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By Brian Morrison, coach of the WV Saints softball team
*Editor’s Note – the West Virginia softball team is our newest team, playing their inaugural season this summer. On June 18th, they visited Noble Correctional Institution in Caldwell, Ohio. This is one story from that visit, a day when 34 men made the decision to follow Christ!
There was one man who stood out during our visit in June, for several reasons. Eric is a large man; maybe only 6’1” or so, but wide shoulders and a very muscular build. He was one of the prison team captains, and certainly seemed to hold his team’s attention and respect. Always a smile on his face, he played first base and when a Saint reached base, Eric would congratulate the hit, even add a little bit of small talk between batters.
After the first game, I handed out Gospels to the opposing team by their dugout. Eric filled out a response card indicating he wasn’t ready yet to accept Christ, and he listed no prayer request. In the second game, he was an extra hitter, allowing another man to play first. I played catcher the last half of the second game, so I was able to continue to talk to him and the other inmates as they stepped up to the plate.
After our second game the teams gathered in the center of the field, as we always do. We presented the MVPs with the FCA New Testament and additional award books to the umpires and scorekeepers. I had the blessing of sharing a closing remark to end our day. I asked the inmates, “if the State allowed me to take their place, would they want that?” While only one man raised his hand, I “guessed” there were several who would. I shared a thought from the thief on the cross in Luke 23; how Jesus promised eternal life in Heaven to that one who acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. This criminal – a man within hours of his death for his crimes – was still saved by Jesus. I then explained that, while you are never too old to accept Jesus as your Savior, it can be too late, for once you take that last breath, your chance for salvation is over.
I then offered one last opportunity for anyone who hadn’t filled out a response card – or who had filled one out and wanted a “do over” – to do so before we left. We had two men accept the offer; the first had not filled out a card at all and now he wanted more information. The other was Eric, who followed one of the Saints to our bench, where we retrieved a new Response Card for him, and he filled it out.
As Eric walked away, Chris Atkins, one of my teammates, took the card from Eric, looked at it, and looked at me… “Eric just accepted Christ!” As the inmates were heading back to their dorms for head count, I caught up to Eric and walked with him for a few feet. I urged him to read the Gospel of John several times, and understand that Jesus died for Him, just as He did for me. Although Eric was the last man in the yard, he still had to make his way back to the dorms, so I wasn’t able to spend time with him in prayer. I parted by telling him we will pray for him. We did – I hope you will too!
By Frank Zeidler, Executive Director
By my own admission, the headline is eye-catching but deceptive. “Miracles” might be a little strong, but it is a title we’ve all come to appreciate as students of Scripture. If you would rather I started by saying God of Divine Intervention or The Master Planner, I’m okay with that. The important thing is that you read on!
The America’s Heartland Crusade is now complete, and I hope you were praying for that team. But this message isn’t about the crusade; it’s about God leading the way… again!
You know crusades are planned months in advance, and you also know that we see our share of hiccups, wrinkles, hurdles, and blatant obstacles in the way. Our staff is used to dealing with most of these, but sometimes the obstacle can only be described as God-sized!
On Monday, two days before the team was flying to Indiana, I opened my computer to an email from the only prison we are scheduled to visit on Thursday of the crusade week. The email stated, “we regret to inform you we have to cancel this visit due to expected elevated temperatures that day.” Like most prison systems, there are policies that address the circumstances around inmate recreation, and one of them is to close the recreation yard if the temperatures pose a danger to inmate health. After a brief discussion with prison administration, it was clear this was a final decision.
We now had a hole in the schedule – a full day of no activity. With only 72 hours advance notice, scheduling a new prison seemed like a long shot at best… a God-sized obstacle to be sure!
Since we always make the effort, I reviewed past crusades to IN and I remembered a specific prison that we had found to be especially cooperative in 2018. In desperation, I called the contact person we have on file. Post-pandemic, would he still be there? Will he laugh aloud at my request?
Mr. Kitchen was still at the prison, and in the same capacity he had been in 2018. Not only did he not laugh at my request; he offered to go to the administration and see what they might be willing to do on short notice. I sent him all the paperwork we had – including the gate memo from the since-cancelled prison showing our men were all cleared.
On Tuesday he sent me an email… with the new gate memo already written, admitting our team just two days later, to play in the morning and afternoon against two distinct groups of the population!
I would normally say “that doesn’t happen” …but it just did!
At Westville CF on that Thursday, four men made a decision to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ! That is why we go, of course, however my takeaway from the experience is more philosophical than that; it is just one more shining example of Isaiah 55:8,9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Just wanted to make sure everybody knows who is really in charge!
Heat notwithstanding, God did so many things on this trip that trying to cram it all into one short recap might prove to be futile, so let’s get right to it. To start out, just three days before the crusade was about to begin, our Thursday visit canceled on us due to the forecasted high heat and for the protection of the inmates, so what were we to do? We NEVER get into a facility on such short notice, not even places we have close relationships with. It just doesn’t happen…but then God. Frank reached out to one of his contacts from a previous crusade and God turned what was only going to be a half-day event at Putnamville CF to a full day event at Westville CF! He opens doors no man can close and closes doors no man can open.
God continued to bless us as the weather ended up not being near as bad as we thought. It was still very hot on Wednesday, but Thursday thru Sunday was magnificent! This allowed for more inmates to be present, with great weather, to hear the gospel preached boldly to all who wanted to hear. Our journey took us to Plainfield CF, Westville CF, Pendelton CF, Correctional Industrial Facility, New Castle CF and Heritage Trail CF. We played in front of 377 prisoners, of which 372 stayed to listen to the gospel. We handed out over 350 copies of the gospel of John and were blessed to witness 53 men indicate they asked Christ to be their Lord and Savior for the first time!
This trip was a very clear reminder of how God can use a willing heart, how He can create life changing moments by simply stepping out in faithful service, and your prayers and support played a huge part in the Lord’s success. You gave and prayed, to send 12 men from around the country to Indiana who gave of their time, talents and treasures to see that men behind bars heard the beautiful gospel story! Thank you for praying and sending!
On June 4th, on the grounds of Easton Bible Church in NJ, a group of almost 100 people came together to celebrate 35 years of God’s blessing on this ministry. The local Saints family enjoyed fantastic weather, tasty food, and catching up with some familiar faces from the past. One of the lasting images from the day was three long-time veterans from our basketball team together, as Bob Newcomb, Kevin Harvey, and Bob Hellyer compared war stories!
We enjoyed hearing Bob chronicle what it has meant to him to see the ministry grow since his initial involvement in 1988. Executive Director Frank Zeidler shared key components of future ministry opportunities, particularly the growth of the Church-Crusade partnerships and the relationship forged with the Geo Group. In between, the Saints family was blessed by Kevin Harvey, Director of South Jersey FCA, sharing how much the Saints Prison Ministry meant to his spiritual walk, along with a challenge from God’s Word.
Praise God for His providence and sustaining work over 35 years – His power reflected in His ministry!