Welcoming Children Beyond the Christmas Reach
Lueida knows the joys—and the hard work—of Angel Tree®.
"Every year I say I am not going to do Angel Tree again, but I do, because it is such a remarkable program," she says. "On Christmas Day I sit home with a big smile on my face. I say, 'Lord, just thank You for giving me the health, strength, knowledge, and expertise to be able to get the children placed and to get donations.'"
For Lueida, Angel Tree is more than just a Christmas program; it's her passion. For decades she has reached out to prisoners' children year-round in greater Cleveland, Ohio.
REMEMBERING ANGEL TREE KIDS
In 1985, Lueida was an active Prison Fellowship® volunteer, concentrating her efforts on in-prison programs. When she heard about a new project called Angel Tree, Lueida jumped aboard. That first year Lueida's team provided gifts for six children. Over the next 10 years, that number soared to more than 7,000 Angel Tree kids.
In December 1991, Lueida spearheaded a team delivering gifts and groceries to "her" Angel Tree family. At the door she was greeted by a 5-year-old girl. The experience made an impact on Lueida's heart, and when the child's grandmother said, "I don't get a chance to take the children to church, but I try to teach them what I can about the Bible," Lueida replied, "Well, you know what? We are just going to start a Bible study."
"I don't know why I said it," she shares. But a promise is a promise, and "the next week, at the Angel Tree Christmas party, I [handed out] applications asking if parents would be interested in the children attending Bible studies. … The first night in January, we had about 200 children." And just as amazing, they had enough volunteers to handle them all.
CHRISTIANS UNITED FOR ANGEL TREE KIDS
The Bible studies project continues to grow. Now the ministry is shared by volunteers from 25 congregations. "We are Christians working in unity as one body. We involve the suburbs, the west side, the east side, all together … No one person is doing everything. Many people are involved, and every one of them is important."
Do the kids speak up? Participate? "Do they ever!" says Lueida. "They give prayer requests about teachers and friends. They give wonderful testimonies of God's work in their lives."
GOING BEYOND CHRISTMAS
Once a month on a weekday "family night," Bible study participants may invite their family and friends to the church for dinner provided by the congregations.
"The mothers and fathers come in and get a chance to meet the volunteers," says Lueida.
Through the Bible studies, activities, and suppers, a number of families have been drawn into a church. "The whole thing is teaching spiritual insight and teaching how to accept God's blessing and how to give Him something back in return. We do see a lot of [spiritual growth] in the children. And some of the [prisoners] who have come home have seen such a change in the families that they are going to church."
That kind of reward spurs Lueida to continue her ministry, organizing teams, encouraging other volunteers, and presenting the Angel Tree vision to new churches.
All because in December 1991, Lueida made an Angel Tree kid a promise, and then set out to keep it.
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