The parable of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4) is familiar to many. An impoverished widow contributes two small coins as an offering to the temple coffers. These coins represent a huge sacrifice for her. We can imagine her praying “Take all that I have, Lord, for all I have is yours.”
The Hope-Western Prison Education Program has received many gifts to support the work of educating its students. All gifts are meaningful not only for how they push the HWPEP mission forward, but for how they connect the givers to our students in real, tangible ways. Some gifts have been sizable and sacrificial. But some have been small and sacrificial.
Consider the way one HWPEP student gives sacrificially to the members of his imprisoned community:
“I cook meals for brothers every now and then. I also was led to start a birthday ministry where I give guys candy bars, popcorn, and other food items on God’s behalf for their birthdays.”
Candy bars, popcorn, and “other food items” are luxury goods in prison. We take them for granted. This student does not. Note that he provides these things to his friends “on God’s behalf.” This student goes without so his brothers can have a little.
There is another student who was admitted to the first cohort in 2018. He took two HWPEP courses, and did well. He was quick to raise his hand to contribute to class conversations. His smile, cheerful attitude, and sense of eager inquiry was infectious. He has since been transferred to another prison so he can pursue an Associate’s degree from a college with a more established program.
This student has written to us on three occasions. The envelopes containing his letters were immaculately composed. Each contained a first-class stamp carefully affixed in the upper right corner of the envelopes. These stamps cost 55 cents – a princely sum for someone who earns mere pennies per hour for his prison job.
And each letter was accompanied by a check for $10.
Imprisoned people are poor. Most were poor when they went to prison, they remain poor while incarcerated, and they are poor when released from prison. The student who contributed $10 (three times!) to HWPEP is poor. He has given from his need. Here’s what he wrote with his latest contribution:
“God bless your Hope campus in Holland! This year has not started off easy, however, I have a personal testimony to share with you. As an agent of hope, my trust in God has been renewed by the passing of my Christian mother on January 8. Christ’s life is manifested in the sacred heart of our Heavenly Father and Jesus – in the blessed hope and rest of the faithful. Looking back at our time together in a small classroom at Muskegon Correctional Facility, I still remember my mother being happy that I was part of a Christian liberal arts college, not just a school teaching me how to make money…”
These incarcerated students’ mites honor God. They encourage us. They humble us for the work that Hope and WTS professors are doing to elevate their students’ lives. And their own.