A delivery of reconciliation
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas.
The team of four, led by Elder Jonathan Kok from Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, met on a Saturday afternoon at an HDB void deck in the Ang Mo Kio area. They had signed up as volunteers for Prison Fellowship Singapore’s annual Angel Tree Hamper Project, to personally deliver hampers containing food and beverages, stationery, gadgets as well as household cleaning products to families of the incarcerated.
Of the team of four, the two men, Jonathan and Cliff, have volunteered for the Angel Tree project for several years now. The two ladies from their cell group are new to this activity.
When asked why they decided to participate in the hamper delivery, the ladies shared that they wanted to spread some Christmas cheer.
And they did.
Before making their way up the block, the group said a quick prayer at the void deck and checked that the handwritten Christmas card from the inmate was in the hamper. With the Angel Tree project, inmates attending PFS’ chapel service get to sign up for a hamper to be delivered to their families, attached with a card that they write and send via PFS.
This year, 770 hampers were packed by close to 120 student volunteers from Christ Church Secondary School and were personally delivered island-wide by more than 1000 PFS volunteers.
This time round in Ang Mo Kio, the team was warmly received into the home of a couple in their sixties. Their youngest son is serving time in prison.
In the cosy and tidy living room of the three-room flat, Madam Lilian* shared that they had visited their son in prison just that morning. It became evident that familial ties were still strong with this household, with the youngest son’s photos lining the TV console and walls.
Before she opened the hamper to organise the items, occasionally waving a pack of instant coffee to let her husband know it’s his favourite brand, the volunteers handed Madam Lilian the handwritten card from her son. Perhaps it was the fact that the room was full of eager strangers, perhaps it was the keen awareness that she was being observed – Madam Lilian read it, gave a quick smile and folded the card neatly back into the envelope.
The conversation then focused on her husband’s knee condition, lineage and citizenship.
It was only after a word of blessing, as the team said their goodbyes, that Madam Lilian’s tear ducts let loose the wall of emotions she had been holding back. It is hard to pinpoint the complex emotions behind the tears, but that much we know – a connection was made. God used the team’s effort and time to let this family know that they are not alone. That there is a wider community that cares.
Later that afternoon, Elder Jonathan and Cliff shared how they were once invited into the home of a warm-hearted grandmother who spent the afternoon sharing about her family history. The volunteers found out that the grandmother came from Malaysia and did not have an easy life when she was younger. But what really struck the team was her cheerful demeanour, despite her son’s imprisonment and the many difficulties she has had to endure.
Another hamper delivery that they recalled involve a home in Jurong that was “very dark, with a strong stench”. “You cannot imagine that in Singapore, you can find those families,” shared Cliff. It was home to an elderly family member of an inmate who was living alone. The team suspected that she had a mental condition, and promptly reported the case to PFS.
After each family visit, volunteers share their observation with PFS and highlight families that require closer follow-up, be it for medical, financial or emotional support. These families then get more immediate attention from the Family Care team at PFS, which works closely with volunteers to provide timely assistance and support to these households. The team also works closely with other social service agencies and community organisations to ensure that these family members are not neglected – especially the ones living alone.
Reaching out to the families of the incarcerated may sometimes be a thankless task. Elder Jonathan shared that sometimes, the family members of the incarcerated would just receive the hampers at the gate, and that was it. But that does not deter our volunteers from serving.
Cliff, who moved to Singapore from China more than a decade ago, sees it as his way of giving back. “Living here means this is my second home. I have to move closer to the local society and to contribute some little bit.”
“The card is meaningful. I think that’s what we want to do. Help deliver that card and pray that the card will help reconcile the family or at least bring them together in some way,” shared Elder Jonathan.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy of interviewee
If you would like to volunteer with Prison Fellowship Singapore to offer practical assistance to families of the incarcerated, please click here.
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