First Free Rockford families have long taken part in the Angel Tree program. This Christmas season, Lisa Parrish got an unexpected glimpse of its impact.
Run nationally by Prison Fellowship, Angel Tree is an opportunity to buy Christmas gifts for children on behalf of a parent who is in jail or prison. Lisa started participating in Angel Tree about 15 years ago through her job and “out of a prompting from the Lord,” she says. “It was a way for me to teach my teenaged kids to give to others less fortunate than them. We shopped together, and had a great time trying to think of where would be the best place to get these gifts.”
Each year, Lisa has prayed that the recipient families would come to know the love of Jesus and that the children would feel the love from family member in prison. “We always delighted in trying to give the children something that would bring them joy,” she says.
The boy whose name was on Lisa’s card this year asked for only one item: a Steam gift card for online video gaming. She went to GameStop, but had trouble finding the right card. So she asked for help from an employee behind the counter. She told him she needed to stay within a certain price range, even though she wanted to do more. The employee, who looked to be in his 30s, asked Lisa whom the card was for.
“It’s for the Angel Tree program,” she said.
The man looked startled. Then his eyes filled with tears.
“I was one of those Angel Tree parents when my daughter was very young,” he said.
Now it was Lisa’s turn to get teary-eyed as the man showed her a photo of his daughter from back then.
“I have never before met one of the people who buy the gifts for that program,” he told her. “This is so special for me.”
It was Lisa’s first time to meet a recipient of the Christmas gifts she and her family have been buying for 15 years.
“He shared with me that now he was doing much better, and had come to know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Lisa says. “I shook his hand, congratulating him on all the positive changes in his life, and delighting in his relationship with Christ. He thanked me again for participating, and said a blessing over me before I left the store.
“We parted ways that morning, both richer in spirit, and knowing the joy of meeting another brother and sister in Christ.”