Last night I joined a group of men to deliver gifts to five homes in Tupelo as part of the Angel Tree program sponsored by Prison Fellowship. Right now there are an estimated 1.5 million children in America who have a parent in prison. Through Angel Tree, those children receive Christmas gifts purchased and delivered by members of local congregations but given in the name of the mother or father in prison.
Two weeks ago Mickey Aldy arranged for our men’s Bible study to take gifts to 15 children whose names he had received from Prison Fellowship. We were given a brother and sister whose mother is in prison. I took the gifts to church where they were sorted and placed into a big black plastic bag. Mickey and Bert Duncan color-coordinated them according to the five stops we were making, using red, green, yellow, white and orange pipe cleaners to tie the top of the bags.
Because it was dark and drizzly, we had a hard time finding each address. And it was awkward, I suppose, having ten men you’ve never met come piling into your home even though they knew we were coming. At the first home Mickey told the family, “These gifts are not from us. We give them in the name of your father who couldn’t be here tonight. He wants the kids to know how much he loves them.” The woman of the house (the grandmother, I think) nodded and listened. When Mickey said, “Christmas is all about Jesus,” she said, “That’s right.” And when he said, “We have to love each other,” she added, “All year long.” Then Mickey asked her and the others in the room, “Do you know Jesus?” Yes, they did. So we all joined hands and prayed, closing with a united and heartfelt “Amen!"
On to the next house–-the “red” stop. We clambered out with the huge bag of gifts. There were, I think, five or six kids in the house being cared for by their uncle and aunt. In situations like this, you aren’t totally sure of all the family connections, and it doesn’t really matter. We were welcomed with great smiles and wide eyes from the kids. I met “our” two children who were sweet and shy and uncertain about what to do. Their uncle thanked us profusely and said, “I know their mother loves them and they love her.” And he added, “We believe in Jesus in this home.” I didn’t doubt it. You could feel the presence of the Lord.
Two more stops, one of them with six children being cared for by a young lady. It was a very small apartment, sparsely furnished, and they were gathered round a TV. They seemed happy to receive the gifts. At our final stop we crowded into an even smaller apartment. When the time came to pray, the man of the house raised his arms toward heaven and said, “This is what I’ve been waiting for."
As we made our way back to the church, someone said “I don’t have a problem in the world.” “Neither do I,” came the reply. And so the gifts were given, children smiled, and because of Angel Tree the world seems like a better place tonight.