A few years ago, Willow Creek Community Church had a vision to give Christmas presents to every inmate in an Illinois prison. This year alone, the church packed and delivered 70,000 presents to prisoners.
The vision came after Bill Hybels, the founder of Willow Creek, read Matthew 25:35-36 and felt particularly moved to fulfill the instruction to visit prisoners. Being remembered (let alone visited) is a huge felt need for inmates, who sometimes feel so forgotten it’s “like you ain’t even in the world no more,” according to one young man.
In the following video, you can see the sanctuary of Willow Creek’s campus in Illinois transformed into a makeshift North Pole workshop as members sit and stand in the rows to assemble 70,000 gift packs.
Tom and Wendy Horton are members of Willow Creek who have worked with inmates for about 13 years. “They’re kind of a forgotten bunch of people that are out of sight and out of mind,” Tom says. Tom and Wendy are seen in the following video visiting inmates and passing out the present packs from Willow Creek. One inmate says the couple is like a mother and father to him.
Inmates share some of their thoughts on being incarcerated and receiving the presents from Willow Creek. Everyone is delighted to be given a bag from the church, which includes snacks, books and a card. “A lot of us don’t get Christmas,” an inmate named Frederick says. What’s worse than that, though, is the way people think of those in prison. Frederick says people see them as “monsters on the inside. We faithless, godless, or we look at everything as steal, kill, destroy—like the devil.”
Another voice on the video is Brandon, a former inmate who received a present pack while in prison and who showed up this year to help pack presents for current inmates. “It was so amazing to get a bag from people I’d never met before,” Brandon says, recalling his time in prison.
“The greatest gift you can give an inmate is hope,” one prisoner says. That seems to be exactly what Willow Creek is trying to do.