By Jennie Duke, SE Lady Saints Missionary-Athlete
On Saturday, August 13th, the SE Lady Saints traveled to Whitworth Women’s Facility, and God was on full display right from the start.
Right after hopping on the bus at 6am, I learned that I was to share my testimony… wait, what?!?! My work week had been so hectic that I’d missed that text! The coach knew it wouldn’t be a problem, but I arrived that morning less prepared than usual – and that put me in a bit of a panic. Of course, in God’s perfect plan, He knew I was going to have to rely solely on HIM to speak for me! I quickly texted my team of beloved prayer warriors, and we all went to the Lord on the 2-hour bus ride. While I’ve shared my testimony on visits several times before, I have always relied on notes when speaking in front of a crowd. ALWAYS! The notes are important because my testimony and what brought me to Jesus was extremely painful and difficult to relive.
Growing up poor, in Section 8 housing and on food stamps had made me fiercely self-reliant. That had served me pretty well into adulthood – or so I thought. But after losing our 5-year-old daughter, Hunter, to brain cancer…followed by a failing marriage…and grossly failing our young son as parents, I came to the end of myself, and it brought me to my knees. I realized that I could NOT save myself, or my family, on my own. And that brought me, broken and wrecked, to the foot of the cross and ultimately into a personal relationship with Him.
As the morning wore on, I surprisingly felt no butterflies despite having to share my testimony without any notes. It was just fun, fellowship & kickball with a group of women who were glad we made the trip. When the time came to take the microphone, a sense of immense peace washed over me, and the words came so naturally and freely I felt like I was talking to folks I’ve known my whole life! When I got to the death of our sweet daughter, in His power I didn’t fall apart, and I was able to share EXACTLY what I know He wanted me to share!
In that moment, God shared something with me. He showed me the biggest difference between the old me & the new me… something I hadn’t fully recognized before. I used to rely solely on the power of me – the self-reliant woman who could face anything. But today I stood in HIS power, vulnerable and yet more calm than ever before, because I trusted in Him!
God is so sweet how He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. He took the worst thing that’s ever happened to my husband and I – something I’m certain Satan would have loved to use to destroy us – and that is the very thing that brought both of us to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!
And He didn’t stop there, because I now have the privilege and joy of sharing my story, and a little piece of Hunter, with all who will listen, to help share the love, comfort, and peace that only Jesus Christ can offer. At Whitworth that day, we witnessed 13 women make a profession of faith in Christ! What an amazing day, and even more so, what an amazing day it will be to those 13 beautiful women when they stand before Jesus!
35 Years and Counting!
By Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach
We spent 2022 celebrating 35 years of prison ministry and are almost ready for year 36…but not yet! Our squadron of crack researchers at the Mind of Gibby compiled a list of things to look back on from this past year before we flip the calendar to 2023. Please join us as we celebrate our 35th anniversary one last time!
We added the West Virginia Team and at the Same Time Finally Solved the Puzzle of Making Regular Visits to Ohio!
I am a firm believer that nothing happens by chance, but after 35 years, you would think that we would have at least accidentally started a team in Ohio by now! Ohio has been an incredibly open mission field for our ministry for decades, but it isn’t always easy to get there. Fortunately, we have a team in West Virginia now, and they are close enough that they can visit several of the Ohio prisons that the rest of us can’t get to on a regular basis. They have done a fantastic job in their rookie season, and it is hard to make fun of them. Most of them are Cincinnati Reds fans, though… that’s comedy gold on its own!
We Still Didn’t Recruit Tim Tebow
I have mentioned this in a previous article, but I still have people walk up to me and remind me, “You guys need to get Tim Tebow to go with you to prison!” I usually roll my eyes and make it a point to forever avoid the person who suggested this, but for crying out loud, they’re not wrong.
Tebow used to have a legit excuse for not joining our
ministry; he was an NFL quarterback. After that, he was still too busy for us because he was playing minor league baseball. At this point, all he is probably doing every day is sitting on the couch and eating bags of chips. I’m also fairly sure he reads all of our stuff, so he clearly knows how to get a hold of us. The ball’s in your court, Tebow!
The Next Generation Showed Up
This was a fun year for several families in our ministry. The Smiths, DiBenedettos, Cochrans, Browns, and yes, even the Gibsons enjoyed father-son time on the mission field. There is something about being on a field with your kid and seeing them share a moment on the field with you and even more special to see them want to serve the Lord. The best part is our teams are now stacked in the event that we play Mario Kart, Minecraft, or Fortnite instead of actual sports!
Dave Cogliano ran a Crusade… and we lived to tell about it!
When our initial instructions included “devotions start at 1600 hours”, we knew we were in trouble…
“The Mind of Gibby” hasn’t been Canceled Yet
I know, right? I’m as shocked as anyone. Believe me, after years of insulting teammates, complaining about broken buses, and missing publishing deadlines, I thought that I should have been canned a long time ago, but here we are!
Well, here is to a great 2022 season and an even more exciting 2023! Of course, the excitement level will vary a little depending on whether or not we finally kidnap Tim Tebow!
The Saints Prison Ministry occasionally gets requests to work with another organization on a specific project, or even consider merging the organizations together. After a common faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning work at Calvary, the next thing I look for is synergy between the organizations: the idea that like-minded forces, working together as equals, can be greater than the impact of each independently.
Brother Bob’s Outreach is based in Wisconsin, and they check all the boxes of my “synergy scorecard.” The relationship started simply enough back in 2016 when we were planning our first-ever trip to Wisconsin. One of the prisons we scheduled mentioned a ministry that operated locally using a similar model. A few phone calls later a relationship was begun and, in the fall of 2019, Bruce Buri, BBO’s Director of Sports Ministry, joined our crusade to Alabama. He’s been a fixture ever since, traveling on five more crusades since then and bringing a few of BBO’s missionary-athletes with him on some.
In early August, a few MAs from our Illinois softball team were asked to help fill out the roster for a two-team Brother Bob’s softball event. It would have been tempting to treat this trip as though we were just helping out – along for the ride. We could have just focused on softball, ensuring that each team had enough players. But since this ministry also believes this is about more than just softball, we knew that we still needed to engage with the guys we saw and to be witnesses for Christ.
We had a fantastic day at Racine CI, ministering side-by-side with the Brother Bob’s Outreach softball team. Since there were two BBO teams, we were able to play multiple games at the same time. We won all four games and had a great experience interacting with the men in the prison yard. And since it was the Illinois team in Wisconsin, Gibby received his fair share of heckling for being a lifetime Cubs and Bears fan!
This was as seamless an experience as Bruce traveling to Alabama to join a group of men he had never met before. In both cases, the newcomers fit like a hand in a glove… and there is an extremely easy explanation for why. Because in each case, all those involved were so busy looking up for God’s strength and looking around for someone on whom to reflect the love of Christ, that there was no room for being uncomfortable or awkward.
Synergy? It’s much easier when we’re all focused Him!
In late August, Executive Director Frank Zeidler and Director of Team Operations Jimmy Cochran traveled to Tallahassee, FL to present an incredibly special SPM award, an award not given on a regular basis. Based on her efforts to make the Saints Prison Ministry 2021 softball season possible, Ms. Jordan Moyer, FDC Statewide Volunteer Coordinator was awarded the Saints Prison Ministry’s Corrections Ally of the Year. While the rest of the country’s corrections departments were closed to our ministry, Ms. Moyer went “above and beyond” to ensure that each of our 6 crusade teams was able to minister in Florida during the 2021 calendar year. Her efforts allowed us to minister to thousands of men who might not otherwise have been exposed to the Gospel last year, as well as serving to further the relationship between the Saints Prison Ministry and the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC). A well-deserved award for outstanding service during a challenging time!
The Saints Prison Ministry 2022 NE Golf Classic at Merchantville Country Club was a day to remember! The weather was the highlight of the day, with many people commenting that it could not have been any better if it was custom ordered! But there was some good golf played, excellent food consumed, and tremendous fellowship enjoyed by all!
The ministry is grateful to Steve Schoch, Tournament Director and his team – Rob Fogel and Warren Miller, our volunteers for the day and the Merchantville Country Club, our hosts for the fifth year running, for a spectacular event. The tournament not only raised almost $10,000 for the work of the ministry, but God was glorified throughout the day.