We don’t always know what's coming when we show up on a stranger's front porch.
Every year, Angel Tree® volunteers across the country arrive at local families' homes to deliver Christmas gifts to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. Last December, Prison Fellowship's Emily Andrews accompanied her church's Angel Tree team to deliver gifts around Northern Virginia. This story captures the memory of what they gave—and what they unexpectedly received—on their journey to deliver joy to strangers' doorsteps.
LETTING GOD LEAD
By Emily Andrews
"You never really know what you're going to get when you knock on someone's door," Deb, an Angel Tree coordinator, told me halfway to our first gift delivery. More church volunteers tailed behind us, their cars brimming with plentiful gifts and just enough umbrellas. Though the morning sky threatened rain, spirits were high.
It was mid-December, the time when many Angel Tree Christmas volunteers conduct the season's grand finale: home deliveries. This was my first time joining an Angel Tree delivery as a Prison Fellowship® staff member. Our delivery team had been in contact with most of the families on our list, so we knew who should be home and whose gifts we should deliver another day.
"That's just how it goes," one volunteer explained with a chuckle. "You roll with it and let God do the rest."
Denise: 'Pray for Their Daddy'
Denise* came to the door on our second knock, baby on hip and coffee in hand. We scooted in quickly before we let the warm air out. She thanked us in the dim foyer, explaining that her kids had been sick, so they’d see the presents later. One boy, no older than 10, popped his head up from the living room sofa and grinned.
We took the cue not to stay long and asked if they had any prayer requests. Denise nodded. "Please pray for our health," she sighed. Her eyes were tired. "And pray for their daddy. We hope to go see him soon."
Jannya and Juan: A Treasured Gift
At another home stop, we met Jannya and her 11-year-old son, Juan. Neither spoke much English, but Jannya knew why we were there. She whispered in Juan's ear, and the shy boy's face lit up. When we handed him the gift from his dad, he clutched it and spun around.
I knew enough Spanish to make a little conversation with Juan. He said he loves playing outside and enjoys school. In the small living room, under dainty string lights, he showed me their Charlie-Brown-sized Christmas tree and placed his gift beneath it proudly. I saw one other gift beside it.
We offered prayer before leaving, and the family welcomed it. Juan grabbed his mother's hand and clasped his gift against his chest.
Alyssa and Ella: 'Always at the Perfect Time'
We had trouble finding the next apartment. Alyssa was grateful when we finally knocked on her door. She was a bit sheepish—"Sorry for the mess!"—but we waved off her apology. Her daughter, Ella, leapt out of a blanket fort by the TV. The 4-year-old cradled like a baby doll the gift we handed her.
"Are you excited for your present from Dad—" Alyssa barely finished.
"Yes!" Ella replied.
"Angel Tree always comes at the perfect time," Alyssa told us. "I just want my baby to have a good holiday and feel loved. Angel Tree helps that happen."
The surprise under the giftwrap, we learned, was a princess doll. Merry Christmas to my little princess, her dad wrote.
LETTING GOD LEAD
As a little girl, Angel Tree was all I knew of Prison Fellowship—that, and the Charles Colson books my dad kept in his office. The bold title How Now Shall We Live? always intrigued me. It's no surprise that the nonprofit Colson founded helps answer that question with instrumental programs like Angel Tree—an effort to show the love of Christ in a tangible way to hurting families.
We set out that day with lots of presents and no expectations. Our delivery list was long, with several knocks on doors left unanswered. But we silently promised that we would follow up with each family. We went home thankful that we’d left our warm fireplaces and, as the volunteer put it, let God lead. With each simple gift, we gave much more—a reminder that each child is precious to their parent in prison and to God.
A volunteer recalled, "One year, we delivered to a little boy who ran to the door and said, 'I knew it! I knew my dad wouldn't forget me. I knew it.'"
We don't always know what's coming when we show up on a stranger's front porch. But I know Angel Tree delivers hope—for prisoners, for families, for all of us.
*Some names were changed for privacy.
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