One in 28 kids in America has an incarcerated parent who won't be home for Christmas this year.
I'll never forget one January day in the penitentiary. My cellie was a big, tattooed, gangster-type guy. He was hard, with no love in him—or so I thought.
That day, I saw him sitting up on his bunk, crying. He had signed his kids up for Angel Tree®, and some volunteers had brought them Christmas gifts in his name. Afterward, the volunteers sent my cellie a card with a picture of his kids, holding their gifts and smiling.
A simple card made that tough man break down crying.
He wondered why total strangers would care about his kids. What had he ever done to deserve that kind of love—that just showed up with no strings attached?
That was a pivotal point in my cellie's existence. His tough exterior melted. He started going to chapel and asking questions about Jesus. Eventually, he gave his life to God.
HOW ANGEL TREE RESTORES FAMILIES
One in 28 children in America have an incarcerated parent. Many of these children suffer heartache, loneliness, and shame. They are also some of America's most at-risk kids, twice as likely to suffer major depression, attention disorders, and other mental health problems. They are four times more likely than their peers to grow up in poverty, and three times more likely to one day be involved in the criminal justice system themselves.
Angel Tree is a Prison Fellowship® program that serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families. 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 mom or dad behind bars. In addition, many of our partner churches meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of prisoners' families through year-round ministry such as summer camps and mentoring.
GIFTS WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Since I've been out, I've volunteered to deliver Angel Tree gifts with my biker friends. We go around on motorcycles with bags full of presents and deliver gifts to kids in the name of their parent behind bars. I'll never get tired of the smile on those children's faces when they rip off the wrapping paper and say, "This is from my Daddy?"
When a child receives a gift from a loving parent, they accept it with joy and gratitude. They don't let fear, shame, or pride hold them back from a good thing—but sometimes we do, don't we? We could all learn a thing or two from those kids.
This article was adapted from a recent edition of Inside Journal®, Prison Fellowship®’s newspaper written specifically for incarcerated men and women.
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