Dick and Larry know firsthand how much Angel Tree Christmas means to incarcerated dads.
"Angel Tree is kind of the center of our Christmas every year," says Dick Wall of Houston, Texas.
Each December—usually on Christmas Eve—Dick and his wife Betty deliver gifts to children with an incarcerated parent. They share the Gospel and offer to pray with the family. But Dick goes even further than that. At the end of the visit, he snaps a photo of the kids with their gifts. Later, he prints and mails it—along with a personal note—to the parent in prison.
It's a small gesture, but Dick knows firsthand how much it can mean.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Dick first heard about Angel Tree® Christmas not at his church but from the prisoners he was mentoring. He has, in his words, "seen it in action on the other side." Dick has served inside prisons for a quarter of a century—since 1996. Now he volunteers alongside a friend named Bob, who teaches Sunday School at their church, Christ Evangelical Presbyterian.
"We've got a standard offer," Dick explains. "We say, 'When you get out of here, if you can make it to our church and go to Bob's Sunday School class, we will buy you lunch and drive you home afterwards.'" They've had many takers over the years, including several men who have become regular attenders.
Because Dick works with incarcerated men, he knows how much it means to them to be able to give a gift to their children. And sometimes, he even gets a reply to his note, like the one he received from a man named Gary.
EXPLODING WITH JOY
"Angel Tree has been part of my family's lives for the last four years," Gary's letter reads. "Each year we were tremendously blessed, but this year was different. Maybe it was because of my children's ages (10 and 8), or maybe it was because of the persons presenting the gifts, but this year was special. When I spoke to my children on the phone, the both of them were exploding with happiness and thankfulness and joy." (See Gary's letter below.)
Dick remembers Gary’s family. They met at a playground outside their apartment because of COVID-19 concerns. Dick recalls that he could tell the children were close to their dad, which is not always the case. And he remembers that he and Betty prayed with them after they gave them their gifts.
"What a happy time it is for everybody when you deliver those presents," Dick says.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
It's not always easy to recruit people to deliver gifts, says Larry Dawson, who coordinates Angel Tree Christmas at Christ Evangelical Presbyterian. Many would rather purchase or organize the presents. But recently, encouragement from the pastors has gone a long way to attract more delivery volunteers—including some members of church staff who assist in a unique way.
"There are certain families that only speak Spanish," Larry explains. "We have several staff members now who are Spanish-speaking and help out with that, both in contacting the families initially and delivering the gifts."
Last year, an Angel Tree family moved 80 miles away to a small rural community. But Larry, who also volunteers at the local prison, was determined that they would get their gifts as usual.
"My wife and I are retired, so we have the time. We just decided we'll make a day trip of it," he says. "They were very appreciative. And we tried a little restaurant that we never heard of to eat lunch. It was a fun excursion."
ADVANCING THE KINGDOM
For Dick, Larry, and their wives, Angel Tree Christmas is worth whatever time and effort it requires.
"It really is a highlight for our year," Larry says. "I see it as a way I can serve God with whatever gifts I have. It is meaningful when we can actually go and spend some time with the families and talk to them and pray with them. I really see it as being used by God to advance the Kingdom of God."
From sending photos to turning deliveries into daytrips, these men are more than happy to go the extra mile. And for incarcerated parents like Gary, these gestures are priceless.
Gary's letter is included below. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
December 24, 2020
Merry Christmas and happy New Year. I pray that you are healthy, safe, and well during this holiday season and beyond.
I first want to thank you for your faithfulness to God in allowing yourself to be used by Him, as a blessing to others. Angel Tree has been a part of my family's lives for about the last four years. Each year we were tremendously blessed, but this year was different. … This year was special. When I spoke to my children on the phone, [both] were exploding with happiness and thankfulness and joy. "Thank you, Daddy, for the gifts!" "Daddy, I love my gifts!" "Thank you, Daddy" over and over. I could hear it in their voices. "My Daddy" got me something for Christmas.
Can you imagine a child, as he longs for his father to be at home with him, longs for his daddy to be home for Christmas, when this child receives something from that daddy, it's the greatest gift of all. … That's what you gave my family!
Now at the same time, I was put in an awkward situation, because my children were saying "Thank you, Daddy, thank you, Daddy." … But I am not the type of person to receive credit for something I did not do, so I shifted the thanks to God for bringing people (you two) into our lives to bless us at this moment.
So, as I thank my Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ for allowing my family to have this special Christmas, I also want to thank you again and share with you how special you have made our family's Christmas. I thank you for the gifts, I thank you for your time, I thank you for your love, [and] I thank you for the pictures (much needed), which were a great gift to me. I thank you so much!
—Gary, Angel Tree Father
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