Prisoners’ Kids and the State of the Union

President Bush last week gave another magnificent and memorable challenge to the nation in his State of the Union Address. He defined the crisis of our day with a combination of plain talk and unforgettable rhetoric. He summoned the nation to rise to the challenges in foreign policy, the war against terrorism, and challenges on the domestic front.   I was especially thrilled that the president reaffirmed his commitment to faith-based solutions and specifically singled out the children of prisoners. I've talked with the president about Angel Tree, and I know that reaching these kids is something about which he cares deeply.   Mark Earley, the new president of Prison Fellowship, was at the White House Friday morning with the president when the president named Jim Towey to head the White House Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives. I know Towey well, having worked with him when he was an aid to former Senator Mark Hatfield. He's an able man with great experience, once having worked for Mother Teresa and then as director of health and rehabilitative services in Florida.   The president spoke about having "faith in faith" to meet needs of the country and especially to care for those with broken lives -- like the children of prisoners. After the meeting, Mark Earley was able to stay behind and talk with Jim Towey about what Prison Fellowship is already doing to meet the president's objectives.   We've had an historic opportunity with Angel Tree this year, reaching 615,000 kids. And with the help of technology -- that is, matching churches and children by computer -- we can greatly expand that number in the future.   And Angel Tree reaches far beyond Christmas.   In his address, the president said, "We need mentors to love children, especially children whose parents are in prison." Angel Tree mentoring kits will be sent out to all of our partner churches in February so that these kids can be mentored on a year-round basis. And in the summer, churches are sponsoring a prisoner's child with Rich and Helen DeVos scholarships to send them to summer camp. Four thousand went last year.   The president has issued the challenge, and Christians ought to get behind his faith-based efforts and support them in Congress in particular. That's not necessarily because they provide federal aid to certain ministries who might qualify -- Prison Fellowship, for one, won't be looking for this. But it's because it's a signal to the nation that the answer to our social needs is found, not in government, but in the Gospel. The president has stuck his neck out for us, and we've got to do our part to push his efforts forward.   Even more importantly, however, he summoned the nation to restore what was once the great cardinal virtue of American life: A sense of civic responsibility and duty. And he summoned us to compassion. But the church shouldn't need any kind of special urging. The Bible, after all, calls us to do these things.   Because of the president's leadership, the eyes of the country are on armies of compassion. I say, staff them with the church. Let's let people see the life- changing power of the Gospel. What a witness it can be to our nation and the world as they see lives transformed. And a great place to start is with those million and a half children of inmates who are otherwise destined for a life of hopelessness and crime. So Christians, as the president said, "Let's roll."       For further reading: Joseph Loconte, God, Government and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and Peril of the President's Faith-Based Agenda (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, October 2001).   Learn more about Angel Tree here.   President George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address can be read here.   Find out about the Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives here.   "President Names New Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Director," White House Office of the Press Secretary, 1 February 2002.  


Chuck Colson



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