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Stirring the Wonder - Angel Tree Christmas Event
By Janet Etchells
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 NIV

Every child needs to feel special and loved...

On Dec. 3, the Rock Church hosted an Angel Tree party to give Christmas cheer and show the love of Christ to children with incarcerated parents. Patty Kalaye, the energetic organizer of the event and part of the church’s Prison Ministry, worked long hours with the help of a team of volunteers to create the Hawaiian themed party — complete with green and red leis for the families, live Christmas music, crafts, face painting, balloon making, a delicious lunch and a surprise visit from Santa. Photos of the kids were taken with Santa throughout the afternoon, which included a raffle for prizes such as Christmas decorations and wrapping paper – everything anyone would need to create a beautiful holiday for all. Caregivers, who gave gift suggestions ahead of time for the children in their care, took home large bags full of gifts. The gift tags will show that they came from their absent moms and dads, allowing  a child to feel loved and  remembered by their parents during a holiday traditionally spent with family. It’s not just about the gifts and food, but the making of special memories for each child as they grow. Every child needs to feel special and loved, especially in the absence of their parents.

Have you ever thought about what happens to the children of those who have been incarcerated, possibly for the rest of their lives? Who raises these kids, providing clothing, food, guidance, love, acceptance and a roof over their heads they so desperately need?  All too often it’s left up to a grandparent or other family members who find themselves suddenly raising children not of their own and in their later years. A time when they thought they were finished raising small children. The Rock Church has ministries that assist these families, not only at Christmas, but during the year. The Rock has a very active Prison Ministry, and an off-shoot of this ministry is the Angel Tree Foundation, supporting children and caregivers of those who are incarcerated. Often these children and their relatives feel alone and ostracized by society for reasons beyond their control. They are often in poverty. It’s said these kids can feel ashamed and alone, are picked on at school or left out of social events. Angel Tree is such a blessing to these children and their caregivers. What a great way to show the love of God by treating everyone as our own family.1 Peter 3:8 (NIV) Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

In attendance at the Angel Tree party, were families with children of all ages, ranging from infants to teens. One such family was the Macks.

Their story is a true testimony to God’s loving care and provision. Nakia Mack, mother of Jalin,11, and Jayla, 9, was incarcerated when her kids were very young. The kids moved in with their grandmother, Christine. The entire Mack family is now a member of the Rock Church family, and the children have attended Angel Tree for eight years now. It has become a real tradition for this family. Nakia was released more than a year ago, gave her life to Christ and joins her children with her mom. Christine still cares for the children while Nakia works to get on her feet. Nakia studied hard and is now certified as a dental assistant and prays she’ll be blessed with employment soon.

Jalin and Jayla both shared how they grew up with Angel Tree events and how the gifts from their mom brought them closer to her. They also took a ride with Get on the Bus, a foundation helping children to visit their imprisoned parents. Because these buses were made available, the siblings were able to talk and share a little of their home and school lives with Mom while she was still behind bars. When asked about how they felt about their mother being back in their lives, they both quickly smiled and said they were so happy. Grandmother Christine reminded them of something special the kids organized last year. They quickly chimed in to share how they helped to raise $1,500 for the Get On the Bus foundation because it had blessed their family so much. Jalin explained they sold sweet potato pies, hamburgers, hotdogs, and barbecue, with the help of their mom and gGrandmother. The kids were so happy to be able to give back to a cause that gave them a chance to be with their mom.

One volunteer, Xochitl, wearing a white lei, described the community as “tight-knit,” as  she has personal experience with a family member being incarcerated. She started getting involved by delivering presents to home and loved it so much she became a more active volunteer. When observing the children decorating sugar cookies with colored icing and painting stockings, it became apparent from chatting with the families that many have had more than one experience with a family member incarcerated . What a major event in these young lives, dealing with trauma and confusion as to why their parent is no longer with them. Some kids become withdrawn and are unable to meet your eye when saying hello.

Delia Durazo and her husband Richard Sheets, who is on staff with Rock Church, were enjoying the festivities with their grandson, 4-year-old Eric.

[Photo provided by the Prison Ministry]

Families like Diego Guzman and his sons, Alex, 4, and Diego Jr., 1 1/2, enjoyed the face painting and great food. Diego Sr. shared how he’d been incarcerated four years but has since given his life to God and is full of joy. His wife has a relative also in prison and this was the reason they were participating.  He’s been blessed to find a “good job in construction” and also volunteers to give back.

Just as Quentin and his son Quentin Jr. also experienced more than one member of the family incarcerated. Quentin himself was in prison and they too are putting their lives back together after his release. He is looking for work but at least now they are together as a family.

Angel Tree, the Prison Ministry, and foundations like Get on the Bus make it possible for families to stay connected. We can be a part of mending lives and shining the light of God in lives in need of His unconditional love.

For more information about the Prison Ministry, click here »