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?