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by Kevin Scala, first-year missionary athlete, NJ Soccer team
Several years ago, I began asking the Lord to give me an opportunity to enter prisons to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those that may never have heard. This past year I met a brother in Christ that mentioned he was a part of an organization called The Saints Prison Ministry. He told me that they go into prisons to play soccer against the inmates, and also to freely proclaim the message of the cross to those that are there. What a God we serve that He is willing to open these doors of opportunity to His redeemed!
I longed to take part in the preaching of the gospel during halftime and to see my brothers do the same. We are the most privileged people in the whole world to be enabled to wield the message that God has promised will shatter sin and hell and produce light and eternal redemption in the souls of mankind.
Amidst the utter seriousness of the message we brought, it was great to show the inmates that Christ makes all things new, even soccer. I figured that if I was in prison and heard that a team of Christian men were coming in to challenge us, then I would expect them to bring it. And my whole team did just that each week; unafraid to unleash the skills that occasionally dazzled inmates and drew the satisfied yells from the fans.
A couple of things stood out to me while taking part in this ministry. One was how some of the men tightly gripped my hand while we all prayed and asked God to save, renew, and strengthen us in our walks. We all knew that the love of Christ was being openly shown to each other, and rejoiced in it together. Another was that I realized that many of the conversations I had during the season were directly a result of the prayers of all of my brothers and sisters in Christ that had been supporting us while we were playing. I thank God that there are many that continue to hold up each of these sports teams throughout the year. I pray that He continues to give strength and wisdom to those that lead this ministry, until we see Him who says to us even now, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
by Will Lynch, MA and Pastor from New Jersey
I love to watch how God works. Many things are expected, such as His Word will not return back void. But many things are unexpected too. Allow me to share an unexpected way God has worked in leading me to Florida in early March to join up on another Saints Prison Ministry softball crusade.
The first time I met Kirk was in a light drizzle in the parking lot of a prison in southeast Ohio. He was meeting us to help lead a softball crusade team from West Virginia. We needed one more veteran to fill out the roster and this guy, Kirk, from Georgia “happened to be” in Ohio for a business trip.
Due to the rain, we were in the gym instead of on the diamond so we broke out the whiffle ball bats and started our game. On the first pitch, Kirk was beaned with the whiffle ball and without hesitation, he charged the “mound.” Watching all this from third base, I will never forget the faces of the first-time Saints players we had with us as Kirk ran at a convicted felon with a whiffle ball bat for hitting him with a plastic ball. Their jaws were on the floor…until Kirk stopped and smiled causing an uproar from everyone in the gym.
This is what makes The Saints Prison Ministry so effective: interactions like this, in the context of sport, that remove perceived barriers and allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to go forth unhindered.
Inmates rarely have hope. You would think that the hope they have would be in their release date (for those who have a release date), but I have talked with many previously incarcerated inmates who are still hopeless. Even though they were released and are “free,” the stigma of being a felon or their guilt enslaves them as they live out the rest of their days.
Except for those “in Christ” – having set their hope in Him alone and the finished work of the cross and resurrection, they find freedom, whether still behind bars or not. This hope anchors their souls. When we go into these prisons, we are asking the Lord to help us communicate this hope in clear and powerful ways. That is why this ministry is necessary.
by Sam Stengel, first-year missionary athlete, NJ Basketball
“You can’t change a man’s heart by locking him in a cage.”
These are the first words I hear uttered by the Chaplain of Sussex Correctional Institution, no more than 10 feet inside the gate. Immediately, everything is put into perspective and all of my preparation is useless. This was my first time visiting any prison, let alone going in to serve. I had prepared my thoughts, words, and prayers I wanted to share but I had not prepared to learn or listen. It’s funny how God can work things in your life using a sentence of no more than 10 words.
After our brief interaction with the Chaplain, his words stuck with me for the rest of the day. Starting our first basketball game, I began to ponder the concept of what we were doing and where we were doing it.
A prison has many rules and guidelines to follow, for good reason, similar to that of the game of basketball. On one side of the court stands The Saints team and the other side the inmate team, with only one true difference between the two teams – jersey color. We both must abide by the same rules of the game, our objectives are the same and we both have the desire to compete.
It hits me; the game of basketball has put value to everyone on that court. Everyone has a purpose in the moment that is only restricted by the rules of the game. We are free from everything else and owners of our game. This might be the first time anyone on the other team has had a sense of freedom in quiet some time.
Purgatory is a word that is often thrown around when talking with inmates or about prisons. This idea of purgatory is sometimes defined as “a place or state of temporary suffering.” To me we all suffered purgatory with the fall of man. However, it took until a Saturday afternoon in a prison somewhere in Delaware to realize the biggest word in that definition is TEMPORARY. God is bigger than anything I encountered that day and anything I will encounter moving forward with Saints. To have the ability to bring hoops and the Bible together to create a special freeing bond in the hope of Jesus Christ, now that’s something that lasts FOREVER.
As much as I was prepared for Saturday, God continues to prove to me that I must listen and learn to see the beauty in his work. That beauty? To me, it was the sights and sounds of 10 brothers battling against each other in this game we call basketball.
by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director
I accompanied the team from Fayetteville First Baptist Church in conducting a softball crusade to Florida and the title of this article became the mantra for the MAs on the trip. Given that this was the team’s first crusade, they did not realize this was one of the more bizarre trips in which I’ve participated.
At the first prison we visited, the officers at the front gate were not expecting us when we pulled up. However, the Chaplain was…but the softball team wasn’t. A little digging uncovered the fact that our posters were hanging around the prison with the wrong date on them!
On Friday, the inmate population found out we were coming to visit as they walked into the recreation yard and saw us waiting on the field! All the paperwork was competed and prepared for us to enter – they just never told the inmates. The icing on the cake was when a fight broke out in the main yard on Saturday just as we were beginning our Gospel message. It was not near our team at all, but when the officers yelled “Get down” you had better believe we listened! In that yard, we handed out 200 Gospels and collected exactly one response card!
The good news is that the Lord wasn’t surprised by any of it and the results above show that His hand was in everything that happened. But no kidding…that was weird!
by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach
Bryce Harper just signed a 13-year deal for $330 million to play baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies!!! Part of my reading audience lives in the greater Philadelphia area, and reacted immediately:
Some of you are excited: “We are on our way to the World Series!”
Some of you are angry: “That’s too many years and ballplayers are overpaid!”
And some of you have figured out the only thing that will affect the fans: You are about to spend a lot more for Bull’s BBQ and for the opportunity to see the Philly Phanatic chase the Mets bullpen around on his ATV!
Regardless of how you feel, free agency is part of the game and it makes me think that maybe it’s time that our softball teams sign a big name free agent this summer!
Well, we here at the sabermetrics and statistical analysis office at “Inside the Mind of Gibby” have broken down the OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), WAR (wins above replacement), and WOAL (wings ordered at lunch) and determined the best candidates to add to our team:
1. Albert Pujols Pros: Albert is one of the greats of all time. He has a rock-solid testimony and would hit several softballs over the gym during our trips to Kentucky State Reformatory! Cons: When Albert got married, he spent his honeymoon in Peoria, IL. I’m from Peoria and I didn’t even spend my honeymoon here! At this point he is older and slowing down and he only plays first base. This doesn’t match the needs of the current Saints who are older and slowing down and can only play first base…
2. Ben Zobrist Pros: Zobrist has an incredible story of how God closed the door for him to go into full-time ministry and allowed him to continue playing baseball. He is a switch hitter and can play both the infield and the outfield. Cons: The Zobrist name is so respected in baseball and here in Central Illinois, that it is hard to find anything to make a con about. Well, there was that one time at Wrigley that he was playing right field and he wouldn’t even look up at me when I was trying to talk to him about donating a bus to our team. So we went out and got our own bus…and I hope Zobrist appreciates how that’s worked out!
3. Clayton Kershaw Pros: Clayton not only is a perennial CY Young and MVP candidate, but, when he isn’t busy throwing strikes in LA, you can find him sharing his faith in the community or on the mission field in Africa. Cons: After further research, we determined that he will have trouble executing his unhittable slider while throwing underhanded at 4 MPH.
4. Tim Tebow
Pros: This is the big one! If we could land Tebow, we could finally get the “you guys should get Tebow” monkey off our back. He should adapt to slow pitch softball well and we could always use him if we ever play prison football! He is a missionary’s kid and loves sharing the Gospel.
Cons: After looking at his resume, we are concerned that he hasn’t had a real job in quite some time. The toughest part of the negotiation has been his insistence that he be the quarterback in whatever sport he plays.
While we don’t have Bryce Harper – or even Valerie Harper – money laying around to make a big free agent signing, we can offer long uncomfortable bus rides, funny looks from people at gas stations, poor choices in fast food dining, and the opportunity to hit softballs out of some of the most obscure ballparks in America! Who wouldn’t want to sign here?!