When a parent is sentenced to prison, he's not the only one being punished. The children suffer too. How especially tough it is for them at Christmas time. During today's broadcast, we welcome Mary Kay Beard and Garland Hunt to discuss Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program, that enables you and your church to show the love of Christ to inmates' families.
The Angel Tree Program, which has been part of Prison fellowship's work for almost three decades, has served six million children and brought the love of Christ as well as reconciliation to countless homes during the Christmas season. Chuck Colson believed deeply in this work. And this year, your help and participation is wanted more than ever!
But do you know the story of Angel Tree? Have you heard why, as John Stonestreet says, it had the power to "bring a tear to Chuck's eye?" In this week's program, we'll hear from the founder of Angel Tree, whose story has inspired a generation of those ministering to the incarcerated, as well as the current President of Prison Fellowship, who explains why Angel Tree is key to the ongoing mission of equipping the Church to make a difference among "the least of these."
Mary Kay Beard, Ex-Convict and Founder of Angel Tree
From Angel Tree: "Mary Kay was a safe-cracker, a bank robber, and one of America’s Most Wanted Arrested in June of 1972, she quickly collected 11 federal indictments and 35 charges against her. But her 180-year sentence turned into a six-year sentence—during which time she asked God to change her hardened heart."
And that's exactly what happened. Through her experience in prison, Beard gained a deep appreciation for estrangement and brokenness of the incarcerated from their families, and how a simple act can give hope, and change the lives of those on both sides of the bars.
That's why she founded Angel Tree, and why she considers it perhaps the greatest way God has used her since He first changed her heart in prison.
"I am both awed and humbled to have been a part of something so enormously effective," says Mary. "Being there at the beginning—I consider it one of the highest privileges of my life."
For Mary, Angel Tree represents an awe-inspiring testimony to prisoners and their families of the Gospel: "The very first Christmas gift," she reminds us, "was a child." For those desperate for forgiveness and those desperate for a parent's love, the simple opportunity to give or receive a gift at Christmas breaks down the barriers which isolate family members in prison from those outside, and makes the story of a God who loves us no matter what come to life like few other things.
Mary tells her incredible story in full during this week's program.
Garland Hunt, President of Prison Fellowship
Garland Hunt, who now serves as president of Prison Fellowship, has a long history ministering to and working with the incarcerated as well as communities damaged by crime. In his assessment, Angel Tree offers something no other outreach does: a chance for absolutely any member of the Church to become involved in reconciling prisoners to their families through a simple, but beautiful act. He's seen first hand what happens when prisoners get the chance to let their children know they care.
"[Prisoners] want to express their love to their children..." explains Garland. "It's very clear that a prisoner is going to do much better while he's in prison and even upon re-entry when he is reconciled back with his family...It's a bridge of the relationship to the parent. It says, 'Your father and mother remember you, and they still love you. This is on their behalf, and also on behalf of the love of Jesus.'"
"It has been estimated that there are 1.7 million children in the United States who have children in prison," he says. "We have close to 2,000 facilities that have sent applications. This represents prisoners inside facilities who have said, 'I want my child to be ministered to this Christmas.' As a result, we're estimating this year that...we will have over 400,000 children who will be reached with a gift. We might not reach every child, but we want to reach every child whose father or mother who signed up for a gift...It's almost like Jesus with the sheep—how he'll leave the ninety-nine to go find the one. Every child counts."
"But we need churches," Garland emphasizes, "to take the assignments and say, 'yes, we will take a gift to this child.'"
Want to get involved? Here's how: Visit www.AngeTree.org. There you can watch an informative video explaining how Angel Tree works, as well as sign your church up to participate. You can also talk to one of the Angel Tree staffers directly by calling 1-800-55-ANGEL.
To sign up to participate in Angel Tree, check out their site, at www.AngelTree.org >>CLICK HERE.