Change Day participants on the campus of Andrews University packed about 9,000 gift bags on Thursday, September 14, in order to interrupt the downward spiritual spiral of inmates locked away from church and family. AU faculty, students, staff, along with staff from Village and PMC SDA Churches worked together to rapid pack semi-trucks full of physical food in the form of tasty delights, and spiritual food in the form of uplifting literature. One such gift bag previously saved a man’s life, and gave him another chance to have the spiritual bonds of evil broken by God’s amazing grace.
Several local pastors helped run packing lines including Pastor Ron Kelly of Village SDA Church and pastor Shane Anderson of PMC. Additionally, Principal Mark Bugbee, students, and staff from Village Adventist Elementary School came and had their own line to pack bags. The packing process was a significant undertaking with several hundred participants helping out. Amazingly, all 9,000 bags were packed and loaded on a truck in 3.5 hours, thats one bag every 1.4 seconds.
Lemuel Vega, a former inmate and founder of Christmas Behind Bars (CBB), told the story of a how a depressed prisoner, with repeated convictions and a long prison sentence, was interrupted right before an attempt to cease his own existence. Suicide seemed like the only option for him. He had already written a death letter. As he was preparing for his final moments, his cell door opened and in walked someone delivering a Christmas Behind Bars gift bag. He realized that someone actually cared for him, and began his journey with Jesus that very night. A couple years later, the prisoner’s life has been turned around. His body is still behind bars but his mind is set on heavenly themes. Furthermore, he is active in ministry to other prisoners. This is just one of many testimonies Lemuel Vega can give of the thousands of people who have been impacted by CBB ministry.
Another person whose life was impacted by CBB ministry is Vicki Napier. She came to the Change Day event and shared part of her story to help motivate participants before bagging started. She received a package in prison in 2007. Furthermore, Lemuel had picked Vicki out of the inmate audience to illustrate a spiritual point. First, Lemuel took a dark glass and poured water into it until it became clear, explaining that God can clean us up and wipe away our sin. Then put a white sheet around Vicki and read Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” It brought Vicki to tears. She had been in the Word, but had not applied it. This event encouraged her to continue searching for truth.
Vicki received another package in 2011 while incarcerated at a county jail. In 2012, at yet another jail, she told God that she would like to give thanks to the people who had impacted her life. Ten years later, remembering what she told God, she reached out to Lemuel. She has now participated in three CBB events. In one of those outreaches, she was able to help take gift bags to one of the very prisons she had been locked inside. She personally shared a CBB package and prayer with an inmate who was in her old cell. Vicki reports that the hope and excitement sparked by the gift ministry is felt not just by the inmates who receive the gifts, but also by participants volunteering on bagging day. And, that the packed bags actually facilitate the spirit of giving, because inmates often share gifts from their bags with others behind bars.
The lead coordinator of the event, Pastor Dennis Page of Village SDA Church, shared his recently updated book “A Drop of Grace” with Vicki. Pastor Page is a former federal prisoner and wrote a book about his life experience and God’s amazing power to save. The book follows the life story of Pastor Dennis and his transformative experience with the God of heaven who directly intervenes in the lives of fallen humanity. His book is one of the pieces of literature savoring of life unto life that was included in some of the gift bags. You are invited to visit dropofgrace.org to view an inspiring testimonial video of his personal transformation and find more information about his book.
Lemuel Vega wants to thank everyone for their prayers, participation, and financial support. The ministry continues to grow in many states, and Lemuel believes many lives are being impacted for eternity. The prisoners they serve may be behind steel bars, but they are not forgotten by Christmas Behind Bars. Lemuel wants everyone to know that lasting positive changes are possible and attainable through Christ: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phillippians 4:13, KJV). To learn more about this ministry, please visit: christmasbehindbars.org
Author: Robert Rice
A previous version of this story has been published online by the Lake Union Herald