This year, Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels announced that church volunteers would be ensuring that every single inmate in Illinois would be receiving a special Christmas gift bag this year. It’s part of Hybels’ newfound burden for incarcerated people.
“I follow God’s son, Jesus Christ, who was blindingly clear about how I should engage with prisoners,” he told the church. “If I had passed away at 55 despite all that clear training and additionally because I’m a pastor, I would’ve had to explain to God that I didn’t pray for prisoners, that I had never visited one, I had never lifted a finger to help prisoners in any way.”
Hybels was joined by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, who’s been a national leader on justice system reform, particularly as it relates to racial inequality in the prison system.
“God is calling broken people here to stand with Him to do justice,” Stevenson said. “In the Church, we come because we’re broken … we confess that and there’s power in that and we have to share that with a world that has gone astray.”
Willow Creek isn’t stopping at gift bags. The church sends volunteers to local prisons every week to host Bible studies and visit inmates. An inmate who goes by “Paris” said, “Those bags are phenomenal … It gives us a sense of love, … of joy. We get a sense that somebody out there that love us that don’t even know us. That love is very strong and profound.”