If you've always thought of Angel Tree as a gift-giving program that benefits only children, then I've got a terrific story for you — about how Angel Tree can turn around the lives of parents in prison.
Jeffery grew up in a home that scorned Christianity. Instead, his father taught him to take what he wanted — and he did, stealing everything from a bicycle to a car. He was just 14 years old the first time he landed in jail.
As an adult, he and his brother and father took part in a spectacular crime that made headlines: Robbing the Stardust Casino in Los Vegas. The take? Over a million dollars. But they were soon apprehended, and Jeffery ended up in a Texas prison.
It was a devastating blow to Jeffery's 5-year-old daughter, Amanda. “She adored me,” Jeffery recalls. “I was her world. I destroyed it by going to prison.”
Little did Jeffery know that prison — and Amanda — would lead to his salvation. In his Texas prison, the only room that had air conditioning was the chapel. On blazing hot days, Jeffery would sit in the back, trying to keep cool. He ignored the service until the day the chaplain began telling them about Angel Tree, Prison Fellowship's gift-giving program for the children of inmates. Jeffery immediately signed up Amanda, thinking it would be good for his lonely little girl to know her daddy still cared about her and was thinking about her.
That December, a letter came to him from Amanda. “Merry Christmas!” she wrote. “I love you, Amanda.”
Jeffery felt emotion rising up in him, but he fought it. “Where I was, in prison, you don't cry,” he explained. “It says you're weak and a victim. ... The only way God got to me was through my daughter — the only weak spot I had.”
The breakthrough would come on Christmas Eve, when Jeffery's sister brought Amanda to visit him. The excited little girl could not stop talking about the Angel Tree volunteers who’d brought her Christmas gifts from her daddy. They had told her about how God loved her and forgave her for her sins. And then Amanda told her father that she loved and forgave him, too.
“I went to chapel after that and fell apart,” Jeffery recalls. He began reading the scriptures. And when he was released he entered seminary, and for the last few years has worked as a hospice chaplain, offering comfort and God's love to those about to die. As for Amanda — now grown up — she offers God's love and hope to women behind bars.
It's amazing, isn't it, what a few Christmas gifts can achieve? It not only strengthens the bond between a child and a parent in prison, it can also lead to salvation for even the most hardened inmates.
Even as I speak, Angel Tree volunteers from churches across the country are beginning to deliver Christmas gifts to the children of prisoners — on behalf of their incarcerated parents and in the name of Jesus. It blows me away to think that other amazing stories of transformation — like Jeffery’s and Amanda’s — are happening right this very minute.
But we need your help, and there’s still time for you to get involved in Angel Tree. First, the donations of Angel Tree supporters make this ministry possible. Please, call 1-800-55-Angel. And especially in the Chicago area, in Florida, Michigan, and Texas, we could still use volunteers to help purchase and deliver gifts. Can you help? Again, please call 1-800-55-Angel to donate or volunteer.
Or of course, you can always visit AngelTree.org. Thank you so much! You never know what might ultimately result from that Angel Tree gift: Anything from a joyful Christmas for a lonely child, to eternal salvation for a hardened criminal.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: December 12, 2012