In the Nick of Time

  Twelve-year-old Jesse Overholtzer knew without a doubt that he was a sinner, but he didn't know what to do about it. Burdened by guilt, he sought his mother's advice. "Son, you're too young," she said, reflecting her belief that children could not understand spiritual truth. It was not until college that Jesse finally heard the gospel message and responded by trusting in Christ. At last he was free of his terrible burden. Years later, while serving as a pastor, he came across a sermon by Charles Spurgeon. "A child of five," wrote Spurgeon, "if properly instructed, can as truly believe and be regenerated as an adult." Remembering his own childhood struggle, Jesse determined that no child should ever be denied the gospel. At age sixty he started Child Evangelism Fellowship, committed to getting the gospel to children. Children are still the most fruitful mission field in our country. Studies show that over two-thirds of those who come to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. That's why I invite you to join me this Christmas in taking the gospel to a very special group of kids -- the children of America's prisoners. Since 1982 -- twenty years we celebrate this year -- Angel Tree volunteers have been bringing hope and help to these children at this decisive time in their lives. Children of inmates are the "hidden victims" of crime. Numbering over two million, they are the most at-risk group in our nation for drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and poor school performance. Half will commit a crime before they reach adulthood. Compared to their peers, they are six times more likely to end up in prison. In fact, the Center for the Children of Incarcerated Parents has found that half of all juvenile inmates have a parent who is also serving time. Without intervention, many of these kids will be tomorrow's criminals. But by God's grace, Angel Tree is helping them break free from this intergenerational cycle of crime. Proverbs says, "A man's gift makes room for him . . . " Angel Tree volunteers, through their generous gifts, make room in a child's heart for God to work, reconciling families to each other and to Him. By giving gifts on behalf of the incarcerated parent, Angel Tree reminds these children that they have not been forgotten. This allows many children to forgive their incarcerated mom or dad -- a first step toward repairing damaged relationships. And through an age-appropriate gospel presentation, volunteers offer another gift -- forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ. The children learn, perhaps for the first time, about a Father Who will never leave them -- a Father Who has the power to forgive them and change them. Last year Angel Tree brought hope to more than 600,000 children of inmates. The need for church and volunteer involvement this year is even greater because we need to reach more kids. Call Angel Tree at 1-800-55-ANGEL or visit for information on how your church can be part of breaking the cycle of crime. If, as C. S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain, " then the children of America's prisoners must surely hear the voice of God and, like Jesse Overholtzer, simply need someone to introduce them. For further information: Learn about Angel Tree and please donate to help this ministry continue. BreakPoint commentary no. 020607, "Breaking Down the Family Business: Loving the Children of Prisoners." BreakPoint commentary no. 020606, "Save a Life for Eternity: From Despair to Hope." Child Evangelism Fellowship is a Bible-centered, worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the local church for Christian living. Joe Couto, "Children's Ministries -- More Than Christmas Pageants," Faith Today, November/December 2001. "Statement by HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson Regarding the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, 17 January 2002. Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents 2001 Fact Sheet. Shay Bilchik, "Children of Convicts Struggle with a Prison of Their Own," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12 May 2002, F9. Fox Butterfield, "Father Steals Best: Crime in an American Family," The New York Times, 15 August 2002. (Free registration required.) Carolyn Kleiner, "Breaking the Cycle," U.S. News & World Report, 29 April 2002, 48. (Cost to retrieve article: $2.95.) Tammerlin Drummond, "Mothers In Prison," Time, 6 November 2000, 106. (Cost to retrieve article: $2.95.) Learn more about Charles Spurgeon and read his sermons here. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Harper, 2001).


Chuck Colson



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