By Tom Gibson, Coach of our Illinois Saints softball team
I am currently reading a book by a Navy SEAL who fought in the war in Iraq (The Last Punisher by Kevin Lacz). Early in the book he remembers a situation where he and his Seal teammates had to rush to the top of a rooftop and defend their position. He talks about the moment and talks about how proud he was to serve with that team and how much he loved his SEAL brothers. One line from the book says “I had literally nothing but my gun and my brothers. I hope it will always be like this.”
I have really grown to love stories from our armed forces and especially the Navy SEALS. I love the stories of men banding together as brothers. Sacrificing and fighting hard for a common purpose. I have also grown to regret not serving my country. Serving with the Saints Prison Ministry has quenched some of that desire. I love the group here in Illinois that I serve with and I love the brothers across the country that I get to call teammates a couple of times a year. There have been countless stories over my brief five years in the ministry in which I have seen missionary athletes make sacrifices for the sake of sharing the Gospel as well as making sacrifices in serving each other. I have seen guys wake up at crazy hours of the morning, miss events in favor of a Saints outing, and sacrifice playing time in order to spend more time sharing the Gospel with inmates. I have seen guys serve each other by encouraging them on the field or after a Gospel presentation. I have also seen our guys serve by giving up their seat on a long trip or by making sure someone else got to eat first after a long day. I have seen our guys serve by comforting a hurting teammate who just lost a loved one or who had a sick kid (or grandkid!) at home. I have also seen our guys serve on the toughest of the front lines by confronting a teammate who needs to be confronted about a sin issue. One of the unexpected blessings of starting a team here in Illinois is the godly men that God has brought into my life to serve alongside. I have grown and seen them grow as well.
Our trip to Robinson Correctional Center was typical of the Illinois Saints experience – once again a very early morning and a three hour drive – but sharing it with these men makes it easy to face that long drive. Upon arriving at RCC, we found we had the opportunity to play 4 games against a few different inmate teams. We won the first two games of the day on the backs of some big time hitting from our guys. In between the first two games, Jesse Miller shared his life story about how he came to know Jesus as his Savior, and Darrell Pine – a charter member of the Illinois Saints – once again did a great job of sharing the Gospel with the men there.
After we returned from lunch, we again did battle on the field, winning the first game and tying the second game before they called yard. However, in between games Jeremy Test shared his testimony about how he came to know Jesus. I have heard his testimony several times and I am very proud of the godly young man he has become. Jeremy is also a charter member of the team and has grown to become one of the leaders on which I depend heavily. After JT finished, I shared the Gospel. It is always an honor to share the Gospel in prison, and I was blessed with a very attentive crowd.
Overall on the day, we handed out 295 Gospels of John and saw 58 men make a first time commitment to follow Jesus! According to the Officer in Charge, we were the first outside team to come in and minister at Robinson CC in more than 15 years! He was very pleased with the way we interacted with the inmates, and commented that the day will be talked about for a long time. I believe the quality of the men that I call my brothers has a lot to do with his impression of our ministry!
I am so proud of these men, and I hope it will always be like this!