by Frank Zeidler, Jr.
Ocean tides are widely regarded as relatively stable and predictable. Fishermen and those living in coastal areas are very familiar with the high tides and low tides – so much so that they rarely have to consult a chart to know when to expect each on a given day.
However, even the most casual beachgoer knows the changing of the tide is not instantaneous. That subtle shift from low tide to high tide is not something anyone actually sees – it usually takes six to seven hours – but the evidence of the tidal change is obvious to any vacationer who fell asleep in a beach chair and woke up on a raft!
For many years, the Saints Prison Ministry’s interaction with prisons in the Northeast was as stable and predictable as the ocean tides. Sure, on occasion we were cancelled but it was rare and usually for a very obvious and serious reason. We enjoyed almost unfettered access to more prisons than we could accommodate, and any opposition to our visit was a huge anomaly.
We opened a Southeast Regional office in 2010 to very similar results. After just one softball season our reputation preceded us and by the third year we needed three teams operating in the state of Georgia! Again, we were seeing incredible access and being greeted with open arms. The Saints Prison Ministry has been faithful to the principles we were founded on and God is blessing that faithfulness every bit as much as He did in 1987. Except today the tide is turning.
It has been subtle to be sure. Maybe it comes in the form of an increasing Muslim presence that leads to a slight change in procedure. Or an individual prison that finds itself short-staffed so they ask to reschedule the event. We respond to these changes – but much like the beachgoer who sees the tide coming in but only moves the chair a few yards rather than overreact and leave the beach, we have been accommodating and remain optimistic.
But as I look at “the beach” that is our mission field, I see a very distinct line where the tide used to be – and I cannot believe how far it moved while I was right in the middle of things! Consider these recent developments:
- In South Carolina, a particular Warden with his own value system began ripping up the softball field to install a very large garden. He is now responsible for at least three prisons that were once considered staples of our crusades being deemed “unable to host” our team.
- In Maryland, a Muslim chaplain at a federal prison openly challenged our authority to not only share the Gospel but to distribute any literature at all.
- In Arizona, the Head of Pastoral Services for the entire state – a self-proclaimed Christian – told us he would not approve the program for any state facility because “if I let you do this, I would have to let every religion that has a ball team do it”.
- We have had more cancellations in the last two years for less than stellar reasons (when we are even given a reason) than we had in the previous 10 years.
The list goes on: restricted access to only certain parts of the recreation yard, crowds that used to be 200 now restricted to 30, places that used to be regular stops for our teams in the NE now telling us the rules make it “not worth the effort”, a Muslim population that is growing at an alarming rate…..stop me when you’ve read enough.
Friends, the tide is indeed turning and unlike the coastal tides we have no expectation that in short order it will return. This could very well be our new normal – a mission field that has pockets of administrative resistance, areas we cannot reach, and a target audience that is increasingly fraught with those hostile to the Gospel
We intend to continue to move the beach chair incrementally rather than give up the beach, but it is important that you are aware that the enemy has intensified his efforts. The ministry that God has entrusted to you and to us is being challenged on more fronts than ever, with a vigor that we have not seen before. I see only one course of action that will keep the tide from reaching our chair… pray!
We know the One who made the sun stand still for Joshua and we know the One who has the ability to stop the tide, even reverse it if He so desires! He and He alone, can influence corrections officials to change their policies, their minds, and their hearts. It is to Him that we turn for direction, guidance, and intervention.
We invite you to join the Saints Board of Trustees as we commit to making every Friday a day of prayer for this specific need. It does not matter what time of day, nor does it matter for how long. What matters is that our Heavenly Father hears our prayers and knows that His children are resting in the knowledge found in Isaiah 55: 9-11:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
It is time to turn the tide back again!