Click below for Winter 2018
by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director
Multiple teams…one ministry…one message. A phrase that blends the components of our work into one simple but powerful conclusion.
The Saints Prison Ministry embraces the necessity of discipleship, and has been involved in Bible Correspondence lessons since our inception; but we also recognize that we have ministry partners that excel in that area. Caring for an ex-offender – aka aftercare or post-prison ministry – requires close, constant interaction and mentoring, not programs of large scale. To be effective in that area of prison ministry means almost a singular focus and we also have some wonderful partners for those seeking help after release. We understand the need and importance of these elements of prison ministry – we even tried to be “all things to all people” for a short time. However, at our core, SPM has always been a predominantly evangelistic work.
The Saints Prison Ministry does one thing better than any other organization operating on a national level – reach inmates with the Gospel through athletics. God has seen fit to sustain us in this work and His blessings continue to flow. When I began with the ministry in 1998, we operated one softball team and one basketball team. Each of those teams conducted one crusade in addition to their standard season. Two teams and two crusades – that was the extent of our reach. Comparatively, in 2018 our ministry is twelve athletic teams and we conducted eight crusades… and even more planned for 2019!
That is 20 different teams taking the field in 13 different states. Twenty different collections of personalities led by 20 different coaches. However, every one of those teams’ leaders and each missionary-athlete recognizes that they represent the Lord first and The Saints Prison Ministry second. They set aside personalities and individual team identities because we are multiple teams but one ministry. Every prison knows they are inviting The Saints Prison Ministry to their facility and when the team arrives, that is what they see. It doesn’t matter which team walks up to the gate because each team carries itself the same way – a way that is pleasing to the Lord and makes an impact on all we encounter.
But our focus is not on our teams or even the ministry. Our focus is entirely on the inmates and their need for a Savior. Every team that represents The Saints Prison Ministry behind walls or fences carries the same message: Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen and coming again for the man or woman standing in front of us. Jesus Christ can provide a freedom known only through Him, despite the bars and chains that face them every day. Our missionary-athletes do not waver from that message, nor do they apologize for it.
Multiple teams… 20 teams or more each year, comprised of 190+ volunteer missionary-athletes, visiting 10-15 states annually.
One ministry… every man or woman setting aside their egos to represent the Saints Prison Ministry, for the glory of God.
One message… Jesus saves! Can there be anything else worth talking about?
by Tom Zawisa, longtime Saints Prison Ministry supporter
Fifteen years ago (or so), while stationed at McGuire AFB, NJ, my family and I attended Easton Bible Church. While there, at an event like a Saturday men’s breakfast, I first heard about The Saints Prison Ministry. I was impressed by the dedication of the missionary-athletes who spoke and when Matthew 25:35-40 was referenced, I was touched. Although I did not personally know anyone in prison, I felt that those whom society has largely forgotten about needed to hear about Jesus Christ just as much as you and I.
Being fully aware of my lack of athletic ability, I still wanted to be involved. When The Saints representative suggested I could join the “Pen Pals” who correspond with inmates (often after a visit by The Saints athletic teams), I thought that was something I could do – I like to write letters (a little more common back then than it is today), and I hoped I could provide some encouragement to some of the inmates. Christ came and died for all of us – we are all equal at the foot of the cross! Moreover, I wanted any inmates I would correspond with to know that.
So, over the years I corresponded with numerous guys, one of whom since about 2005 or so. Certainly, some of the letters might be a little rough, but that’s probably to be expected. I find the letters I receive back from inmates often bless me – with all those guys are going through in often spiritually dark facilities, the men on the other end tell me how they are glad to receive my letters and that they pray for ME!
Fast-forward to last year’s Saints 30th Anniversary banquet, and I asked Frank about participating in the “Saints in the Stands” effort. Essentially this would be Saints who accompany the team to the “yard” and interact with the inmates while the teams are playing. The Saints teams often have a very limited amount of time to be with the inmates and any of a variety of factors could whittle that time down even further. A “Saint in the Stands” could increase the amount of interaction with inmates and shine further Light into their lives.
Last spring I touched base with Jimmy Cochran regarding accompanying The Saints to a facility. He sent me the paperwork to accomplish, he pushed it to the powers-that-be, and I was cleared to join the team at SCI Waymart in NE PA. I was very excited.
As the date approached to join the team and go into a bona fide prison, I found myself a little anxious. I knew The Saints had not really had any incidents, so I wasn’t terribly worried about that. I was more concerned about saying something wrong, or negatively effecting The Saints ministry. But some other PA Saints members alleviated my fears, gave me a rough idea of what to expect, and told me to just “show the love of Christ” to these men. Keep it simple, right?
The day of the event, I met up with the team in Quakertown, and we journeyed up to SCI Waymart (a few hours by car). Praise the Lord, everything went smoothly and the entire team got in that day. After a few minutes, the inmates came out into the yard – and there were A LOT of them! But so many of them looked happy – obviously not happy to be spending this part of their lives in prison, but happy that we came to see them and play a friendly game with them. One thing that caught me by surprise, though, was the faces in the crowd – from very young to very old. Guess I was expecting more middle-of-the-road in age. But ALL are in the likeness of God and all need His love and the sacrifice Christ did on our/their behalf.
Well, The Saints team that day was short some players, and even though we borrowed a couple guys from the inmates’ team, we got pounded. No one remembers the score (at least I don’t) but I remember that the testimony and Gospel messages given that day really reached some in the audience. And I remember that while several said they accepted Christ that afternoon on their response cards (Praise the Lord!), something else that seared itself into my mind was the prayer requests of these men: “pray for me, I get out in two weeks,” “pray for my 2-year-old son,” “pray for my growth,” “pray for my parents”…
Saints supporters, by the time you read this, we will be in the New Year. Are you still pondering your New Year’s resolutions? Might seem like an odd question in relation to the rest of the article, but hear me out. As we move into 2019, perhaps this would be a good time to begin reflecting on how you can further God’s Kingdom through new or increased support of The Saints Prison Ministry. For years, even though I love The Saints mission, I had never been out where the rubber met the road. But I finally did it! About 15 years after first hearing about The Saints, I got to a prison and watched as Saints ballplayers shared the love of Christ, and how His sacrifice can ensure their eternity in heaven. Who knows, maybe this season I will travel with the team again and perhaps even put on a glove and some cleats (even though I have not played softball in 20+ years) – the guys I joined for the SCI Waymart trip didn’t seem to mind that I have no athletic talent.
What about you? Have you been faithfully supporting Saints? I am not making light of your support, whether it be through the power of prayer, Bible correspondence, financial support, Pen Pal correspondence, etc. But maybe it is time to step it up a notch next year, or even now. Opportunities for your spiritual growth, as well as the growth of God’s Kingdom await – what role(s) will you take?
by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach
Happy New Year from the team here at Inside the Mind of Gibby! With the ringing in of a new year, the craze will be to make resolutions for the coming year. As someone who just turned 40, I see the need to set some goals and make some course corrections in my life, and especially in how I serve with The Saints Prison Ministry. Self-help guru Earl Nightingale once said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” I’m looking forward to the 2019 Saints Prison Ministry season and here are some of my goals:
1. Get in shape before the Spring Crusade – This may or may not require a gym membership but this will definitely require getting started before St. Patrick’s Day! Relax, over the holiday weekend there is bound to be a Rocky marathon on TV, and if you watch that Rocky IV training montage a few times you are sure to set out on a run through the snow on a January morning! Georgia teams, it will most likely be 60 degrees and sunny on January 1st down in Hot-lanta so you may have to improvise and run through the frozen food section at the Piggly Wiggly several times!
2. Get stuff done around the house before the season starts – Look, while we’re away doing a ministry that is fun and rewarding, we are not at home getting stuff done around the house. Neglecting some of these tasks has nearly resulted in me getting horse-collar tackled by my wife as I get on The Saints bus in the morning! So take it from me that now is the time to fix the broken lawnmower, the leak under the sink, the light in the refrigerator, the paint in the guest room, the door handle to the garage, the chain on your son’s bike [remainder of list redacted to save space in newsletter].
3. Take a really good team picture this year – The Illinois team has taken some pretty good pictures so this isn’t really a goal of mine. Some other Saints teams have team pictures from years gone by that really needed to be updated… (I’m looking directly at you Colorado…)
4. Show up on time this year – For crying out loud we have to get up really early on prison visit days, but deep down in your heart, you know that doesn’t really matter – you would still be late whether we left at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m.! It’s time to go and buy an alarm clock or a sleeping bag so you can just sleep on the bus the night before we leave!
5. Do not wait until the night before to write an article for the newsletter that I knew about months ago – This is a goal for everyone who has a regular column in the newsletter…oh wait, that’s only me…
6. Resolve to be a better teammate and less of an awful human being – Ok, for the last 10 years you’ve let everyone else carry in the boxes of literature or the portable PA system. Maybe you’ve taken the last water out of the cooler or eaten the last chicken wing before the plate made its way around the table. Perhaps you slept in while your roommate organized literature. This is the year to finally stop being a terrible person and be a better teammate…unless it comes down to the good seats on the bus!
Whether 2019 is your year to be “New Year = New You” or if it is another “Wait ‘til Next Year” year, Mr. Nightingale’s quote about people with goals rings true or, as deep thinker and former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra used to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
by Shane Gibson, Empire State Crusade team
This was my second Crusade with The Saints Prison Ministry. My main takeaway from this came from talking to some of the men who were so grateful to have been getting birthday cards and other letters from this ministry – some even getting them for 12+ years. Some said that was the only contact with anyone from the “outside” who even noticed them. It was a very sobering feeling to see how these inmates view what this ministry does, and how it helps them survive the conditions that they deal with every day.
Personally, I look forward to these trips. Working with this ministry and interacting with the guys that are on the prison team has been a great experience. I look forward to the next time we can set up another trip with The Saints.
Although Ed Harris is one of the actors that I seem to enjoy in everything he does, this is not about the 2001 war film in which he starred. Last year at this time, I wrote an article entitled “Not Gideon’s 300” referencing the resiliency of our NE Lady Saints. They had exactly three women on the roster before the season began, yet managed to pull together a successful season and engage in recruiting new members at the same time.
New year, new challenge. In 2018, they had a full roster of very committed women, including the return of a seasoned veteran, so the enemy chose a different tact to try to discourage them…cancellations!
They typically visit women’s prisons in the tristate area once a month and the schedule this year reflected exactly that. Yet they have only been able to conduct two events since August due to multiple excuses from prisons – including one prison where we arrived at security with a copy of the prison’s own gate memo in hand and were still denied entry!
Please add our Lady Saints to your personal prayer lists throughout 2019 – when the season rolls around this fall, we are coming back with a vengeance and Satan is going to have to find a new way to try and stop us!