bibles that Christmas.
"Just to know that your dad is thinking about you and set aside time to think about you, it’s so special," Belinda explains. "And it's so personalized. That's what makes it different. Angel Tree really connects you and makes you aware that your parent is listening to what's going on in your life."
THE GIFT OF HOPE
"That's how we found Christ—through [Dad]," she adds. "He became really plugged in to Christian programming and developed a passion for Christ."
After his release from prison, Belinda's dad found a job through a connection at church. Now he works as a youth pastor.
Today Belinda lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband. She works at a health clinic as a marriage and family therapist. Now that she and her siblings are grown, her family is spread out all over the map—but she's thankful for the lasting connection she has with them, and with her dad, because of Angel Tree. And now she volunteers with the program at her church.
"It's a full-circle type of experience," says Belinda, "where I can bless other kids, knowing how important it is. It’s about the relationship of a parent and their child."
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