God’s Got This!

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

As the impact of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 continues to unfold before our eyes, I keep hearing the same voice in the back of my head.  A former teammate of mine, and a friend to many in the Saints family, offers the same deeply held belief every time the ministry (or he personally) must face a difficult situation… “God’s got this!”

As a child of the King, that is our reality; and those words bring comfort and peace in a plethora of situations.  Yes, this virus is nasty. Yes, we must exercise caution and be part of the solution, not the problem.  Yes, the situation is unprecedented for most of us.  But none of this changes the fact that “God’s got this”.

As I have reminded you many times before, my chief concern as the Director is guiding this ministry as God is leading it; never to force my agenda or ideas, but diligently trying not to lag behind His plans either.  I am more committed to that than ever, and through this “crisis” I have felt God’s Spirit guiding our staff and Board at every turn.

Recently, the prisons have begun closing their doors to visitors and volunteers.  As news came out that state after state was taking this necessary step, our staff took the initiative to contact the prisons where we had softball games already scheduled.  As a result of taking this action, we were able to shift the opening of our softball season back from April 25th to June 4th – while only losing a couple of events!  Will the doors be open by June 4th?  I have no idea.  But clearly the Spirit was leading this decision, as evidenced by this email received from a Recreation Supervisor in IL:

“Thank you for reaching out to us to reschedule.  You are the only one that has so far, and I think most are just waiting to see what happens.  Look forward to seeing you guys again sometime this summer”

Or this phone message from a Chaplain in Delaware:

“Thank you for taking the time to call me.  I just assumed we would lose the games because I didn’t think rescheduling would be an option with how busy you guys always are.”

Given the unknowns of the next few weeks and months, it is important that you know we continue to serve those behind bars as much as we are able.  The other aspects of our ministry (birthday cards, follow up discipleship, fall scheduling, etc.) go on as always.  We have taken necessary steps to be ready for mandatory work-from-home announcements and our Board has reviewed our budget for potential modifications should the current financial uncertainty of some become a prolonged situation.

As partners with us in reaching men and women behind bars, you may rest assured the Saints Prison Ministry remains committed to our mission and we value your partnership as much as ever.   For understandable reasons we will have no personal interaction with any of you soon, but there are two things you can do to continue working side-by-side with us.

First, include the inmates we serve in your prayers.  In grim times we all suffer from tunnel vision a little bit, so I’m going to suggest a way to be intentional about this.  Think back over the stories you’ve heard or articles you’ve read and come up with one item: a crusade, a prison name, a Missionary-Athlete’s name, a program like Birthday Cards or the Glove Exchange, maybe even an inmate’s name.  Make that single item the focus of your prayers for the ministry over the next few weeks.  Thank God for His providence and pray for His direction.

Second, if you are able, please make your regular gifts online instead of mailing in a check.  Obviously, we want to make supporting this work as easy as possible; if you are not comfortable online feel free to continue to use the US mail.  But in the interest of caution, the less mail our staff handles at this time the better.  Who knows – you may find you like it!  In case you’ve never used it, the link to online giving is available below, or just visit our website directly.

“God’s got this” – and He has all along.  It is the greatest comfort I can offer you and at the same time the only comfort any of us should need.

 

Batten Down the Hatches…There’s a Storm Coming!

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

Crusades are among the most exciting things about the Saints Prison Ministry. Among the missionary-athletes, besides visiting states to which they’ve never been, we often experience “firsts” – a first plane ride, a first ferry ride, a first time playing an alternate sport due to weather, or a first foray into a regional culinary experience.

The inmates find it hard to understand why a team full of men – with families, jobs, and church responsibilities – would put all that aside to travel thousands of miles, just to spend a few hours with them. But occasionally we find we are the only outside team willing to “go to the trouble,” making for such a unique experience that the prisoners talk about it for months!

For our supporters – including you reading this – we have ample evidence that communicating crusade experiences and results underlines your belief in what God can do through this ministry.

In preparing for the Central Florida 2020 crusade (results and details on page X), a fourth reason to know how exciting crusades are was reinforced for me – Satan works overtime when we are preparing for something great.

We began planning this crusade in September 2019. By mid-January, the system for attaining clearance in FL had come to a screeching halt. We reapplied, the Program Director was replaced, the prisons couldn’t commit without DOC approval…despite our best efforts nothing was moving forward. The next few weeks were spent on the phones and on our knees. For a trip scheduled to depart on March 3rd, for which we initially applied in 2019, we were finally granted approval on February 21st. The background checks still had to be done, even though paperwork was submitted much earlier, and we were finally cleared and confirmed on February 25th – just one week before we planned to leave! Oh, but the enemy was just getting started…

On March 1st, two days before departure, three different missionary-athletes contacted the trip leader to communicate potential problems. Not just obstacles, but serious, “I can’t go” problems. The first was a sudden dental problem causing so much pain the man couldn’t focus on his job and even had trouble sleeping. The second man was suffering from job-related stress to the level that he did not think he was spiritually fit to be ministering to others, and the third was the most serious. His wife collapsed at church and was being admitted to the hospital for a couple days of testing.

This abridged version of the experience doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m on a word count and I want to get to the purpose of this article. You see, I am not writing this to evoke sympathy or garner attention for our efforts. My goal is to demonstrate for you the lengths to which Satan will go to dissuade our MAs and discourage our staff.

He cannot tolerate knowing thousands of men and women are touched every year by the invitations we accept to visit areas of the country where we don’t have a standing team. He is infuriated by knowing that in FY19 alone, our crusade teams saw 500 professions of faith in Jesus Christ and they distributed almost 6,000 Gospels of John! And he will go to any length to try to stop our army – the athletes on the front lines backed by all our supporters praying each day of a crusade – from effectively introducing those behind prison walls to the one who can and will change their lives.

Despite all the fantastic results we report, the beautiful artwork elsewhere in this newsletter, and the touching letters we receive almost daily from inmates, I implore you to never forget that the spiritual warfare is very real. There are 11 crusades planned for this year and while we may not share every skirmish or battle, you should recognize that they occur regularly. When you review the crusade schedule on the back page, please begin praying for those crusades well in advance… because Satan is certainly not waiting until the last minute to plan his attacks!

 

Virginia 2020 Crusade

by Dr. Jay R. Thatcher, Director of Ministry Relations

I believe God wants Christians to go to Hell!

Do I have your attention? By “Hell,” I am referring to places on earth that are dangerous, dark, and were people are living in despair. Christians were never called to bunker-down and to live in fear. The Holy Spirit is given to Christians to send us out in confidence and courage, to share God’s love and carry the Gospel to people who are living in hellish places on earth.

During the first week of March each year, I attend a Pastoral Prayer Summit at Harvey Cedar’s Bible Conference Center in Long Beach Island, NJ. This year, on Thursday morning I traveled and ministered with our Saints Prison Ministry Basketball team on a three-day Crusade, returning on Saturday Evening. This initial retreat to seek God’s face in prayer and worship at this conference is a divine Heaven-like experience. When I left for the Basketball Crusade, it was to intentionally enter places where our brothers behind bars are experiencing a Hell-like experience on earth. I have a confession to make, I really enjoy my Heaven-like Harvey Cedars experience; but I am passionate about going to Hell with a team of missionary athletes in order to experience God’s presence and power as Jesus seeks to save those who are lost.

As the Director of Ministry Relations, I experience the behind-scenes efforts of Jimmy Cochran and Frank Zeidler as they both use their expertise in effectively overcoming obstacles that prevent us from entering the prisons. But sometimes expertise doesn’t explain it. For example, the first prison visit on Thursday was canceled, two days prior, due to the prison being on lockdown for up to one to two weeks. The one thing you learn early as a Saints missionary athlete is when you here “lockdown” the chances of getting in a prison are 0%. So do not ask me to explain how we played a game and shared the Gospel to a group of inmates on Thursday afternoon, while the rest of the prison was on lockdown.

Parker Cotton, a reporter from a Virginia newspaper, gained permission and access to see the Saints Prison Ministry in action on Thursday during our lock-down game. This was the first time Parker was ever in prison. He was amazed at how the Saints methodically dismantled our younger and more athletic opponents with incredible team play. His comment highlights the core of our ministry’s effectiveness. We gain the respect of the inmates prior to our half-time Gospel presentation by how we play team ball and show zero signs of being intimated by the surroundings.

One of the main Biblical passages that the Holy Spirit has used in my life to guide me to go into the hellish places on earth is Matthew 25:31-46 “…when I was in prison you came to visit me …” Going on mission has been an opportunity to see and hear the presence of Jesus in the other. So when “Q”, an eleven-year veteran on the team, says “When I see you [the inmates], I see myself” during his halftime testimony, it touches me deeply in my soul. Even as I type this my eyes fill up with tears. To experience this moment – and then to follow that with the opportunity to share the Gospel – is life changing to me. I really cannot explain how showing respect, love, and then sharing the Truth (Jesus) in a hellish place transforms us.

Friday morning began by traveling two-hours to our first prison visit of the day. I was concerned walking into the facility about our team’s ability to play at a high-level because of the intensity of the game the prior day and the stiffness from our travels. My concerns were completely eliminated when we walked into the packed gym… and the inmate team members gave us a standing ovation! Chills run through my body just recalling this moment in time. The hospitality shown by that gesture created an electric environment for the game and the Gospel presentation.

One of the tensions on the trip was that we were scheduled to play three games on Friday. The second facility that we were visiting did not have much seating for spectators, so we negotiated with the Recreation Staff to play two separate teams – back to back – in order to see more men. Looking back, it is easy to see the hand of God at work because our Saturday game got canceled due to a prison going on lockdown due to the Flu. So, in a twenty-four-hour time we played four games, and God maximized our time and our team’s ability to see as many men as possible!

The Friday afternoon games quite honestly exhausted our team. One of the unique things that happened during these games was the team introductions over the PA System. When the other teams were introduced, our Saints MAs formed a tunnel for each of the inmates to run through and receive high-fives from us. This gesture created laughter and brought a sense of fun to the event.

The last highlight I want to share is our time of team devotions we had during our hotel stay. Kevin Vaughn, devotion leader, has played with the Saints since 1996. He was a First Team All-American at Cairn University and currently teaches at Norfolk Christian School in Virginia. Since his move a few years ago Kevin cannot participate in the basketball teams’ season because of the obvious distance. The one thing I can say about Kevin’s game is that he makes everyone he plays with better. Yet it was not his play that truly bonded the team, but rather his leadership and Spirit during our time of devotion. We truly drew closer to Jesus and each other during our devotional time and it was reflected on the court during our games and in the hearts of our brothers behind bars that received the Gospel message.

As we wisely bunker down – as individuals and as a nation – to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is my hope that the Holy Spirit continues to stir up the passion of our missionary-athletes and the generosity of our supporters. Why? So, when this season of uncertainty passes and the prison doors are again open to volunteers, we are renewed and ready to go back into prison to share the only remedy for a sin sick world… Jesus!

 

 

Darkness and Light

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Saints ED, and Tim Hester, FFBC missionary-athlete

The first week of March, as America began recognizing the coronavirus as serious, I accompanied the team from Fayetteville First Baptist Church in conducting a softball crusade to Central Florida for the second year in a row. A mix of veterans and first-year MAs on Tuesday afternoon, not knowing what the week would hold.

Four prisons in four days, all of which asked us specifically to spend the entire day at the facility. In that time, we experienced the darkness that is expected in Satan’s stronghold, but shone the light that can only be found in the presence of Jesus!

The darkness was summed up for one our new MAs while walking into the yard one morning. As two Saints were discussing wearing a visitor’s badge on the field, a voice from behind offered this sobering commentary: “I’ve been wearing a badge for 63 years…”

The light was reflected in how much these men were looking forward to our return visit. At Hardee CI, the inmates spent four days preparing the field for our arrival. It was impressive to see Jn 3:16 was printed on both the 1st base and 3rd base side of the field, SAINTS across the area behind home plate, and a large cross outline encompassing all of the pitcher’s mound. It was even more impressive to discover that the white substance was not lime or chalk, as these items are not in the budget, but rather a mixture of corn starch and flour provided by the kitchen! And the fill inside the cross on pitcher’s mound…wood shavings from the workshop!

At Marion CI, we discovered the inmates began working on the field six weeks before our visit, using coffee cans as scoops to remove all the grass from the infield until the proper tools were made available to them!

You can read the results of the crusade elsewhere in The Insider Online, but the results that really matter is that God was glorified through our time in Florida. Even if that proves to be the last softball we play in 2020, the season is a success because the name of Jesus was lifted high!

 

Inside the Mind of Gibby – When you Wish upon a Star

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

I have no doubt the day is coming. No doubt whatsoever. Any day now it is going to happen; we will be purchased by the Walt Disney Company just like the Avengers, The Muppets, and Star Wars. With the impending offer coming any day, we should be considering what we have to offer to best impress the Disney Board of Directors with what we have to offer.

Illinois Bus…The Ride – Families will book their Walt Disney World fast passes months in advance to ride the legendary bus! Does the animatronic bus ride break down on the Dan Ryan in Chicago while trying to merge onto I-55 or does it break down in a busy left turn lane in East St. Louis? Thrill ride seekers can sit in the back near the exploding floorboards, while those looking for a flume-ride splash experience can sit in the front where the windshield leaks during a thunderstorm!

Star Wars Mandalorian Season 2 featuring Saints Crusade to Tatooine – While we are playing indoor soccer at the local intergalactic detention center, there is unrest when Mandalorian bounty hunters confuse Jonathan Lambert with Obi Wan Kenobi. Production is slowed down a little as the iconic Mandalorian helmet “somehow” ends up at a prison ministry charity auction. Millions of Disney Plus subscribers will be torn between what is more adorable: Baby Yoda or Rodney Stewart’s North Carolina accent!

Regular Programming on ESPN – Disney owns a controlling stake in ESPN so, with our world-class sports ministry, this is a perfect match! We could do regular segments on SportsCenter or a weekly panel discussion show. This is a great idea, and I know of a few guys with conflicting sports opinions who would wreak havoc on the sports talk shows. Is Joe Girardi the right manager for the Phillies? Is Carson Wentz foolhardy or just brittle? Does Ben Simmons really have to be able to shoot? On second thought, maybe it would be best not to include the Philly sports fans in this part of the business…

Toy Story 5 featuring Andy Solomon – It turns out that Andy Solomon is the same Andy from the original movies! He left them to join the Saints once Disney bought Pixar and now Disney has him back. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen return for another guaranteed blockbuster sequel, and the hijinks ensue when

Buzz Lightyear and Woody stow away inside the literature bag during a Middle Georgia prison visit. This is a heartwarming story where Buzz and Woody learn the joys of friendship and perseverance. Andy learns the heartburn-inducing lesson of double-checking the literature bag for contraband…

Live Action Goofy Cartoon – In the true Disney fashion of taking our beloved animated classics and turning them into live-action film, Disney will remake the Sports Goofy Cartoons using our missionary athletes. As he is the only MA to play a game in every sport, Butch Smith will land the starring role of Goofy.

From the parks to the silver screen to on-demand streaming, this will be without a doubt the most profitable Disney merger to date! We have so many personalities represented on our teams across the country. How can this not be the greatest thing to happen to the entertainment industry?

 

Announcements

We’re Still Working!

I have a hard time defining what we do as “work”.  Yes, we are laboring and completing tasks, but when it is a passion and a calling the word “work” seems inadequate.

Let’s say instead that our entire staff is still hard at the process of preparing for the 2020 summer season.  Following the Lord’s leading, we have been very proactive in staying in touch with prisons, rescheduling events before they become a problem, and monitoring our finances closely.

We have rescheduled the opening of our 2020 softball season for June 6, five weeks later than previously planned, but all the prisons appreciated that we contacted them – they are anxious to have us back and we now have committed dates into October, providing the restrictions and precautions allow it.

Our teams are equally excited about getting back to the mission of introducing inmates to Jesus and we have been actively preparing for softball crusade season to resume in July (remember we conducted one in March before things fell apart).  We have three teams slated for July crusades and they are all completely booked with prisons chomping at the bit to get back to some sense of normalcy!

My request is that you continue to pray for the Saints Prison Ministry’s leadership; we are laser-focused on what God has for us, and we have seen validation in the last couple months that we appear to be walking the path that the Lord is leading.  Pray that we continue to see His hand in our decisions, as well as praying for those inmates we will [eventually] be called to love……face-to-six-feet-away-face!

Serving Him gladly,

 

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