Forgotten Victims of Crime

Today "BreakPoint" is bringing you Christmas in July. Take your mind off the summer heat and jump ahead with me to December. Every year at Christmas, Prison Fellowship runs one of my favorite programs. It's called Angel Tree, and it's a way for volunteers to give Christmas gifts to children whose fathers or mothers are behind bars. The vision for Angel Tree was born in the heart of Mary Kay Beard, herself a former prisoner. Mary Kay spent 6 Christmas seasons locked up, and every one of them is burned into her heart. Every December, as Mary Kay recalls, church groups would come to the prison and pass out presents. "They'd bring us small, practical gifts like toiletry items," she says--"toothpaste, soap, combs, and brushes." What the volunteers didn't know was that the prisoners wouldn't use the gifts, even though they often needed them badly. Instead, the women would carefully collect the little items--and then give them to their children. For many children, it was the only Christmas they had. These mothers had no income, Mary Kay explains, no way to go out shopping. The only thing they could do for their children at Christmas was to pass on the little combs and brushes handed out by the churches. It was all they had to give. You see, children are victims of their parents' crimes just as much as the public is. They have no control over what their parents do--yet they end up paying a steep price for it. Whenever a mother or father goes to prison, somewhere there's a child who loses a parent. Whenever a breadwinner is locked up, somewhere there's a child who goes hungry and wears tattered clothes. That's why, when Mary Kay was released from prison, she decided she would do something to help inmates' children. The answer was Angel Tree. Here's how it works. Any Christian church or group can run an Angel Tree program. Prison Fellowship will provide a list of children whose parents are in prison. You write the names on paper ornaments shaped like angels and hang the angels on a Christmas tree. Anyone who wants to participate chooses an angel and buys Christmas presents for that particular child. Why am I telling you about Angel Tree now, in the middle of July? Because if your organization would like to participate in Angel Tree this year--your church, your prayer group, your business--the time to begin is now. Everyone I know who's participated in Angel Tree tells me it's been a blessing for them, too: They say Angel Tree brings their own Christmas alive in a new way. It sure does for Patty and me every year. I think the highlight of our Christmas is when we walk in and watch that child's face light up when we say, This is from your mommy or daddy. Then we sit and talk about the Christ child. Angel Tree reminds us that the heart of Christmas is giving: that God gave His Son to us ... so we can give to others.


Chuck Colson


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