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!