This is not hyperbole: I never doubted that we would get back to ministering face-to-face inside prisons. Honestly, I could think of no other reason God sustained us for 13 mostly inactive months. However, “My ways are higher than your ways…” was never more evident than now!
To understand this requires a little historical perspective. The last pre-pandemic softball game played in a Saints uniform was on March 7, 2020 at Marion CI in Region 3 of Florida. Region 3 includes 9 men’s prisons: Avon Park, CFRC, DeSoto, Hardee, Lake, Marion, Polk, Sumter, and Zephyrhills. The recently completed Citrus Country 3 crusade was also to Region 3 of Florida. Now watch God work.
In 2020, I notified all 9 men’s prisons of the upcoming crusade. After much planning, we were set to go. But the schedule was changed by two last minute prison cancellations – one due to a Warden change and one due to a lockdown the Friday before we were to leave. We scrambled to fill those holes and the schedule was finalized on Monday, one day before we left on Tuesday! We ministered at 4 of those 9 men’s facilities – Sumter, Zephyrhills, Hardee, and Marion – and saw over 1,500 men in those yards.
Fast forward to March 2021. We found out that Florida is actively courting volunteers, so we leap at the opportunity. Our first contact was with the current Special Events Coordinator, who informs me a) she is new and still trying to understand the process, b) she doesn’t know who we are, and c) there is a problem with the computer system that she must sort out. God bless her, because she could have told me “try again next year” with all of those obstacles. But God put her in place for a reason. She worked with me, offered advice, and finally said “Just submit a proposal and I’ll try to get it approved.”
I submitted Polk CI because they were the first ones to contact me this year, and then added Hardee CI and Avon Park CI due to their proximity to Polk. I heard back a week later – everything we asked for was approved, and the plan was passed down to the three wardens for their response. Each warden replied to the message with a resounding “Yes”! We were shocked – but God wasn’t.
Hardee CI was a repeat from 2020, invited only due to proximity, but would you like to guess which two prisons had canceled at the last minute in 2020? Correct…Polk CI and Avon Park CI.
I could have listed any of the 9 prisons on the 2021 application. It certainly would have made sense to go back to the same 4 prisons from 2020, since we know they enjoyed our visit. But God had other plans and had already primed those prisons that blocked us in 2020 to be the ones to welcome us back. Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Psalm 118, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD had done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
God had the Citrus Country 3 crusade planned since March of 2020 – and He did so as only He is able!