Prison Fellowship, the nation's largest prison ministry, recently partnered with the Baltimore Ravens and local churches to bring the gospel to children of incarcerated parents.
On Saturday, the prison ministry held a free daylong sports camp for more than 100 children under its Angel Tree program at the Ravens' practice facility in Owings Mills, Maryland, a venue known by local sports fans as "The Castle."
Prison Fellowship, which holds about two to three Angel Tree sports camps per month at various locations across the U.S., conducted Saturday's sports camp in collaboration with the Baltimore Ravens and Coca-Cola Consolidated. Local church members served as volunteers.
"The Angel Tree sports camps we've been doing for about 11 years, but this is the first time we've done an Angel Tree sports camp with the Baltimore Ravens," Prison Fellowship CEO James Ackerman told The Christian Post in an interview.
The camp ran for about three to four hours and included eight stations on the field that highlighted the main disciplines of football. For example, some stations covered throwing and receiving while others focused on blocking and tackling.
"So there's eight different stations. The majority of the kids who are coming out are middle school, high school age. As a football camp, the majority of them [are] boys," Ackerman said. "But there [are] a fair number of girls who come out as well."
Retired players and coaches participated in the sports camp since active players and coaches could not attend due to a game against the New England Patriots that weekend.
Following the sports exercises, participants took a lunch break and then listened to a talk about the gospel.
"And those talks [shared] about the Lord and stepping into new beginnings with Jesus," Ackerman explained.
Once the talk was over, the children went back to the stations. Toward the end of the day, women shared testimonies of raising kids while their husbands were in prison.
"The whole goal is to give the kids hope, right? Hope that you could maybe one day play for the NFL yourselves, hope that God has a purpose and plan for your life," Ackerman said.
"God has gifted you and has hope for you. And so that's the whole thesis of the entire trip."
Every child in attendance was also given a backpack filled with a pair of athletic shoes, a football and an age-appropriate Bible.
"So the kids, we want them to experience the ultimate hope that is stepping into a relationship with the Lord," Ackerman told The Christian Post. "But also the hope of being able to come out to a place that, to be frank, they would never otherwise have access to. And, you know, they're getting to train on the same field as their heroes that they watch on Sunday in the Ravens."
Prison Fellowship, founded by Chuck Colson in 1976, also serves children whose parents are in prison through its Angel Tree Christmas program. The program signs up incarcerated parents across the country so that the organization would deliver gifts to children on their parent's behalf.
In 2021, Prison Fellowship launched Opportunity Kids, a program supported by Coca-Cola Consolidated and Walmart, the latter of which gave the program a grant. The program seeks to work with other groups, including Black Girls Code, which teaches teenage girls to code, and the Boys and Girls Club of America to guide children towards successful schooling and careers.
According to Ackerman, Prison Fellowship is working to encourage Senators to pass the Equal Act, which would remove the disparity between punishments for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year, awaits approval from the Senate.
Photo courtesy: Ben Hershey/Unsplash
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.