Generosity Love and grace People

Angel Tree ensures 5000 children feel loved

Pastor Ace, right, and Landa from Porirua Elim and an Angel Tree with tags.

For many children with a parent in prison, the only present they will get this Christmas is through the Angel Tree Aotearoa programme.

There are more than 20,000 tamariki in New Zealand with parents in prison.

Angel Tree supporters will ensure more than 5000 of those tamariki will get a present on behalf of their absent parent.

Maintaining the connection between a child and an absent parent at Christmas is what Angel Tree Aotearoa is all about, says Lady Talaepa, national manager for Prison Fellowship New Zealand.

It reinforces to the child that they are loved, remembered and not forgotten, even though the absent parent is in prison.”

25 years in New Zealand

PFNZ Angel Tree Aotearoa has been in New Zealand since 1983. It operates in 90 countries worldwide.

Angel Tree Aotearoa is the national flagship programme incorporating a Christmas gift, for children who have a parent in prison. It then allows us to build whanaungatanga/relationship and engage deeper through mana manaaki (family retreats), kids camps, back to school support and access to counselling, tutoring and health providers,” Lady says.

“Through Angel Tree Aotearoa, whānau have been restored, tamariki have been encouraged, and the Gospel has been proclaimed.”

Presents may also be provided to the children of released prisoners who often struggle to afford gifts at Christmas time.

Some of the purchased and wrapped gifts, ready to be delivered to whanau. Members of the congregation were invited to take an “angel” (tag) from the tree which has the name of the child (angel), age, gender and a gift suggestion. The person then buys a suitable gift worth $25, and returns it to the church. Volunteers take the gifts to the recipient’s whanau.

Established in the USA

Angel Tree was established in the United States in the 1970s by Mary Kay Beard. She was once on the FBI’s most wanted list and served six years in prison. On her release from prison, she joined Prison Fellowship’s staff.

Lady says that during that first year of prison God touched Mary’s life and while there she saw mums package and give “gifts” out to their children. The gifts were from what little they had – soap, shampoo and other basic toiletries.

Despite the simplicity of the gifts, she saw how joyously the kids received them, not because of their intrinsic value, but because they had come from their mother.

“At Prison Fellowship, when tasked to come up with ‘some kind of Christmas programme,’ she remembered those mums and the promise she made to God in that first year of prison to ‘give her life to Him’ and so, the seeds of Angel Tree were sown.”

In New Zealand hundreds of people give presents each Christmas through Angel Tree.

At Christmas 2017 more than 1800 families received gifts on behalf of an absent parent.

The generosity of New Zealand

“New Zealand is a generous country. We have 1200 incredible kaimahi/volunteers (aka ‘weavers’) who wrap around our whānau and weave a cloak of protection and strength, together.

“They also help and support us to increase community wellbeing, participation, inclusion and identity. We receive cash donations throughout the motu (country) and also apply for funding and grants through multiple organisations, including Corrections,” Lady says.

Previous to the Prison Fellowship role Lady was the PA to her pastor at Porirua Elim.

“During that time, I was asked by PFNZ to advertise a new role in our Elim Church newsletter. The role spoke so deeply to my spirit . . . I felt called and so – without hesitation I applied.

“I sensed then and there that I could reach people and affect change using some of my personal experiences, specific set of skills, strengths and gifts God gave me.

“I love to journey with people from a place of brokenness to beauty (I always have). My role allows me to fully operate in my gifting and by doing so, show God’s love to His people.

“Holding-hands with whānau as they connect to their IDENTITY and find freedom in knowing who they are. Sitting with them as their sense of BELONGING reawakens and evolves, then leads them to discover their true PURPOSE.

“There are more than 20,000 tamariki in New Zealand with parents in prison. I am one voice for these children, which is a huge privilege, blessing and opportunity for me.

For most of them, the gift they get through Angel Tree Aotearoa is the only one they will get this year.

“They don’t want our pity or necessarily a ‘present’ . . . most of them just want to know that they are loved and not forgotten,” she says.

Aroha mai, Aroha atu – love toward us, love coming out from us.

Future vision

What is the future vision of Angel Tree?

“The vision is to reach 20,000+ children, reconnect them to their Mum/Dad and reinforce to them that they are loved and remembered,” Lady says.

Naku te rourou, nau te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi.
With your basket and my basket, the people will live.

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