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Inmate Letters

I would like to thank you for all of the birthday cards you have sent me over the years and the concern and care that goes with them. Although I have never written back to thank you before this, it has really touched my heart to know that someone cared enough to remember me, especially since some years yours is the only card I get for my birthday.

I have been incarcerated for approximately 34 years now. My parents have long since died, and the only family I have left now are my sister and her son, so it is very nice to hear from someone else in addition to them. Thank you for caring.

Joseph A., CTF North Facility, California

Thank you so much for the Bible Studies I’ve done with y’all. After doing these Bible Studies I feel like I have a new life now. I’m a child of God and the Holy Spirit is working in me. I did enroll in Crossroads Bible School as you suggested and I am now working on their lessons. I study the Bible every day, go to church every week, and pray many times a day. I feel my faith life growing and I look at things much different now.

I wake up each morning with a positive attitude, I’m happy, and I love my life. I have so much love in my heart, I just hope and pray that I find a safe place to go to when I am released. I am putting it all in God’s hands because as long as I trust in God, he will never turn His back on me. I still have 18 months left but meeting y’all was the best thing that has ever happened in my life. Thank you again, and please keep in touch.

Joseph B., Caroline CU #23, Virginia

Thank you for not only the birthday card, which made me feel very special, but also for the information that was included with it. I enjoyed the pastor’s message and it was all very encouraging. I embraced every bit of it and read it multiple times, meditating on it each time. Within the near future, I will submit some of my artwork for you to include in that newspaper. I don’t consider myself an artist, but the guys here say I draw pretty good so maybe you can use it. Again, thank you for the birthday blessing and keeping me in your thoughts.

Paris D., Broad River CI, South Carolina

Thank you for the birthday card –you are very good people. May God bless you with good health for many years to come. I am 68 years old and have been down for 35 years so God is good to keep me healthy this long. I would have wrote sooner but I had to trade my dinner tray for the envelope and stamps to write to you and one other friend who sent me a birthday greeting. Both of you are appreciated very much because I don’t get any other cards or letters except your two on my birthday. My sister don’t write to me and she is very busy working and taking care of the house. They don’t have much too so they can’t send anything. I’ve got no money in here but God is good and I survive by exchanging some of my food for things – I don’t need that much to eat anyway. Say “hello” to all the brothers in Jesus and maybe you can come play ball here someday.

Carlos P., Okeechobee CI, Florida

Inside The Mind Of Gibby

Welcome to another edition of “Inside the Mind of Gibby”! Just in case you haven’t noticed, (and judging by the lack of Facebook likes and comments, you haven’t!), this is my 7th article! We have discussed topics such as hijacked crusade devotions, bus problems, Star Wars, snoring roommates, more bus problems, and Mexican food, but a topic we haven’t discussed yet is just how Illinois became involved with The Saints Prison Ministry. I have asked Kurt Hand, a charter member of the team, to help where my memory might get cloudy.

In the beginning…

I have been involved with sports ministry in different capacities for the last 15 years. While researching sports ministries online, I ran across the Saints Prison Ministry. I contacted the Saints to get more information and in 2011, I drove to Ohio to join the NJ softball team on their annual crusade. I was initially scared to go in but I was really amazed at how sports connected with the men on the prison yard and created an opportunity to share the Gospel. I was so excited that I wanted to start a team and share the Gospel with the prisons in Central Illinois!

KH: So check this out, Tom Gibson meets some dude on the internet, rents a car, and drives all the way to Ohio, BY HIMSELF to go into prison with a bunch of strangers. I mean, these dudes could have been from Craigslist or something! Then he voluntarily hops up on their bus and sits down to go to prison with these guys! I mean who does that?

Ok, I guess when you put it that way, it does sound a little creepy! I mean I thought I just went on a missions trip and came home. No big thing...to me anyway.

We need a team in IL…

Over that winter, I talked to several church softball friends and acquaintances from other ministries and we assembled a team. These guys were excited to use a game they loved like softball to reach men in prison for the Lord!

KH: I believe I spoke for everyone in saying: “I’m sorry … you want us to do what?”

Now we need somewhere to go…

Our first visit was to FCI Greenville and we had a few veteran Saints come to help us get started. We walked through the gate and were greeted by a huge crowd. It reminded me of some of the big crowds that I saw in Ohio and so I was excited for my team to experience this.

KH: They slammed the gate behind us and everyone but Gibby and the NJ guys were freaking out. I mean, we were all thinking, “man, we’re in prison…like we weren’t getting out, we were in prison!” Oh, and “big crowd”? How about walking into a big open yard and facing 500 felons while you go off to the side to chat with the NJ guys!

Yeah, I guess I forgot to prepare everyone for that…but hey, we go in and we won the first game and despite not playing that well the rest of the day, we were on our way as a Saints team.

KH: Dude, we got killed. I don’t even remember the first game but all I know is we got destroyed! I do not know where Gibby found these guys but we stunk – and he made us play four full games that first day!

No, I can’t sugar coat this one. He’s right, we stunk. Like stunk so bad that we didn’t get another win for 11 months! However, it was a team effort because no one could have played that bad all by themselves!

Many of the men that God used to launch the IL Saints softball team are ministering in other areas today and we have had more bus issues than Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinators. Despite these challenges, God has used us to see several thousand men meet Jesus at the foot of the cross because a handful of Christian brothers proved to be almost as crazy as me!

Thoughts from a Southerner in Ohio

Thoughts from a Southerner in Ohio

By Kevin Greene, Missionary-Athlete, North Georgia softball

After missing the trip to Colorado, I perked up when I received the invitation for experienced Saints to go and join a team from New Jersey on a different crusade. Without hesitation, I put my ‘yes’ on the table thinking surely 2-3 other Saints I knew would sign up!  I was a bit surprised when a week or two out Frank asked if I was okay going on my own and playing with guys I’d never met! I said, “We are on the same mission, with the same heart to serve our Father by serving inmates, so let’s do it!”

Well the team received me as one of their own just like I thought.  There are bumps along the way when different cultures and styles are involved, but the camaraderie was there right from the start. However, as always, Satan tried to plant seeds of doubt: “should I have come?”, “do these guys really need me here?”, “are these inmates connecting with me?”

On Day 1, I’m playing first base and coaching first as well, talking trash in love to the inmates in the stands and on the other team.  A guy approached with a funny look on his face and he says, “You ain’t from Jersey, like the rest of these guys! Where are you from”? I said, “I’m from Georgia.”  He replied “Where in Georgia?” When I told him I am from Austell, he was dumbfounded!

He said he was too: he went to the same middle school and high school I attended, and he lived less than three miles from where I was born and raised!   He is a fellow believer and we talked for about an hour, encouraging each other in the process. He shared his poetry with me and said when he gets out he would like to keep in touch.

I don’t know if the team needed me in Ohio, but God obviously did! Two Georgia boys in Ohio!  He’s a big, big God!

 

The Man Out West

By Frank Zeidler, Jr, Executive Director

In 2003, the Saints Prison Ministry took a softball team to Colorado for a crusade and came home with a soccer team! No, we didnt convert softball players into men in shorts running 7-8 miles in a 90-minute game. God had a MUCH better plan than that!

The whole story would take more space than this column allows, so here are the Cliff notes: Dale Glading and Bob Hellyer attend a meeting while in Colorado Springs; they meet a young man named Daryll Bryant at the meeting; Daryll is enamored with the idea of athletic prison ministry and volunteers his father to get involved (nice guy!); John Bryant has a conversation with Dale; voila! soccer team.

Yes, I rushed through that – but only to get to past the history and talk about the man. A retired Philadelphia police officer, John was running a retail soccer store when the Saints met him. As Daryll expected, he was instantly in love with the idea of marrying his passion for soccer with his desire to serve Jesus. So much so that he and his two sons Daryll and his brother Dennis made a trip to New Jersey to see what this was all about. A couple days absorbing information in the office and a Saturday visit to the Federal prison complex at Allenwood were all John needed to take the plunge.

Once back in Colorado John was left to figure out the nuances of running a ministry soccer team and learn the Colorado DOC at the same time. Nevertheless, he proved up to the challenge and in short order the Saints had a Colorado branch, playing soccer year round!

To Johns credit, he never assumed he had all the answers. His background included work in service industries and retail, in addition to his time on the force, so he certainly had the ability to figure things out. But when informed that some close friends of the ministry were in Colorado Bruce McDonald and Brent Fuqua among them he was always open to input from long-time ministry veterans.

Some of you met John at the Saints annual celebration banquets and heard the passion in his voice when he spoke about the work in Colorado. The men who played for him, and those of us who were with him at Allenwood years ago, certainly saw the depth of his soccer knowledge. But that all paled in comparison to what matters most to John introducing men in prison to his Lord and Savior.

In recent years, John and his wife Kate have dealt with serious physical challenges and significant family matters; yet these things never became an excuse to skip a month, as a team or personally. If a man in the Colorado prison system has not heard that Jesus loves them, it was not on John Bryants watch!

On June 23rd, John took the Colorado soccer team into prison for the final time; after 15 years of impacting men behind bars for Jesus he has decided to retire from this ministry. He takes with him many memories, and leaves behind many accomplishments but none as great as the thousands of men that met Jesus for the first time because of his dedication and commitment. As with many other situations in life, we wont realize everything John brought to this ministry until hes gone but his heart for the lost is going to be very hard to replicate.

Thank you, John there will be a very heavy crown adorned with jewels and hundreds of grateful men waiting for you in glory!

Inmate Letters

Brothers and sisters I thank you all for the card, but even more for the New Creation that came with it. The Fuel for the Soul part came exactly when I was going through a little problem, but God answered my question through you all. Don’t lose heart, trust in the Lord for deliverance, and stay on the attack is the way to renew our inner man each day. And the only way to do that is to spend time with God each day!

“Thank you Jesus for all that you are. Show me more of Yourself as I read your Bible and pray. Help me to pursue you with all of my heart and mind. Amen.”

Curtis T., Danville CC, Illinois

Hello! Since my encounter at Allen CC with those faithful brothers that glorious day in 2014 so much has happened in my life. I was a really confused man and I didn’t know what I wanted. Things started happening in my life that I felt was dragging me to a very dark place and when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my mother passed away. That put me over the edge. I stayed in a pit of hurt, pain, and anger for a long time.

One day the end of last year I was walking past the church when I felt a force pulling me in. As I walked in, it was like every word spoken that day was directed towards me. I fell to my knees that night and accepted Christ in my life! Hallelujah! I know I have a battle ahead of me as a young Christina, but being a soldier for Christ is already being a winner. I was a loser long enough.

I wish I could remember the brother’s name that spoke to me that day at Allen so I could tell him the good news. Satan is no longer in control of my life and I intend to keep it that way!

Kenneth T., Louisiana SP (Angola), Louisiana

I am one of the soccer players from the varsity soccer team and we enjoy every time the Saints come to visit us. We appreciate the time that you devote to us every year for all the sports, but I’m more touched by your efforts spiritually. It can’t be easy to stand in front of a group of people and put your not-so-perfect life on display for people to hear, but last year you had a guy that gave his testimony that touched me in a way that made me come to attention. He caused me to realize what I already knew in my head – that God is truly real and very much alive! I hope to stay in contact with you and I want to be enrolled in your Bible Studies (I lost the card you sent me). I look forward to seeing your guys come again soon.

Will S., SCI Mahanoy, Pennsylvania

A Peek Behind The Curtain

Ben Morrow wrote a piece about his First Crusade – a retelling of the experience of a crusade rookie. It made me smile because as I read his submission I was thinking,If he only knew… Then it occurred to me that maybe he – and you – should know how God works behind the scenes to use us for his glory.

A prevailing misinterpretation of the scheduling process holds that we make a phone call to a Chaplain or Recreation Officer, agree on a date, and carve that agreement in stone. However, the process rarely goes that smoothly for any sport or any trip. Reality dictates that we contact one of those individuals, who “suggests” a mutually agreeable date – but then runs that suggestion up the chain of command to ensure everyone involved in scheduling and securing prison events also finds the date agreeable. Then, and only then, is it carved in Play-Doh…with the prison holding the option to smash the carving and reform it again!

In the case of Ben’s first crusade, (spoiler alert!) he references “a second trip back to FCI Phoenix”, which leads me to your peek behind the curtain. We were never supposed to visit FCI Phoenix twice! Although that scenario aligns with my belief in relational evangelismand we have intentionally scheduled repeat visits in both recent seasons and other crusades the schedule for this trip did not allow for an encore performance. We were fully booked with four federal prisons and one private prison in four days, and Sunday set aside as a travel day due to the distance and time change.

Just days before we were to depart, the private prison called me and stated that their customer (the state of AZ) would not sign off on the visit, so they had to cancel or risk losing their contract. They were on our itinerary for the day we arrived, meaning I now had 15 men prepared to get up early, fly thousands of miles from three different locations, and go sit in the hotel until the next day; that would be a hard sell to say the least!

With virtually no options I called Jon Wood, the Recreation Supervisor at FCI Phoenix and a man I have come to call a friend. He has always been supportive of the ministry and usually works with us to schedule his facility as works best for us. My hope was that he would shift his event from Saturday to Wednesday, allowing me a couple extra days to fill the gaping hole the cancellation left in our plan.

Jon never batted an eye (I would have heard it over the phone – he is a big guy!). He suggested we could land on Wednesday and come straight to his facility from the airport – he had a “B” team that never gets to play outside competition and he would do everything he could on short notice to get a crowd in the yard! And, my friend, that is exactly what happened and more.

We arrived at FCI Phoenix less than two hours after the team gathered at Sky Harbor International Airport via various flights. Not only was the “B” team excited about the opportunity to play the visiting team, in hindsight our men felt they gave us as good or better a game than the “A” team did on Saturday. In addition, Jon outdid himself because we walked into a prison yard filled with 250 men, all anxious to see the Saints Prison Ministry for the first time in 4 years!

When the team left for Arizona, only a few of them knew what had happened – most assumed this was the schedule as we planned it. When they updated their supporters during the trip – or when you read Ben’s article – it appears that this crusade was another example of our commitment to relational evangelism. The truth is that just days before takeoff, only God knew what was going to happen in Arizona! He used my experience, Jon’s flexibility, and our teams’ whatever-it-takes attitude to create the schedule that best suited His purpose because that first day 33 men made the life-changing decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!

Could He have done that sooner, saving me some angst and the private prison some disappointment? Sure…after all, He is God. However, if so, it might have been “Frank’s schedule” that resulted in such a great first day. Once again, it is clear that God is leading this ministry for His glory; the staff and I are just doing our best to keep up with Him!

It does not always go the way we plan, and most of the time no one is even aware of the hoops our staff jumps through or the challenges of planning a trip with so many uncertain, moving parts. That is as it should be – we simply want you and the teams to be praying that inmates lives are changed and God is glorified in the end.

Oh, and in case you are curious about how FCI Phoenix reacted to all of this, Jon sent me this message not long after the trip:

Your team was exceptional this past week. Everyone who showed [inmates in the yard] had a genuine interest in the Good Gospel. If you can reach one, you’ve WON!

It was a pleasure to see Old dogs still in the game. They even heard the BUZZ from our population.

I cannot tell you enough how much this has met to the FCI inmates. The good word of the Gospel needs to visit once a year instead of 3-4 years. This would peak more interest and be good for everyone here.

God Bless and please share my e-mail with them.

Thanks, J

P.S. Keep that Ben-Gay Close boys. LOL

To God be the glory!

Announcements

After over a year without visitors, we have begun to see movement within many state DOC’s regarding visitation. While we are not classified as being a part of inmate visitation, it shows that they are beginning to relax restrictions to the point where they are letting visitors which bodes well for us.

Currently, Florida is the only state in the union that is accepting volunteers and hot on the heels of our most recent crusade in April, it is my pleasure to announce that we are headed back in June! The dates for the crusade are June 23-27. Click here for more information on how to get involved!

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Text-to-Give!

Text-to-give is possibly the most convenient way to support the Saints Prison Ministry – and we have it in place now! Yes, SPM is providing one more way for our faithful supporters to continue donating, even while on the run! It just doesn’t get any easier than texting a single number to a pre-assigned phone number.

Visit our Donate page to learn more!