Anyone that has ministered alongside me or worked on our staff knows that I am fiercely protective of the reputation of the Saints Prison Ministry. Everything that we do as a ministry is done for a reason, and more often than not that reason can be traced back to reputation.
I recently fielded a call from a Chaplain in Kentucky unlike any other call in which I had ever engaged. He opened the conversation by suggesting that if he had been born an explorer instead of a prison chaplain he would search high and low for three things: Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, and the Saints Prison Ministry. Obviously intrigued, I asked how we found ourselves among such legendary company. His answer astounded me:
I have been a chaplain at four different federal institutions, in four different regions, prior to this assignment. At every prison in which I served, I heard of this ministry that I had ‘just missed’ – the Saints Prison Ministry. I would ask staff about who they found effective or easy to work with and the answer was the same ministry each time. The legend of this softball team was the same at every stop – “they don’t come in with the attitude that these godless heathens need what we’re selling. Instead they come to play a ballgame, have some conversations, share a personal message, and interact with the men because they genuinely care.”
He then ended his explanation with this comment – “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were describing Christians!”
He shared that his current warden is opposed to any outside teams coming into the prison, so he has no intention of trying to have us visit but he called because he finally had to track down this ministry just to see if they were for real! He went on to share that he had been told the facility would be getting a new warden this year, and if the situation changed he would like to try to work something out for the fall.
I have shared stories – both personally and in my writings – of chaplains, staff, and inmates thanking us for showing we care, making an impact, or simply being so professional. I’ve gone on endlessly about the need to protect our reputation because of the doors it can open or close along the way. But this chaplain validated every word I have ever spoken or written; his first-hand account of our reputation traveling around the country demonstrates that we are being watched and we are being talked about at many levels.
God has done amazing things through this ministry and the number of lives He has touched are almost innumerable. Perhaps one of the greatest things He has done is to call men and women to serve on the front lines who genuinely understand that they represent Him first, the ministry second, their teammates, our supporters, their own families, and finally, themselves last. Without the quality of personnel that God has called, this ministry’s reputation would not be what it is.
John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA, wisely said “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, your reputation is merely what others think you are”. While I don’t disagree with Coach Wooden, I suggest that our reputation of excellence has traveled beyond the 34 states in which we have ministered in large part because of the character of the men and women involved. To them I say “Thank you” – not for heeding my admonitions to protect our reputation, but for answering the call of the One on whom that reputation has been built!