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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!
This is the first installment of Inside the Mind of Gibby, a recurring column in The Insider. Using a style all his own Tom Gibson, coach of our IL Saints softball team, offers you a peek into some of the lesser known aspects of being “on the road” with our teams. Enjoy!
Remove the Sharp Objects from the Room!
One of my least favorite things in life is when a good idea does not turn out as planned. As I sat looking at my notes for the Saints team Bible study that I was attempting to lead that evening, I realized that the discussion amongst my Saints teammates had nothing to do with what I originally planned to talk about!
One of the best aspects of going on a Saints Crusade is the daily team devotions. After we visit a prison we will usually eat dinner and return to the hotel. We will typically meet in the breakfast area of the hotel and have a Bible study before we get some rest. These are great times to learn and study God’s Word as a team.
The topic for this particular evening was the beatitudes in Matthew 5. I had heard an excellent sermon from one of my favorite authors, Kyle Idleman, and decided that I would use some of his material for the devotions on this particular Saints Crusade. I did my research and prepared not only the devotions but handouts so that each of my teammates could follow along and perhaps appreciate my hard work even more!
The thought process and terminology that flowed so well from Kyle Idleman’s sermon fell flat as I presented it. I would bring up what I thought was a life changing discussion question only to hear the sound of crickets amongst the awkward silence. As we moved along in the devotion, I had a clear definition of Matthew 5:3 on my nice professional looking handout, but it seemed like most in the room had a different way of interpreting “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. The rest of the room was fighting sleep after a long day of softball and prison ministry and had trouble staying engaged. We soldiered through the devotions during that week but each topic I had brought up had taken a turn into another topic, which turned into another topic, none of which I knew how to tie back together into a beatitudes devotion!
By the fourth night I was planning to lop off a few points so we could get done in around twenty minutes and enjoy the Sunday Night Football game together. An hour later, the room was still hung up on Matthew 5:10 and what being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” really meant. At this point my devotion was now officially hijacked and I was trying to figure out if I could slip out of the room and make it to and from the Taco Bell down the street without anyone noticing!
This particular time that I led devotions was a humbling experience but I am thankful for all of the Godly wisdom that was in that room those four nights. Depending on the text and the topic, crusade devotion conversations will on occasion spill over into parenting and marriage application. Many topics lead to discussions on how we can serve in our local churches better. At other times the conversation will turn into some lively discussions on politics or some minor denominational differences. While these conversations are hard to get back on track and may take us more into the evening than we plan, each devotion time on a Crusade is edifying. I really enjoy spending time with guys from around the country and hearing their insight on God’s Word. I am especially thankful when I get to lead a Crusade devotion, even if they don’t turn out the way I plan!
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. “ Proverbs 27:17
Playing Soccer for Jesus
Bradley Teisen, Saints Missionary-Athlete, NE Soccer Team
It is not a typical teenager’s dream to go out on a Saturday morning into a prison to play the game of soccer. I would have never imagined playing the game I love with the most dangerous people that I may ever face. I never thought to play on a field surrounded by a tall wall with barbed wire attached to it from one end to the other. And as you look at the top of the fence, you could see just the tip of a pine tree waving in the wind. But, that game was one of the best games I had ever played.
I was able to play for Jesus in a barbed-wire prison with no way out and no turning back!
It was early in the morning when I got up and gathered all of my equipment together for the big game. I was pretty nervous about it, unsure how everything was going to play out. I kept thinking about the prisons I’d seen on TV and how violent the people on that show were. All I could do was to keep trusting God. As soon as the team arrived to our destination, we headed inside the doorway to the prison. Once we got out to the field, the team stretched, warmed up, and then we waited for the inmate population to join us in the yard.
The doors finally opened and the prisoners stepped on the field. We greeted each other and started right away. While playing the game, I was having so much fun that I forgot who we were playing against. During half time, I stood side-by-side with the “dangerous people” and listen to my father preach to them about Jesus and giving them a second chance in life. I was able to pray with those same men I had been nervous about meeting and show them the way to the light. It was amazing because a total of 8 prisoners accepted Christ. To me, being there and seeing their lives change before my eyes was incredible. In addition, we were able to make the prisoners feel like they weren’t caged in, but free with joy and happiness thanks to Jesus and the game of soccer.
This experience has helped me grow in my faith and learn more about how God uses people in the most unpredictable ways. I still can’t believe that I actually went to a maximum security prison and shared the gospel. But, I’m very glad that I did and would definitely do it again. Like they say, “Anything is possible with God.”
Ed note: Besides being a rookie this year, Bradley Teisen is also the son of Steven Teisen, an 18 year veteran and current captain of the Saints NJ Softball Team – and in this case, soccer player. Father and son shared this very special experience together!
Crazy Makes a Difference
Charles S., an inmate at Richland CI, Ohio
About seven years ago, I was a drug addict convicted of aggravated burglary and robbery. I was sentenced to 10 years in prison, some place called Lorain Correctional Institution.
I believed I already knew the Lord before I got arrested, but thought I could do it my way. When I got to Lorain CI, I invited the Lord into my heart for real and began going to religious services there. It was during this time that they announced a bunch of crazy guys were volunteering to come into the prison to play softball.
The team that showed up was called the Saints Prison Ministry. I went to the game and found it very entertaining. After the game some of the men began to talk and fellowship with us. One man in particular spoke with me, so I shared with him that I had no family, and my whole situation up to that time.
That man talked with me and shook my hand and took the time to pray with me. He explained what the Saints Prison Ministry was all about and why they were there. When we finished that man took my name and number – and he also took a piece of my heart with him! I have very few people in my life, but he showed me compassion and friendship.
Every year on November 16th I receive a birthday card from the Saints Prison Ministry, and I get letters from him. Words cannot express how uplifting those cards and letters are to me. I am so thankful for all of you, I appreciate your time and the things you do for people who are forgotten.
My only request is that you pray for my son. I haven’t heard from him in over seven years and it is my prayer that we have the opportunity to bond once again. I’m praying for you!
The Men Behind the Wall
Inmate author unknown
Some men live for others and make their presence known….some live in seclusion and choose to live alone. Some men stand for justice and walk inside the law, but of all men the group I’m in, is the men behind the wall.
We’ve given up our freedom, we’ve sacrificed our rights…by day we walk in darkness, and sorrow fills our nights. We’ve learned to hide the teardrops, but still the teardrops fall. We cry alone and hope seems gone, for the men behind the wall.
Some have lost their families, most have lost their friends…today will bring more heartache that tomorrow cannot mend. Where letters are not answered and no one takes the call, we count the cost – how much is lost – for the men behind the wall.
If anyone is righteous, then let him cast the stone…and if you’ve known perfection, you’re sure to die alone. The one man who was perfect was judged in Pilate’s hall, he knows best all our debts, and loves us yet……we men behind the wall.