Freedom Behind Bars

Howard Waller sat nervously in the visiting room at Limon Correctional Facility, a high- security prison in Colorado. He was waiting to meet an inmate named Joe, reputed to be one of the roughest inmates in the entire prison system. Joe had murdered three people and was serving a triple life sentence. But there was one thing that didn’t fit this vicious profile: For two years, Joe had been a regular donor to Prison Fellowship’s Angel Treeâ program. It seemed out of character for a three-time murderer to be giving money to a program that gives Christmas gifts to children. But the answer to the mystery was soon solved. Joe explained that six years before, he had signed his little boy up to receive Angel Tree gifts. That year, when his son arrived for his annual prison visit, he ran in shouting to his father, "Thanks for the Christmas presents you sent me!" "Since then," Joe said, "I have always given to Angel Tree, and I always will—with whatever I have." Howard was impressed. He then persuaded Joe to let his son attend a Christian camp through the Angel Tree program that summer. Yet Joe himself stayed firmly closed to the Gospel message. Howard visited Joe frequently, but the inmate refused to listen to anything about Christ. Finally, the following Christmas, a break-through came. When Howard arrived at the prison to attend a Christmas service, he didn’t expect to see Joe, because Joe had never once attended a religious program. But as Howard began greeting the inmates, he suddenly felt an elbow poke him in the ribs. It was Joe. As the other prisoners nervously backed away, Joe laid his hand on Howard’s shoulder and smiled broadly. "Howard," he said, "I found Jesus this week." It turned out that Joe’s young son had accepted Christ while attending the Christian summer camp sponsored by Angel Tree. When the boy came home, he had begun writing letters to his father about Jesus. Over several months, that father-who will probably never leave prison was led into the freedom that only Christ could give him. And he was led by a little child-his own son. Angel Tree, you see, is not just for kids anymore. As children turn to Christ, they spread the light of the Gospel to entire families. And you can be part of this ministry yourself. Here’s how Angel Tree works: Prison Fellowship cooperates with prison authorities to compile lists of incarcerated parents who want to participate. These lists are then sent to churches or Christian groups, who write the names of the inmates’ children on angel-shaped ornaments and hang them on a Christmas tree. Participants choose an "angel" and buy Christmas presents for the child whose name appears there. Volunteers then deliver the gifts to the child in the name of the incarcerated parent. If your church or organization would like to participate in Angel Tree this year, the time to begin is now. Call BreakPoint, and we’ll tell you how you can get involved. When you pluck an angel off a Christmas tree, you never know what tough hearts may be softened. Whole families can be brought to the baby born in a manger.


Chuck Colson


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