There are few things that thrill me more at Christmas time than Angel Tree! When I went to prison 35 years ago, my greatest concern was not for myself but for my family. I and other inmates anguished over ways to show our families we still loved them.
That’s why, when Prison Fellowship staffer and ex-bank robber Mary Kay Beard began Angel Tree 30 years ago, I knew immediately that we could reach those families who suffer so much at Christmas. Since that beginning, Angel Tree has brought the message of Christ’s love to millions of prisoners’ children through volunteers who deliver gifts to them on behalf of their incarcerated parents.
Every year, Patty and I bring gifts to one or two of these children. For me, it just wouldn’t seem like Christmas without Angel Tree. The same is true for a young man named Robert.
At 10, Robert watched his dad handcuffed and driven away to prison. To keep the family afloat, Robert’s mom packed up and moved them from their comfortable home in the country to a gang-ridden urban neighborhood. As she struggled to put bread on the table, she warned her children that Christmas might not look like much that first year without their dad.
On Christmas morning, Robert woke up to find a bare room and his mother crying on the couch. He went over to her and wrapped his arms around her. He told her that he did not mind that they didn’t have any gifts; that they were not all that important.
But her tears were tears of joy. She told Robert to go look out on their front porch. There he saw gifts piled high, some with labels with his dad’s name on them. They were Angel Tree gifts, given by volunteers from a local church. But Robert did not know that at the time. All he knew was that his dad loved him and remembered him.
Robert and his family began attending the church that had been so generous. And when Robert’s father was released from prison, he began attending the church as well. Over the next few years, Robert dabbled in gang activity and even dropped out of high school, but through it all, the church was there supporting his family and reminding him of Christ’s love.
Robert became a committed believer and eventually signed on as the youth pastor of that same church. And every year, he and his wife sign up to purchase gifts for Angel Tree children.
Doesn’t that give you a marvelous picture of what the Advent season is really all about? God entered into our darkness with light in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. And that light, the Light of the world, changes us and enables us to spread the light to others.
To learn more about how you can continue to spread the light of hope to the hopeless through Angel Tree, call 1-800-55-ANGEL (800-552-6435). We’re out to reach 400,000 children this year — that’s up 10 percent from last year. Usually, a donation of $12.58 provides one child with a gift and the Gospel message. But this year, thanks to a generous matching grant, your gift will go twice as far; so $12.58 will provide a gift and the Gospel to two children of prisoners.
And if you call now, your church can still sign up to deliver gifts! It’s not too late!
Please, even if you are unable to make a donation, pray that families would be reconciled and lives would be transformed this Christmas through Angel Tree. As the saying goes, all the darkness in the world cannot overcome the light of one small candle. This Advent, light a candle and spread the light.