+

Pastor Bill Hybels was reading from the Gospel of Matthew 25, when he came across a verse that he couldn't shake:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

"As Bill was reading this passage of scripture, that phrase, 'When you were in prison you came to visit me,' it kind of just hit him like, 'I don't know if we're doing this as a church,'" Willow Creek teaching pastor Steve Carter says.

Out of Hybels' focus on that verse was born the idea for a program to bring Christmas presents to every inmate housed in an Illinois prison.

In the program's first year, the church and its congregation helped pack and deliver 30,000 presents to Illinois inmates. Using the connections the church had already made with the Illinois Department of Corrections through their prison and jail ministry program, they tested their new plan out in 2013. The following year, they set out to provide a pack to every single person in an Illinois prison.


A July 2015 report by the Illinois Department of Corrections lists the state's prison population at 47,483.

Josie Guth, Willow Creek's director of local compassion and justice, announces plans to reach every prisoner in the state of Illinois this December. All GIFs from Willow Creek Community Church/Vimeo.

Packing that many presents is an all-hands-on-deck experience, turning the church into its own version of Santa's workshop.

Willow Creek, located in South Barrington, Illinois, is one of the country's largest churches, averaging more than 20,000 attendees per week. As the holiday season rolls around, parishioners line up to help pack presents — which include popcorn, honey buns, Christmas cards, puzzle books, calendars, journals, and Bible studies.

Volunteers at Willow Creek pack presents.

Behind bars, inmates often feel forgotten and isolated, cut off from the outside world. The gifts from Willow Creek make them feel seen again.

On Willow Creek's Facebook page, they shared the story of Brandon, a former inmate and recipient of one of the church's prison packs. His story shows how something so small can do so much to bring hope to the hopeless. When he was 16, Brandon joined a gang and began selling drugs. After his third conviction on gun possession charges, he was sentenced to six years in prison; he would spend four behind bars.

"I joined a gang because I wanted some attention. I wanted some love," said Brandon in Willow Creek's video. "Like the guy who showed me how to sell crack. He checked up on me three times a day."

Each box costs around just $5 to pack, but the inmates who receive them get something far more valuable: a reminder that there are people out there who care about them.

Brandon discusses the effect Willow Creek's prison packs had on him.

"I think deep in our core, everyone wants to feel seen and known," says Pastor Carter. "And so who are those people we can see or know?"

This is a lesson that goes beyond inmates and beyond any one specific situation. It's a lesson in empathy and giving that's worth remembering year-round. Life is filled with small things that can have a big impact on the lives of others, and there's no better time than now to give back (if you're in the position to do so), to call a friend or relative you haven't spoken to in a while, or to just let someone know that you're there for them.

It's a season of hope, and we can all be a part of it.

Dino is an Illinois inmate and recipient of a Willow Creek pack.

To learn more about Willow Creek's Prison Packs program, check out the video below.

Celebrity

U.S. Soccer star expertly handles an Iranian reporter’s loaded questions about race.

Tyler Adams’s response proves exactly why he’s the captain of the US soccer team.

Tyler Adams expertly handles Iranian reporter's question

Reporters are supposed to ask the right questions to get to the truth but sometimes it seems sports reporters ask questions to throw you off your game. There's no doubt that this Iranian reporter who was questioning Tyler Adams, the US soccer team captain at the press conference during the World Cup had an agenda that didn't involve getting to the truth.

It's not clear if the questions were designed to throw the young player off of his game or if the goal was embarrassment. It really is hard to tell, but Adams handled the unexpectedly harsh encounter with intelligence and poise when some may have found it justified for him to get angry.

Keep ReadingShow less
More

12 fascinating facts about the American flag that you probably didn't know

The flag used to have 15 stars, the Pledge of Allegiance started out as a marketing gimmick, and 10 more Flag Day facts.

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

There's a whole lot of story behind the American flag.

The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, the Star-Spangled Banner — whatever you call it, the United States flag is one of the most recognizable symbols on Earth.

As famous as it is, there's still a lot you might not know about our shining symbol of freedom. For instance, did you know that on some flags, the stars used to point in different directions? Or that there used to be more than 13 stripes? How about a gut-check on all those star-spangled swimsuits you see popping up in stores around the Fourth of July?

We'll explore these topics and more in this fun list of 12 facts about the U.S. flag that you might not know about.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

Teen raises $186,000 to help Walmart worker retire.

In America, many people have to work well past the age of retirement to make ends meet. While some of these people choose to work past retirement age because it keeps them active, some older people, like Nola Carpenter, 81, work out of necessity.

Carpenter has been working at Walmart for 20 years, way beyond most people's retirement age just so that she can afford to continue to pay her mortgage. When 19-year-old Devan Bonagura saw the woman looking tired in the break room of the store, he posted a video to his TikTok of Carpenter with a text overlay that said, "Life shouldn't b this hard..." complete with a sad face emoji.

In the video, Carpenter is sitting at a small table looking down and appearing to be exhausted. The caption of the video reads ":/ I feel bad." Turns out, a lot of other people did too, and encouraged the teen to start a GoFundMe, which has since completed.

Keep ReadingShow less
More

A pediatrician's viral post will bring you to tears and inspire you to be a better person.

It's incredibly easy to incorporate these lessons into our lives.

Pediatrician offers advice to inspire.

Pediatrician Alastair McAlpine gave some of his terminal patients an assignment. What they told him can inspire us all.

"Kids can be so wise, y'know," the Cape Town doctor and ultra-marathon enthusiast posted to his Twitter account. He asked the young patients, short on time, about the things that really mattered to them.

Keep ReadingShow less