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‘Fresh hope shoots from the Sycamore Tree’ – Shawn Verhey

Since becoming Managing Chaplain at a prison in the north of England almost 17 years ago, I have been a passionate supporter of Prison Fellowship, especially the Sycamore Tree programme. I love to share fresh stories of hope, as God continues to transform the lives of victims, communities and those in prison through this accredited course. We are extremely blessed to have a wonderful team of Volunteers here to facilitate and lead on the Sycamore Tree project.

Based on Luke 19:1-10, the Sycamore Tree programme is faith-based but not faith promoting, yet the power of the restorative justice shown in the Bible flows naturally through our Volunteers to those in prison. Time and time again, I have witnessed the miraculous journey of those participating in the course as they experience a heartfelt transformation that only Sycamore Tree can bring. This is especially evident during Week Three, the victim impact session and Week Six – the final week of the course – where the participants make a symbolic act of restitution. It is amazing to see some of the most resistant Sycamore Tree students up on their feet during Week Six, reading a personal letter to their victim.During our most recent Sycamore Tree course, one man read his letter to the family of a young person that he had killed through dangerous driving. He also asked that he might have a restorative justice conference (mediation) with the parents of his victim. Although this is a daunting and painful process for both victim and offender, this young man comes every week to check if there is any update regarding his requested conference. The hope, passion and patience he shows is such an amazing expression of a transformed heart and life, and this is entirely due to the Sycamore Tree course.

I love sharing Sycamore Tree stories in churches, schools, universities and cathedrals. Having opportunities to speak to large groups of people, including college and GCSE students, about what God is doing to transform the lost, the least and the broken through Sycamore Tree is a great privilege. It is so encouraging to see young people hungry to learn more about the story of Zaccheus and how this expression of Christ’s love is still transforming the lives of those in prison.Today, as I write this message, it is Week 3 of our current Sycamore Tree course and we have a remarkable individual speaking about his personal experience as a victim of crime. He is currently the only Imam serving as a Sycamore Tree surrogate victim in England and Wales.

In the days following the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, he was stabbed in the neck by a far-right extremist when walking to his Mosque. Later, as a gifted surgeon, he was able to look at his X-rays and realise that God had saved his life. He went to court and sat with the mother of the young man who had stabbed him. He explained that he had forgiven the young man and that he wanted to help him. It was at this point he heard about Sycamore Tree and phoned me to ask to become a surrogate victim. Today, he will be sharing his story of radical compassion and forgiveness with the men in my prison.

I just know that miracles of hope and transformation will follow…

Rev Sean Verhey  Shawn Verhey is an Anglican Priest and the Managing Chaplain at a prison in the north of England.

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“I can honestly say that I never had as much satisfaction when I worked as I do now as a volunteer.” — Arthur, Chaplaincy Support volunteer

Volunteer with PF

Volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation, and what they do in the lives of those in prison and as they pray, is incredibly valuable. If you are looking to use your time to support some of the most marginalised people in our society to transform their lives, then volunteering could be for you.

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