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.