Festive Cheer for Our Formerly Incarcerated Friends

First Published in Tidings January 2020

Christian Cell Group vs. Prison Cell

When you hear of the word “jail cell”, what image comes to mind? 

When you see the word “cell group”, a term used commonly for small group in a Church, how would you picture it?

While a jail cell paints a dreary picture of a confined space with no freedom, a Christian cell group generally describes a small group of fellow Christians who gather lovingly together to learn God’s Word and share life together.

The same word conjures entirely different images. 

Let’s face it – this can be an uncomfortable thought to many people. Yet, how can the lives of those who had lived in cells intertwined occasionally with Christians from cell groups in churches? 

That’s what my small group, Rainbow of Joy, did precisely – reach out to those who were in a prison cell. 

No Better Time than Now to Reach Out

Amid our busyness individually and as a small group, there was no better time than now to find time to be a small blessing to the ex-offender community. 

Since our small group was started 6 years ago, as an annual practice, , we have always had a Christmas party among ourselves filled with the usual Christmas sumptuous spread and gifts for one another.

This year, as a break from our annual tradition, we decided to organize a Christmas party for not just ourselves but 40 ex-offenders from HCSA Community Services. HCSA Community Services is a Christian charity that houses ex-offenders upon their release, trains ex-offenders and juveniles in culinary skills and offers therapy for abused teenage girls. 

December 7 2019 saw 14 of us from Rainbow of Joy trooping to the HCSA Culinary Academy, aptly named 316 (a reference to John 3:16), in the afternoon to transform the no-frills canteen into a temporary festive hall filled with Christmas cheer for 40 ex-offenders and their immediate families.

Home baked turkey by our small group leader for our friends at the Christmas party!

Dinner was a yummy spread, prepared and served by the HCSA Culinary Academy trainees, with the members of Rainbow of Joy augmenting the evening’s spread with home-made turkey, desserts and cut fruits from home. Entertainment came in the form of caroling and a pop-up “pasar malam’ style stall set up by Rainbow of Joy for the guests. 

The pop-up stall was the highlight of the evening which saw an impressive array of new and gently used things such as books, clothing, bags, toiletries, Estee Lauder cosmetics,  food items, kitchen utensils and cutlery,  electronics, head phones and video cameras donated by our small group. The HCSA members are free to pick and choose whatever they desire, based on a first come first served basis.

Members putting on Christmas decorations for the event.

We also had a wonderful evening of singing Christmas carols together, with many of the new friends we met telling us it was their very first Christmas dinner and first caroling experience in life. It was something some of them had never expected to experience in their life time, although they have heard and seen so much of how people around them celebrated Christmas, over the years. Yet, a Christmas celebration actually came throughfor them this year. 

Not Everyone Knows What A Christmas Celebration Is

One of the HCSA members at the Christmas celebration told me he had often wonder what people do at Christmas and about the taste of turkey since he was a little boy. He finally found out 50 years later. He was touched by the Christmas dinner celebration put up by us. 

As a privileged lot, we sometimes take so much we have, such as having a good Christmas meal, for granted. But, a simple act of blessing and kindness on our part can make a huge difference on others who might not always have the same opportunities, resources and relationships that we have, available to them all the time. It takes a conscious effort on our part to share our blessings with others. 

Last Christmas, my small group has been blessed to be able to bless others, to be a blessing, one step at a time. Uncomfortable as it might have been for some of us, as we did not know what to expect, we took the step in faith to be a small cell group that reached out to those who had literally lived in small jail cells. 

Works of Blessings and Acts of Mercy

In our group activity to bless others, we have also learnt the meaning of “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”( James 2:26). We also focus on less of our individual needs, but more on building up one another and others,  and foster a stronger understanding and tolerance within our community. Works of blessing and acts of mercy comes naturally when we allow God’s Word to infuse into our lives. 

As the year drew to a close, let’s reflect on our blessings to us, our small groups and our community at large from our Heaven Father over the years. It is also a good time, too, to start thinking about how we can be a vessel for God by being a blessing to those who are less fortunate than us.

Rainbow of Joy is a 16-member small group in zone 10 that started in 2014.

Read also: Sharing Joy with Our Friends at Jalan Berseh

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