The sun inched its way through the gray winter sky toward the horizon. Jack wished he could see it. It had been four years since he had seen a real sunset. But far more than that, he wanted to see Leah. His only child, now seven years old, couldn’t even remember a time when Daddy wasn’t in jail. Most of the time he could handle the guilt and separation, but tomorrow was Christmas, and she was without him again. Was she thinking of him? Did she know how much he loved her? His rough hands wiped the tears from his face as the sun set on another Christmas Eve behind bars.
The sun peeked its fiery brow over the edge of the distant hills, ready to burst into brilliant light. Leah couldn’t stay in bed any longer…it was Christmas! She raced out to the living room of her small apartment to where her mother slept on the couch.
“Get up, Mama! It’s Christmas!”
Leah’s mother, Sherri, blinked at the smiling face of her daughter. In spite of their meager circumstances, it was a happy day. Christmas hadn’t always been that way, but this year held a special surprise.
Sherri fixed a quick breakfast and then let Leah tear into her gifts. After opening a few small ones, she saw a big, beautifully wrapped box near the back of the tree. Her eyes widened as Sherri placed the gift in her lap.
“It’s for you, sweetie. Look who it’s from.”
Leah scrunched her eyebrows, studying the tag. Suddenly her face lit up.
“Daddy?” she whispered.
Sherri nodded, tears filling her eyes. It was the first gift she had received from him since he had been in prison. Leah hesitated, then carefully pulled back the shiny paper. She froze.
“It’s…it’s a My Girl doll! And she looks just like me! But, Mama, how did…”
“A special angel helped Daddy get you exactly what you wanted for Christmas. And a very sweet lady is coming over tomorrow to tell us more about it. Won’t that be nice?”
“Yessssss!” Leah jumped up and held her new friend at arm’s length, spinning in circles until she was too dizzy to stand. Sherri watched her, wiping her eyes. Most Christmases were filled with sad, lonely tears, but these were good ones. Good ones made possible by a program called Angel Tree .
There are 1.7 million children children in this country with a Mother or Father serving time in prison. Often, Christmas is the most poignant reminder to them of the void this leaves in their lives. They long for the family togetherness most of us take for granted. And they wonder, sadly, “Does Daddy remember me?” “Does Mommy still love me?”
This life-changing program of Prison Fellowship provides children of inmates with gifts at Christmas on behalf of their incarcerated parents, so the answer to these questions can be a resounding “Yes!”. And, far-reaching beyond Christmas, it also provides the eternal gift of the Gospel of Christ to families torn apart by imprisonment.
Working with local churches and donations, Angel Tree delivers not only gifts, but the assurance to these precious children and families that they are not forgotten or alone. And through year-round evangelism and discipleship programs, a lasting difference can be made in their lives. It is the “pure and undefiled religion” of James 1:27 in action. It is healing, restoration and hope. Hope given and received on both sides of the bars.