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One camp’s love for prisoners’ kids is making an eternal difference

By Laurie Fertello

I wasn’t there that day in 2001 to attend the meeting, but I’ve heard a hundred times over that it was a “God thing”—the way He drew the people with passion and vision together to establish the Angel Tree Camping Program at Warm Beach Camp.

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Program started in 1982 as a Christmastime ministry to the children of prisoners. In 1995, the program expanded to encourage churches to get these same children into summer camping experiences.

Warm Beach Camp was being invited to participate, and we responded with a resounding yes, not knowing it would become one of the most profound youth ministry endeavors we had ever undertaken.

I’ll never forget the first bus full of Angel Tree campers pulling into the parking lot at W-BAR-B Ranch. I remember greeting them and going through the registration line together. The excitement was high. I recall the awesome week of camp, and the joy in our hearts as we waved goodbye, knowing that every Angel Tree camper on that bus had made decisions to follow Christ.

The first summer would be followed by many more memories. Once I was asked to share a highlight from our second summer with Angel Tree Camping. To say it best, I read a journal entry.

July 2002
I got a call from the dean at W-BAR-B Ranch this evening, asking me to come down and talk with three girls who’ve been struggling since they arrived in camp. It took just a few minutes to drive to W-BAR-B Ranch and connect with the girls. I introduced myself, and told them why I was there and what I expected to accomplish through our conversation.

Laquisha was closed off, literally. Frustrated and angry, she had her hooded sweatshirt pulled tight across her face. Marika sat sideways, her gaze fixed forward. At every comment and question, she was shaking her head to and fro. Tierra was sitting quietly, a steady stream of tears rolling down her cheeks.

We covered the issues that brought us together, and, with that out of the way, the Holy Spirit began to move. Laquisha began to pour out her heart and in one revealing moment, she blurted out, “Words are powerful!”

“Yes Laquisha, they are.”

“You don’t understand. The word love has the most power of all. You people say you love us and you don’t even know us. How can you love us when you don’t know anything about us?”

“Laquisha, Marika, and Tierra, you are absolutely right. Love is the most powerful word of all, and if you give me a few minutes more, I’ll be happy to share with you how it is that we can use the word love, honestly, and where that love, the love we have for you, comes from.” And for the next half an hour we had a powerful conversation about the Lord. The Holy Spirit moved in their hearts. He revealed Himself to them and they began to understand. It’s a joy to say all three girls made earnest decisions to walk with the Lord.

Tierra Howard returned to Warm Beach Camp as a camper two additional summers. In June of 2006, she applied for and was accepted into the Counselor in Leadership Training (CILT) program. She successfully completed her training and went on to stay the entire summer volunteering at W-BAR-B Ranch.

In August, Tierra was scheduled to be a Junior Counselor in a cabin group. Her lead counselor, Maggie Parks, shared about the week.

“When Wednesday came, the campers opened up to Tierra and poured out their life stories. Tierra’s story related to these young girls,” Maggie says. “God gave Tierra this opportunity to open up and grow spiritually—to understand that she, too, can make a difference, not in spite of her background, but because of it.”

Tierra stayed up most of the night telling me how excited she was. She wouldn’t go to sleep because she was so excited about what happened. Three young girls came to know Christ as their Lord and Savior that night.”

We’ve had high hopes God would establish leaders through the Angel Tree Camping Program. We’ve prayed for and believed that one young person would step out and step up to the challenge of leadership, knowing others would follow. Tierra Howard is the first. Because of her efforts, three additional Angel Tree Campers have plans to attend the CILT Program next year.

I may not have been there during that first meeting, but I have no doubt: Truly, this has been a “God thing”!

Some names in this article have been changed.

Laurie Fertello came to WBC in 1982 as a Counselor. Feeling called to ministry at WBC, she’s served as youth program director for 20 years and is the design director for the Lights of Christmas event.

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