This church is practicing what they preach by bringing Christmas to people in prison.

Willow Creek's 'prison packs' are having a lasting effect.

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.

More
Courtesy of Houseplant.

In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.

Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.

Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.

Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Climate change is happening because the earth is warming at an accelerated rate, a significant portion of that acceleration is due to human activity, and not taking measures to mitigate it will have disastrous consequences for life as we know it.

In other words: Earth is heating up, it's kinda our fault, and if we don't fix it, we're screwed.

This is the consensus of the vast majority of the world's scientists who study such things for a living. Case closed. End of story.

How do we know this to be true? Because pretty much every reputable scientific organization on the planet has examined and endorsed these conclusions. Thousands of climate studies have been done, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have been done on those studies, showing that somewhere between 84 and 97 percent of active climate science experts support these conclusions. In fact, the majority of those studies put the consensus well above 90%.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature
via James Anderson

Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

"No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
popular