By Frank Zeidler, Jr, Executive Director
In 2003, the Saints Prison Ministry took a softball team to Colorado for a crusade – and came home with a soccer team! No, we didn’t convert softball players into men in shorts running 7-8 miles in a 90-minute game. God had a MUCH better plan than that!
The whole story would take more space than this column allows, so here are the Cliff notes: Dale Glading and Bob Hellyer attend a meeting while in Colorado Springs; they meet a young man named Daryll Bryant at the meeting; Daryll is enamored with the idea of athletic prison ministry and volunteers his father to get involved (nice guy!); John Bryant has a conversation with Dale; voila! – soccer team.
Yes, I rushed through that – but only to get to past the history and talk about the man. A retired Philadelphia police officer, John was running a retail soccer store when the Saints met him. As Daryll expected, he was instantly in love with the idea of marrying his passion for soccer with his desire to serve Jesus. So much so that he and his two sons – Daryll and his brother Dennis – made a trip to New Jersey to see what this was all about. A couple days absorbing information in the office and a Saturday visit to the Federal prison complex at Allenwood were all John needed to take the plunge.
Once back in Colorado John was left to figure out the nuances of running a ministry soccer team and learn the Colorado DOC at the same time. Nevertheless, he proved up to the challenge and in short order the Saints had a Colorado branch, playing soccer year round!
To John’s credit, he never assumed he had all the answers. His background included work in service industries and retail, in addition to his time on the force, so he certainly had the ability to figure things out. But when informed that some close friends of the ministry were in Colorado – Bruce McDonald and Brent Fuqua among them – he was always open to input from long-time ministry veterans.
Some of you met John at the Saints annual celebration banquets and heard the passion in his voice when he spoke about the work in Colorado. The men who played for him, and those of us who were with him at Allenwood years ago, certainly saw the depth of his soccer knowledge. But that all paled in comparison to what matters most to John – introducing men in prison to his Lord and Savior.
In recent years, John and his wife Kate have dealt with serious physical challenges and significant family matters; yet these things never became an excuse to skip a month, as a team or personally. If a man in the Colorado prison system has not heard that Jesus loves them, it was not on John Bryant’s watch!
On June 23rd, John took the Colorado soccer team into prison for the final time; after 15 years of impacting men behind bars for Jesus he has decided to retire from this ministry. He takes with him many memories, and leaves behind many accomplishments – but none as great as the thousands of men that met Jesus for the first time because of his dedication and commitment. As with many other situations in life, we won’t realize everything John brought to this ministry until he’s gone but his heart for the lost is going to be very hard to replicate.
Thank you, John – there will be a very heavy crown adorned with jewels and hundreds of grateful men waiting for you in glory!