December 27, 2009
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Letter #115: Gifts at Christmas
Greetings! Thank you for all the beautiful cards and notes of support you sent me … I am so blessed, it’s become embarrassing. On Christmas Eve, when I was deluged with mail, the officers came by my cell door later to double-check that all 28 pieces of mail were really for me. Thank You! A traditionally “difficult” time of year—for most prisoners—was anything but difficult for me. I am grateful for each of you who have requested to receive this little letter and who pray for me … you made my Christmas special!
In October, I began a secret program with the men in my yard Bible Study, where we began making preparations to assemble several Christmas presents for inmates who are “loners,” elderly, or have no family. With 25 inmate presents as our goal, each of the guys (a core dozen of us) began saving up certain items from our lunches, the “store,” and packages sent from home.
Each package contained a couple of “snacks” from lunches, tea and sugar, Folger’s coffee (for two cups), a Top Ramen Noodle packet, a “homemade treat,” an envelope and stamp, and a Christmas card (handmade and signed by “Your Christian Brothers” with 15+ signatures). The “homemade treat” was made of cookies, graham crackers, peanut butter, jelly, syrup, and almonds—all finely crushed—wrapped around an Oreo cookie, with three Reese’s pieces on top. (My creation.) 🙂
With a combination of purchased items and state-lunch items, everyone could get involved and contribute, and the gift became more valuable to the recipients. (Each gift ended up with a prison value of around $3.) I learned a lot about the simple complexities of delegating tasks and responsibilities, and ended up making the cards myself and assembling all the packages. In my big ol’ bedroom.
Praise God, everything came together the week before Christmas, so we had plenty of time to get everyone their gifts. Just before handing them out, we only had 12 designated names on a list. I asked God for more, to make it clear who should receive the care packages. A guy a few doors down from me, who usually jokes around, told me about a friend of his he wanted me to “befriend” and “watch out for,” since the older guy hadn’t been going outside much … we got him a package, I’ve spent time with him on the yard and prayed with him, and he was overwhelmed by all the love. Sometimes, someone just needs to know they’re not forgotten. Old Jim is now going to church with us. 🙂
Our building’s lead porter, who is in our Bible Study, was able to designate the remaining gifts to guys who needed it most. We had a “potluck” the Friday before Christmas, with 25 guys attending. Our study has increased in daily attendance since, proving several universal truths apply to the prison setting as well.
I was blessed to plan a Christmas Program in the chapel on Christmas Adam. (Before Eve.) That Wednesday, we sang 10 Christmas carols with the congregation, choir, and soloists. Five of us gave testimonies, and we had a time of “bringing your gifts of praise” for the congregation. I gave an invitation at the end during “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
It was a beautiful service, and many thanked us for making Christmas happen for them. At one point, while singing “Hark the Herald,” I realized that the printed words we’d handed out were incorrect. The crowd followed me and made it through just fine, leading me to comment that “You guys did great … you should join the choir!” Two did. Awkward. Some speaking techniques are lost on under-educated people. 🙂
Thanks to my twin bro, Michael, I was able to mail or hand-deliver over 150 Christmas cards this year, including around 75 to inmates and over a dozen staff members. For some, it was the only card or letter they’d received all year (as a prisoner) and for the staff, many were floored, never usually receiving any appreciation for their thankless jobs. God is good!
Thank you for praying that God would increase my ministry. Make me faithful, Lord. Many need You.