Click below for the full edition of Summer 2021
By Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director
Courage can be demonstrated in many ways, and it seems most people have their own definition. Most of those definitions would bear some resemblance to this: the strength or bravery to do something in the face of danger or difficulty. The tenacles of that definition stretch many directions; the danger could be physical, emotional, or psychological while the level of difficulty can vary depending on skills, aptitude, or capacity.
In early March, our Director of Team Operations, Jimmy Cochran, stumbled across a tweet from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) stating that, for the first time since the COVID pandemic shut down the FDC, they were looking for volunteers to begin programming. Not reluctantly admitting volunteers, not finally accepting volunteers…they were actively seeking out volunteers to resume programming for the inmate population!
This was not “just another announcement” – this was courageous. At the time, Gov. DeSantis was well ahead of the curve in charting Florida’s path to recovery, with no regard for how the rest of the country viewed him. FDC Secretary, Mark S. Inch followed the Governor’s lead equally courageously. So, while the Departments of Corrections in most states were just beginning to plan the method for in-person family visitation; Secretary Inch had already addressed that issue and was now ready to return to providing the volunteer programming that FDC values so highly! In the face of national skepticism, potential ridicule, and the risk of a virus outbreak that challenged his credibility and leadership, Secretary Inch determined the FDC would pursue volunteers!
By any reasonable definition, Secretary Mark S. Inch demonstrated courage in the face of national scrutiny by placing the best interests of the inmates above his own career comfort.
The Saints Prison Ministry responded to the announcement immediately. While it typically takes six weeks to build a crusade, this one had to be ready in less than four weeks. However, one aspect of this preparation stands out – the people involved.
In an effort to streamline the process, the ministry opted to limit the roster to MAs who already have a Florida approval. This approach limited the pool of available participants, yet 14 missionary-athletes responded positively, and none took longer than 72 hours to join the crusade team!
Leadership, supporters, and our missionary-athletes only cared about one thing – God opened the door, it was time to walk through it. Not one of the men on the team asked about Covid protocols, positive cases in prisons, or what type of mask to wear – they just said “Yes!”
Fast forward a month to mid-crusade. It was at that time that we learned two interesting details of our trip. The Saints Prison Ministry was the first “volunteer outdoor event” the state of Florida hosted post-pandemic AND the Saints Prison Ministry was the first “large volunteer group” welcomed back by the FDC post-pandemic.
Courage is indeed defined in a variety of ways, but biblical courage is more easily defined. The apostle Paul sums it up this way, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NIV). In Joshua 1:9, the Lord uses these words “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (NIV). Using those verses as a barometer, the Saints Prison Ministry demonstrated biblical courage, from the moment of the first phone call to the last out of the last game played. Everyone involved laid claim to the verses in Joshua and Romans without hesitation.
Secretary Mark S. Inch would probably deflect any notion that he showed courage in moving the FDC forward. I know everyone involved in planning, supporting, or conducting that crusade team most certainly would – they were just doing what they felt called to do.
Apparently, courage is only evident when you are looking in the rearview mirror!
I had been looking for a role with a Christian ministry when my pastor, Rev. Bill Cook, informed me the Saints Prison Ministry had a position open. Having worked for many years as an Administrative Assistant at Central Baptist Church, I knew I would love working where I could serve the Lord and I was familiar with the Saints ministry from their relationship with that church. Coming to the Saints is an answer to prayer for me. I am grateful to serve God with a team that loves the Lord and to be part of a ministry that reaches out to the prisoners is very fulfilling. I have three grown daughters and I’m greeted by a wonderful dog when I come home. I enjoy outdoor activities such as the beach, trail walks, and seeing beautiful sunsets; all of which I can appreciate since I live in an area of NJ that is full of beautiful wildlife. Beholding God’s glory has become my favorite past time!
Team Operations Assistant
My name is Yasmeen Fierros. I came to Easton Bible Church in 2015, where God allowed me to become a new creation in Christ! He put amazing people in my life as a new believer, including Tom and Faith Hogan who became my mentors. Being introduced to SPM through them, as a volunteer in 2017, I was drawn to the purpose and vision that the ministry brings to the inmates. So, when I heard they needed more hands, I was not hesitant; I was ready to be onboard! I am very excited to be on the Saints’ staff as the Team Operations Assistant and can’t wait to see what God has in store for me. I presently live in Lakewood, NJ along with my husband Jesus and my beautiful little girl Laila. I believe in helping others on their journey with Christ, which is why Hebrews 13:3 makes my service with SPM so special: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
By Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach
After doing this semi-humorous column for the past four years, I have collected a fair amount of fan mail. I sorted through the bag and, while there was a copious amount of complaint mail, there were some good questions for an average run-of-the-mill missionary athlete like myself.
Dear Gibby, What is your favorite prison memory?- INQUISITIVE IN IRVINE
Dear Inquisitive, It would be impossible to choose just one. I have special memories of playing softball and sharing the Gospel in places like FCI Greenville, Danville CC, Toledo CI, and Louisiana State Prison. But my most favorite recent prison memory is doing an open field tackle to tag out a runner at Avon Park CI in Florida…it was the 3rd down stop that we desperately needed!
Dear Gibby, What exactly are your plans for the extra COVID weight?- NOSEY IN NETTLETON
Dear Nosey, Putting a spin on a quote from former Philadelphia Phillies’ great, John Kruk, “Lady, I’m not an athlete, I’m a softball player!”
Dear Gibby, I’m writing in regard to your bus warranty. The warranty is up for renewal but only if you act now. Please call us at 555-3226 and please have your credit card number, social security number, mother’s maiden name, name of the street you grew up on, your MySpace.com password, and first-born child ready to renew your warranty. – LEGIT IN LEWISTOWN
Dear Legit, You sound like a great guy who likes to help people and I’m sure your credentials are impeccable , so I’d like to make you an offer! If you will please call me back with your mailing address, I will send you all the information you requested – and the title to the bus!
Dear Gibby, Who is your favorite baseball announcer? – WONDERING IN WITCHITA
Dear Witchita, Living in the Midwest, we have been blessed to hear such great voices such as Pat Hughes, Bob Uecker, Steve Stone, Jack Buck, and Ken Harrelson, but the soundtrack to my childhood is Cubs baseball with the broadcasting of Harry Caray. While he never helped me pronounce Mark Grudzielanek correctly, he helped me to have an appreciation for the fun parts of the game when you are getting beat 12-0. But to accurately answer your question, anybody but Joe Buck…
Dear Gibby, As part of a non-denominational parachurch ministry, how do people from different backgrounds get along? – FUNDAMENTAL IN FULLERTON
Dear Fundamental, this has never been an issue during my tenure with the ministry…as long as you don’t bring up music styles, Bible colleges, Bible translations, online church, smoke machines, multi-site services, pastors who wear ties, pastors who don’t wear ties, anyone who has a radio ministry, or John Piper’s Twitter account. T
hank you to everyone who has been writing in! As we return to the field this summer, I will be looking forward to more inspiring questions amidst all of the complaint mail!