Author Archives: Saints Prison Ministry

Open Letter from the Executive Director

I Can Breathe – I Didn’t Know You Couldn’t
An open letter by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

Have you looked up racism in the dictionary lately?  The people at Merriam-Webster recently reported it to be the number one lookup on their website in the last month.  Why is that?

The easy answer is that the term is all over the news right now.  But, in general, people only look up words for two reasons: either they want to be sure they are using the right word, or they simply don’t know what a particular word means.  Racism has been a part of the American lexicon since 1902, when Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt decried the deleterious effects of segregating people by race or class.1  So how can people in 2020 not know what it means?

While racism affects many minority races, the conversation recently has focused on the relations between white-skinned people and people whose skin is brown, from the lightest shades to the darkest.  That is the conversation I am addressing here.

If you do not believe racism is systemic in America today, you have much work to do in educating yourself.
If you do not believe white privilege exists in America today, you have much work to do in educating yourself.
I believe both of those statements, yet I still have much work to do in educating myself.

When you ask a person of color, “is there racism in America?”, they might initially laugh – as if to say, “is that really a question?”  But that same person will then answer honestly, “Of course there is…how can you not see it?”  I know because I have had that conversation.  Three hours later, I could not believe how blind I have been to racism in this country.

Today, I cannot even fathom the pain and deep sadness felt by our brothers and sisters of color when what they see so clearly, and their life experiences, are diminished and even dismissed by most white people.  Yet it happens every day and white America, as a whole, continues to reject any responsibility for the current racial climate.

In my younger years, I had a job as a retail store manager, working for a single-owner business.  In one of my meetings with that owner, I complained about the way my store staff reacted to a policy I implemented.  His reply has stuck with me for 30 years now: “Do you know what they were upset about?  Then get past their choice of words or actions and address the real problem.”

What is happening in our society today is that people of color – our brothers and sisters – are crying out in desperation: Do you not see me?  Can you not hear me?  We cannot breathe!

And, much like 25-year-old-Frank Zeidler, white America continues to focus on the words they are choosing and the actions they’ve taken without even making a real attempt to hear what they are saying!
(No, I do not condone looting and if that is your takeaway, then you aren’t hearing me either.)

Unfortunately, the attitudes and the actions (or inactions) that follow are indeed systemic – they are ingrained in the very fiber of white America whether we choose to admit it or not.  Sure, we can point to societal advances like the abolition of slavery or the election of a person of color as President of the United States.  But those are entirely hollow arguments when we are really talking about the attitudes born of racialization and the subtle ways white America lives them out every day.

In a book entitled, “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, the author makes this point:

“… racial practices that reproduce racial division in the contemporary United States “(1) are increasingly covert, (2) are embedded in normal operations of institutions, (3) avoid direct racial terminology, and (4) are invisible to most Whites. [Racialization] understands that racism is not mere individual, overt prejudice, or the free-floating irrational driver of race problems, but the collective misuse of power that results in diminished life opportunities for some racial groups.  This framework understands that people need not intend their actions to contribute to racial division and inequality for their actions to do so.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”  “I didn’t even know I did that.”  “That wasn’t my intention”.  Welcome to the wonderful world of systemic racism.  The challenge now is to mean it, to know it, and to intend it.  And I am talking to myself as well.

I have been married for 33 years to a wonderful, godly woman.  To my shame, it took me most of those years to understand and embrace a basic truth:  if it is important to her, it is important.  For far too many years (and occasionally even still today), I was dismissive when she would mention something that I was certain was of little consequence.  Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong…but the fact is that my attitude conveyed to her that “you are using words but I am not hearing you because I don’t think it is important”.

Too often in public comment or private conversation, I hear that same attitude coming out of the mouths of white America when hearing people of color discussing racism.  Haven’t you heard it too?  “These are isolated incidents.  “Most police officers are good.”  “The real problem is….”  “Statistics say ……”  These are all versions of the same attitude I was guilty of at home for years.  And I cannot find a passage anywhere in my Bible that says we should dismiss the concerns of our brothers and sisters – created in God’s image – because we don’t think they are important or valid.

I did find this, however: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2)  Take that down whatever theological road you choose, accuse me of taking it out of context if you must, but the fact remains that being dismissive, defensive, or accusatory must be decried as an unacceptable response to any person of color pointing out the racism that is entrenched in daily life.

As a Christian, and a leader in a Christian missionary organization, the words of Jesus in John 10 resonate loudly to me: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.  Our enemy wishes to divide – and it appears to be working.  But Jesus’ mandate to “love one another” fosters harmony, and that is the side I choose!  However, “I love you, brother” is not enough right now, so:

  • I denounce racially motivated police brutality.2
  • I denounce the devastating effects that “mass incarceration” has had on the family unit, and the community of people of color.
  • I equally denounce my peers, colleagues, or friends in the white community who say that racism and white privilege in America simply do not exist.

I believe the danger in times like this is to be all talk and no action.  I cannot change all of America; I am not the face of the entire white-skinned population…but I am the Director of a ministry that reaches predominantly people of color.  So, after my own attitudes and actions, that is where I must start.

The first step will be to create a forum designed to have courageous talks about race as it relates to our call to share the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters behind bars. I do not know the outcome of that forum – and if I told you I know the end result, this entire piece would be for naught.  It will be real, and it will be uncomfortable, but I promise you it will be to the glory of God, and the furtherance of his Kingdom.

Serving Him gladly,

Frank Zeidler, Jr.
Executive Director
[email protected]

1 While Pratt denounced racism, his solution was no better.  Read more:   https://www.indianz.com/News/2016/08/16/first-use-of-racism-came-from-founder-of.asp
2 To be clear, I denounce all forms of police brutality; but this letter is specifically addressing the issue of racism, thus the identification of a specific form of police brutality.

 

Mountain Moving 101

by Jimmy Cochran, SE Regional Director

They say that faith can move mountains. In my case, the mountain came in the form of putting on a southeast regional fundraiser. I am not one who is overflowing with creative ideas nor am I a Pinterest geek. After thinking of some ideas and praying about it, I decided on having a golf tournament. Golf tournaments in my part of the country are a dime a dozen. On any given day there is a golf tournament somewhere, so my greatest fear was that this event would get shuffled in with the rest and I would be left with a dozen golfers and egg on my face!

I began my hike towards the mountain in March and after seeking godly counsel from people who have put on many tournaments in the past, I settled on a course and a date. Since the golf course was taking care of many details of the event, including the buffet meal, I was left with seeking sponsorships and above all…golfers!

Again I prayed over who would be the primary sponsor of the tournament, and asked if God would place in front of me those who be the other main sponsors. Slowly the doors began to open and one after another the key sponsorships were filled. Moving on to hole sponsorships, my goal was to get 18 – one per hole – and not being the greatest of salesmen I launched out in search of companies that would buy into what we represent. I started out with folks I knew who owned their own businesses; maybe I can help them out bit but since they already know what I do for a living it wouldn’t be so much of a “cold call”!

Many of my friends took me up on the offer but the Lord really opened the doors when my buddy Keith Boggs, founder of Real Momentum and our primary tournament sponsor, began to send out emails to his guys. Many of them own their own business and if they don’t, they know someone who does. The word began to spread and in mid-June the hole sponsorships were filling and I was also receiving emails from people wanting to play!

God was answering prayer after prayer as the tournament filled. I had originally prayed for 48 golfers but really hoped to get 60. As the event drew near, that number slowly started to move from hope to reality, and as of three days prior to tee-off the number was there. I had 60 golfers for my fundraiser and I was overjoyed!  August 21, 2017 was a blessed day to be on the course: He gave us great weather, a full field of golfers, a sponsor on every hole plus a few extra, a great meal …… and He threw in an eclipse to show off a little!

For those who do not believe in the power of prayer, I would simply like to say, pray and have faith that God will answer. James 1:6 says “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” Yes, there were times I let doubt creep in and when I did I felt like waves tossed on the seas, not really knowing which direction I was headed in. But when I asked forgiveness and asked God to set me on firm ground, grant me wisdom and discernment for the event at hand, He responded. He answered beyond what I expected or hoped and for that I give Him all the glory, honor and praise!

 

Inside the Mind of Gibby

The Official SPM Crusade Survival Guide

By Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

At some point during a Saints Crusade, probably during a devotion or pregame speech, someone will quote Joshua 1:9 and tell the team that we must be strong and courageous, that we are a band of brothers who are ready to storm the gates of hell, that we are here to chew bubblegum and share the Gospel, and …… you get the picture.  Unfortunately, not everyone is totally equipped to handle the REAL struggles that come with a Crusade.  After going on 13 different Crusades, I have a pretty good grasp on how to navigate through some of the tougher situations, so here are my tips for surviving a Saints crusade.

Dealing with a Snoring Roommate

First of all, this guy will be in denial that he has a snoring problem.  He will claim that his wife is overreacting about his snoring and that he knows more about sleep apnea than your average pulmonary doctor!  With that being said, he is now YOUR problem once the lights go out.  YOU CAN’T SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW (It doesn’t look good for the ministry and isn’t good for your testimony!).  The key to dealing with him is earbuds.  You pop those babies in and you can fall asleep listening to a classic movie soundtrack, a good book, or your favorite Weird Al Yankovic songs!  If your roommate is a major league snorer and can overpower Weird Al, you can always get caught up on sleep when you return to work on Monday.

Playing out of Position

On every Crusade we will have too many Missionary Athletes that play the same position.  We will either have too many outfielders and no third basemen or we will have too many infielders and someone will get shoved to the outfield.  Whoever is coaching the team will try and make this YOUR problem and shove you to a position in which you rarely if ever play. The key to making this work is to immediately announce, with overwhelming conviction, that you are not an outfielder or corner infielder.  This absolves you from the errors that you will make the rest of the day; but it is still important to remind your teammates each time an error does happen, “Hey!  My bad, but I’m not a shortstop!  He just put me here!”

Going out for Mexican Food

You may choose to insert Chinese, Thai, Guatemalan, or other foreign cuisine here, but there will come a time when whoever is picking food will choose something you don’t like.  I have the appetite of your average 12 year old.  I like pepperoni pizza, fries, chocolate milkshakes, and that is about it (My wife can verify this and can also verify that this is not one of the qualities that attracted her to me).  Looking up and down the menu you will either find nothing you like or you will not be cultured enough to know what anything on the menu is!  Relax, because there are three fixes to this scenario.  1. Is it ok for you eat just queso and chips for dinner?  Yes, yes it is!  2.  Get up and tell the guy next to you that you are using the bathroom, then sprint across the parking lot to the Wendy’s for a Baconator and a Frosty; it’s WAY better than the Gordita surprise that everyone else is ordering.  3. Quietly order the chicken fingers off the kids menu and just tell the rest of the team that the restaurant messed up your order!

Restroom Not Available

There are limited times to use a bathroom during a prison visit, and playing softball while having to use the restroom is the worst.  Most of the time you will have a chance to use one in the lobby of the prison, but chances are your snoring roommate is using it the entire time that you are checking in through security.  If it happens during a game, the last person you want to talk to is the coach; he will just tell you to tough it out.  The person that you should talk to is the officer in charge.  They will sometimes “airlift” you in a golf cart from the yard to a wonderful staff restroom.  While you are gone, the coach will just have to find someone else to play out of position in your spot!

Surviving a Political Conversation on the Bus

If you really are inclined to smother a teammate with a pillow, now is the time to do it!  This conversation will start out with something really brilliant like, “Those IDIOTS who voted for (scoundrel politician) should be shot!”  The reply will be even more brilliant and sound something like this, “Oh yeah, well if (deadbeat representative) had done something, then we wouldn’t have the budget/jobs/stray cat crisis that we do now!”  This pointless, mind-numbing conversation will last for hours unless someone lies on a grenade and changes the subject.  If you are traveling with the IL team, a comment like “I don’t think Jay Cutler got a fair shot in Chicago” or if you are traveling with the PA team something like, “I really wish we would have given Dominic Brown one more chance”, should bring unity to the bus.  Unfortunately, they will now be unified in destroying the guy who changed the subject!

Are Saints Prison Ministry Crusades for the faint of heart?  Not really, but after reading this you are well-prepared to survive any of the major dilemmas that come up on a Saints Crusade!

 

Light in the Darkness

by David Cogliano, Board of Trustees member and North GA Softball Missionary-athlete

The Saints Prison Ministry has visited Kentucky State Reformatory at least twice in the past – and this was my second visit personally.  It is a prison that has a very active recreation program, inviting many teams into their facility all year round – Christian or not, whether for ministry or just for a game.  One could easily reach the conclusion that with that many teams coming through the gates, the inmates don’t care who is in the other dugout.

Since the day I started with the Saints I have heard Frank, Jimmy and others repeatedly talking about the value of the ministry’s reputation.  After just a couple years with the North GA team, I began to see the truth in that position and since I joined the Board of Trustees in 2016 it has been something I have repeated often myself.  I’ve seen the reputation of the ministry open doors that seemed closed, and I have heard inmates talk about how much they like us.  But on this crusade, that “talking point” became reality in a way I never saw coming.

KSR beat us handily the last time I was there, so this crusade team was determined to make a good showing.  We gave the team all they could handle that first game, so when it came time to break for the Gospel message I felt pretty good walking around the yard handing out literature.  I approached one particular prisoner and asked if he would like a Gospel of John and a tract.  He stuck his hand out and said he would take one from the Saints but that is all.

It was an odd response – not a typical yes or “Nah, I’m all right” – so I felt compelled to follow up and ask him what he meant by that.  He proceeded to tell me how other organizations – Christian ministry organizations – “come in here, hand you a piece of literature, and leave thinking they have done something good.  All they’ve done is check off a box.  But when the Saints come here, we know they are sincere in everything because you spend time listening to our stories, pray with us, and play softball with us.  So I’ll take a Gospel from the Saints.” (Note – SPM had not been to KSR since 2014, yet this guy knew some of us and recognized who was on that trip!)

I was genuinely moved – no surprise to my teammates who know I can get emotional – and I told him how much that means to me and my teammates to hear that.  I asked him if there was anything I could pray for in his life and then hugged it out as we always do with the guys we meet.  It was a short amount of time but he could not have encouraged me more if we had spent all day together.  Simply because we choose to reflect Jesus Christ in the way we do ministry, this man now has the Gospel of John in his cell with him!

 

Inmate Art_Fall 2017

Hector M., location unknown

Kevin W., Lee CI, South Carolina

Arthur M., SCI Mercer, Pennsylvania

Jason S., Ulster CF, New York

Michael V., Cotton CF, Michigan

Ken S., SCI Rockview, Pennsylvania

Louis P., Cross City CI, Florida

 

Reputation Matters

Reputation Matters

By Frank Zeidler, Jr., SPM DirectorFrank_TBN

 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!

 

Announcements

We’re hiring!

Saints Prison Ministry is seeking one part-time staff member to join our team in serving the Lord through our work in prisons throughout the US. The candidate will work out of SPM’s Hainesport, NJ office during typical business hours.

For more information, email Frank Zeidler, Executive Director, at [email protected]

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Praise the Lord with us!

For the first time in three years, all seven our Saints Softball teams are active! From now until the end of September we have teams visiting prisons every weekend. Thank the Lord for re-opening doors for us!