Crime breaks up families and causes hurt. It can also be a way that God brings the gospel to those He died for. Frequently imprisoned hundreds of miles away from their families, offenders often lose hope of restoring a relationship that was damaged by bad decisions – especially when their own lives have not been touched by the gospel.
Over the years, many Charis Fellowship congregations have teamed up with Prison Fellowship (PF), an organization that brings hope through Jesus to anyone affected by crime and incarceration.
Ruth Sanborn, Angel Tree Field Director for PF, shares, “Grace College, as well as many Charis Fellowship churches and individuals, have been long-time partners with Prison Fellowship–for almost 40 years in some cases. Some examples are Angel Tree churches and in-prison teachers and mentors.”
Sanborn was able to attend Access 2017 (the national conference of the Charis Fellowship) and connected with many Charis leaders who committed to partner with PF to support the imprisoned and their families.
“I came away so incredibly encouraged because Charis Fellowship churches have solid theology and servants’ hearts. They already know they want to reach their communities and are willing to engage in programs like Angel Tree to further the kingdom,” Sanborn says.
Charis leaders have gotten involved to show their congregations what incarceration is like and what they can do for those in jail.
Jeremy Wike, pastor of Community of Hope in Columbia City, Ind., implemented PF’s free, six-week Bible study called Outrageous Justice. The book trained his congregation to be sensitive to and relate to those who experience the effects of incarceration. Community of Hope wanted to practice the new concepts, so they requested to serve families through Angel Tree.
Angel Tree gives families of the imprisoned a Christmas to remember. An incarcerated parent can request a gift for his or her child. This gift is delivered to the child with a personal note from the parent. PF also provides age-appropriate booklets for volunteers to use to share Jesus with these families when they deliver the gifts. Many local churches maintain contact with the children to whom they delivered gifts and continue to help them through this hard time.
Sanborn says, “Dave Goshert, a member at Community Grace Brethren Church in Warsaw, Ind. (Roy Chapin, lead pastor), helped us by engaging the Grace Brethren Church in Fort Wayne (Bob Arenobine, senior pastor) to be a distribution point for Angel Tree gifts. Dave purchased, wrapped, and delivered over 100 gifts to the Fort Wayne church, who joyfully distributed the gifts to local families.”
Jan Salsgiver, office manager at Community Grace, shares, “Often the children pay a huge price in these situations. We want to love on the children and let them know that God loves them and that they matter to Him.”
Involvement with a certain organization like PF is not necessary to help offenders and their families, however. Coming out of prison, offenders have a huge transition to make. Reintegrating into society is a big step, and believers can help by inviting them and their families to church and showing them the love of Christ.
“The transformative power that hope in Christ can bring to offenders can be powerful,” says Sanborn. “I learned, like most of us, from the media about ‘prison life.’ What I found when I experienced it firsthand was that some offenders are truly making permanent changes while incarcerated. God has brought them to prison to draw them to Him.”
Click here to send a note of encouragement to Ruth Sanborn at PF, or for more information about getting involved.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.