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.
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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