Square-ish Peg in a Round-ish Hole

by Jimmy Cochran, Director of Team Operations

Have you ever had that one piece of a puzzle that you believe, without a shadow of a doubt, goes in a specific spot, but it doesn’t quite fit right? You smash it with a closed fist or push REALLY hard to get it in place, and even though it does not truly fit, in your mind it is a success! Or maybe you remember attending your first corporate business meeting and you failed to realize it was not business casual? Lastly, when your boss goes on a well-deserved extended leave of absence and puts you in charge of the entire company, in a year where nothing has gone the way it supposed to, and you are expected to keep the boat afloat. AWKWARD!!!

2020 has been a lot of things, most of which I would rather soon forget, and as the Director of Team Operations, I had to navigate a world where teams were not operating. Depressing to say the least. In addition, while Frank was on sabbatical, I became the “Acting Director.” I was out of my comfort zone for sure, a fish out of water, a square-ish peg trying to fit in a round-ish hole, or whatever metaphor you like.

This was going to be the ultimate test. Not only would it be a new experience for me, but also one where I was unable to contact Frank for help. For example, if I were in a new situation or an issue presented itself that required some words of wisdom, I would reach out and he always knew what I needed to hear. However, there were also times where the responses fell silent, at which point I knew he wanted me to figure it out on my own. Afterwards, letting me know as much and saying either “Well done grasshopper!” or “You have much to learn grasshopper!” The Lord surrounded me with godly advice and others who brought much wisdom, but knowing that go-t- guy who had been through everything I was about to go through, his counsel or even the occasional constructive rebuke were not going to be available left me out of sorts.

But then…God!

During Frank’s leave, we put on our first ever Virtual Saints Celebration Event, saw a critical change in staff, experienced grief within the Saints family, grappled with health issues with our families, enjoyed three holiday seasons and finished the year in the grasp of The Almighty! I attended my first board meeting, grew closer to my friends on staff, gained more understanding of the workings behind the scenes and felt His presence throughout. With all of that said, craziness and all, I have never been more at peace. Yes, I felt out of place but know that in the end God was walking alongside me every step of the way and He deserves all the praise, honor and glory.

2020 saw the Saints Prison Ministry endure trials, tribulations and uncertainty but the Lord not only brought us through and sustained us, but He also increased our faith, endurance and perseverance along the way! As always, I look forward to seeing how He continues to guide the ministry into 2021 and the years to come. I leave you with a passage that has filled my soul with strength and most of all…hope!

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

Inside Story

Sense of Call and Purpose

by Pastor Omar Fisher, Missionary Athlete

This has been a different kind of year with the Saints Prison Ministry considering that we have not been able to enter prisons in the Northeast since March 2020. This is also the year that I was supposed to be completing my internship with the Saints so that I could complete my Master of Art in Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary.

I have been involved with the Saints since 2003 when I joined the basketball team as a missionary athlete. I joined because at 26-years-old, I visited a friend of mine who was incarcerated at FMC-Lexington and on the flight back home to Philadelphia I prayed to the Lord to help me to do something to reach the incarcerated. It hurt my heart seeing grown men treated like first grade students as they were being told to line up and being told not to get too close to the family member who came to visit them. From that point on the Lord used me to minister to inmates and introducing them to freedom in the body of Christ.

I always enjoyed going into the prisons with the men and ministering to the incarcerated. I loved that we did not do it out of any religious obligation or even with the expectation of any monetary reimbursement, but simply because we loved the Lord and had a burden on our heart for the unsaved. The Bible calls us as followers of Jesus to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” in Matthew 28:19. Jesus also said the words, “…I was in prison and you came to me,” in reference to us showing love to our fellow man or woman. Those of us who go into the prison feel led to do so by the Lord.

Having had many wonderful experiences in the prison it was almost a no-brainer when choosing the Saints as my parachurch organization for the internship. This decision was made in the pandemic so the work that I thought I might be doing to prepare me for full-time ministry after I finished my seminary degree, was already not happening. But God blessed us with some creative solutions. I was able to help at a Saints golf fundraiser in New Jersey in September 2020. Men with masks on gathered and golfed and the Saints raised funds. I was able to engage in some engaging letters between myself and several inmates. I was able to see the affect of the Saints visit, birthday cards, and Bible studies on a number of inmates and to respond to their letters with answers to their questions about God, grieve with those who were grieving, encourage the ones who needed encouragement in the Lord, and celebrate with those who were celebrating. I was able to work on the creation of some training videos to teach new missionary athletes about delivering their testimony and the Gospel in the prisons during half-time presentations. I was blessed with an opportunity to minister at a homeless encampment in Philadelphia and I met one man there who I had also ministered to when he was incarcerated. I also was able to send some tracts to a fellow prison minister in Mozambique and he was willing to translate it into their local languages, Chewa and Portuguese, and use it for street ministry and for prison ministry.

I was also able to record three sermons and send it to Chaplain Reitz at the State Correctional Institute at Rockview which he played for the inmates on three different Sundays. He reported back that they were all well received. To all those opportunities I say, “God is good!” We may not have been able to do things the way we normally do them, but we have still been able to fulfill the Great Commission and show the love of the Lord by visiting the inmates in creative ways. We are not called to stop what we are doing just because of a pandemic. Our God is still Lord even during the pandemic and those of us who call ourselves Christians or disciples of Jesus have to use the gifts God has given us in creative ways to continue to do the work of the Lord.

I am reminded of Paul who was incarcerated in Rome but did not stop doing the ministry and in fact wrote a number of epistles and continued to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ, “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

We are in tricky times but that does not stop us for being ambassadors for Jesus Christ. I would encourage you all to continue to do the work of the Lord. Find creative ways to continue the do His will.

Inside the Mind of Gibby

Putting the Fun in Fundraising

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

We did it! We made out of 2020! With the super weird year full of pandemics, politics, and church services over Zoom behind us, it is time to start looking forward to what is ahead in 2021.

Will we still remember how to play? Will we remember how to get to the prisons? Will we have to wear hazmat gear on the field? Who knows for sure, but in the meantime, we need to figure out how to pay for it all. As we look forward to a more normal prison ministry season, we will have to figure out some ways to do some fundraising so we can be ready to hit the road in 2021.

Late Night Infomercial: Did you ever stay up late watching your team play a game on the west coast but then you wake up and find yourself watching the commercial to buy the piece of workout equipment that can also be used as a steak knife and gets the hardest stains out of your shirts? Of course you have! Cue up that one Sarah McLachlan song they play for the animal adoption commercials, because we are going to have a spot that airs between 2:45 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Thursday mornings on the Weather Channel!

Softball Team Hit-a-Thon: Get your credit card ready, because there shouldn’t be anything more impressive than a bunch of middle aged guys who haven’t swung a bat in 18 months trying to hit. You can sponsor a missionary athlete as they see how many balls they can hit that day. You can donate $1 per hit…or miss depending on who your favorite MA is… But wait, there’s more! If you act now, we will include an autographed picture of Cliff Goller [OR UNSUSPECTING INFAMOUS MA] absolutely free!

Used Book Sale: Missionary Athletes, do you know of that one book that you got from that one men’s retreat that you just don’t have time to read? Or maybe the fitness book that is supposed to get you in shape for playing recreational sports? Or the one you got for Christmas from your aunt that is written by that one TV preacher who has all of that crummy theology? Maybe you really are going to get around to actually reading these or maybe they are propped under a table leg somewhere but here is your chance to get the most value out of it by selling it at our used book sale! Of course, part of the plan to success is having that person to also not read the book and donate it again next year!

50/50 Raffles: Whoa, whoa, whoa… I’m pretty sure that our Sunday school teachers call this gambling!

PBS Style Telethon: I’ve already made the calls and set it up with our local PBS station. We should be able to get someone like Tony Danza [OR FADING CELEBRITY WHO IS DESPARATE FOR A GIG] to host the event. The North Georgia team will perform a choreographed melody of Backstreet Boys songs to start the evening. They will be followed by [INSERT UNSUSPECTING MA HERE] who will be juggling softballs, bowling pins, and chainsaws… [MA NAME HERE] knows how to juggle, right? Later on in the evening, board president, Jeff Marthins will do a comedy bit on the life of prison ministry and being mistaken for Glen Beck. As of right now, I am doing a five hour drum solo between 1 a.m. – 6 a.m. as I haven’t found anyone else to take those spots…

Do we know what 2021 is going to be like? Absolutely not. But with a little help from some foolproof fundraising and Tony Danza, we should be ready for whatever happens!

Announcements

January usually means winding down soccer season, the heart of basketball season, and the first mention of softball season in the way of preseason meetings. To no one’s surprise, soccer and basketball seasons have fallen victim to pandemic cautions.

That leaves the softball season preparation to “announce” and this will surprise no one either. Due to the incredibly unpredictable prison landscape today, the preseason meetings for softball season are postponed until further notice. We are optimistic that we will see some level in-prison activity this summer but, until we have some indication of what that may look like, we are going to move forward cautiously to avoid any confusion or misleading statements.

We appreciate your prayers for our missionary-athletes as they are anxious to once again meet inmates who are desperate for answers once again, face-to-face, in the furtherance of the Gospel.

Hot Topics

COVID-19 certainly qualifies as a Hot Topic, and even more so as it impacts not only our ministry but also the men and women to whom we minister.

Just this week, the first inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Fort Dix passed away as a result of COVID. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a long-time partner of the Saints Prison Ministry and we have visited Federal prisons all over the country. But FCI Fort Dix is right in our backyard, a mere 15 miles from our headquarters in NJ, and we have developed many close relationships there over the years.

One inmate’s death is no more or less important than another, but this news reminds us that the incarcerated men and women we visit are living in perilous conditions. While we may choose to lock ourselves in our homes or wear a hazmat suit in public if we choose, prison conditions are so cramped that “social distancing” is almost impossible.

While our ministry is not allowed in-person visits at this time, prayer is a ministry unto itself and we ask all of our Saints family to be praying regularly for the mission field to which we are called.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them……” Hebrews 13:3 [Link to the nj.com article referenced above https://www.nj.com/news/2021/01/first-inmate-dies-at-nj-prison-ravaged-by-covid.html