Thoughts from a Southerner in Ohio

Thoughts from a Southerner in Ohio

By Kevin Greene, Missionary-Athlete, North Georgia softball

After missing the trip to Colorado, I perked up when I received the invitation for experienced Saints to go and join a team from New Jersey on a different crusade. Without hesitation, I put my ‘yes’ on the table thinking surely 2-3 other Saints I knew would sign up!  I was a bit surprised when a week or two out Frank asked if I was okay going on my own and playing with guys I’d never met! I said, “We are on the same mission, with the same heart to serve our Father by serving inmates, so let’s do it!”

Well the team received me as one of their own just like I thought.  There are bumps along the way when different cultures and styles are involved, but the camaraderie was there right from the start. However, as always, Satan tried to plant seeds of doubt: “should I have come?”, “do these guys really need me here?”, “are these inmates connecting with me?”

On Day 1, I’m playing first base and coaching first as well, talking trash in love to the inmates in the stands and on the other team.  A guy approached with a funny look on his face and he says, “You ain’t from Jersey, like the rest of these guys! Where are you from”? I said, “I’m from Georgia.”  He replied “Where in Georgia?” When I told him I am from Austell, he was dumbfounded!

He said he was too: he went to the same middle school and high school I attended, and he lived less than three miles from where I was born and raised!   He is a fellow believer and we talked for about an hour, encouraging each other in the process. He shared his poetry with me and said when he gets out he would like to keep in touch.

I don’t know if the team needed me in Ohio, but God obviously did! Two Georgia boys in Ohio!  He’s a big, big God!

 

The Man Out West

By Frank Zeidler, Jr, Executive Director

In 2003, the Saints Prison Ministry took a softball team to Colorado for a crusade and came home with a soccer team! No, we didnt convert softball players into men in shorts running 7-8 miles in a 90-minute game. God had a MUCH better plan than that!

The whole story would take more space than this column allows, so here are the Cliff notes: Dale Glading and Bob Hellyer attend a meeting while in Colorado Springs; they meet a young man named Daryll Bryant at the meeting; Daryll is enamored with the idea of athletic prison ministry and volunteers his father to get involved (nice guy!); John Bryant has a conversation with Dale; voila! soccer team.

Yes, I rushed through that – but only to get to past the history and talk about the man. A retired Philadelphia police officer, John was running a retail soccer store when the Saints met him. As Daryll expected, he was instantly in love with the idea of marrying his passion for soccer with his desire to serve Jesus. So much so that he and his two sons Daryll and his brother Dennis made a trip to New Jersey to see what this was all about. A couple days absorbing information in the office and a Saturday visit to the Federal prison complex at Allenwood were all John needed to take the plunge.

Once back in Colorado John was left to figure out the nuances of running a ministry soccer team and learn the Colorado DOC at the same time. Nevertheless, he proved up to the challenge and in short order the Saints had a Colorado branch, playing soccer year round!

To Johns credit, he never assumed he had all the answers. His background included work in service industries and retail, in addition to his time on the force, so he certainly had the ability to figure things out. But when informed that some close friends of the ministry were in Colorado Bruce McDonald and Brent Fuqua among them he was always open to input from long-time ministry veterans.

Some of you met John at the Saints annual celebration banquets and heard the passion in his voice when he spoke about the work in Colorado. The men who played for him, and those of us who were with him at Allenwood years ago, certainly saw the depth of his soccer knowledge. But that all paled in comparison to what matters most to John introducing men in prison to his Lord and Savior.

In recent years, John and his wife Kate have dealt with serious physical challenges and significant family matters; yet these things never became an excuse to skip a month, as a team or personally. If a man in the Colorado prison system has not heard that Jesus loves them, it was not on John Bryants watch!

On June 23rd, John took the Colorado soccer team into prison for the final time; after 15 years of impacting men behind bars for Jesus he has decided to retire from this ministry. He takes with him many memories, and leaves behind many accomplishments but none as great as the thousands of men that met Jesus for the first time because of his dedication and commitment. As with many other situations in life, we wont realize everything John brought to this ministry until hes gone but his heart for the lost is going to be very hard to replicate.

Thank you, John there will be a very heavy crown adorned with jewels and hundreds of grateful men waiting for you in glory!

Inmate Letters

Brothers and sisters I thank you all for the card, but even more for the New Creation that came with it. The Fuel for the Soul part came exactly when I was going through a little problem, but God answered my question through you all. Don’t lose heart, trust in the Lord for deliverance, and stay on the attack is the way to renew our inner man each day. And the only way to do that is to spend time with God each day!

“Thank you Jesus for all that you are. Show me more of Yourself as I read your Bible and pray. Help me to pursue you with all of my heart and mind. Amen.”

Curtis T., Danville CC, Illinois

Hello! Since my encounter at Allen CC with those faithful brothers that glorious day in 2014 so much has happened in my life. I was a really confused man and I didn’t know what I wanted. Things started happening in my life that I felt was dragging me to a very dark place and when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my mother passed away. That put me over the edge. I stayed in a pit of hurt, pain, and anger for a long time.

One day the end of last year I was walking past the church when I felt a force pulling me in. As I walked in, it was like every word spoken that day was directed towards me. I fell to my knees that night and accepted Christ in my life! Hallelujah! I know I have a battle ahead of me as a young Christina, but being a soldier for Christ is already being a winner. I was a loser long enough.

I wish I could remember the brother’s name that spoke to me that day at Allen so I could tell him the good news. Satan is no longer in control of my life and I intend to keep it that way!

Kenneth T., Louisiana SP (Angola), Louisiana

I am one of the soccer players from the varsity soccer team and we enjoy every time the Saints come to visit us. We appreciate the time that you devote to us every year for all the sports, but I’m more touched by your efforts spiritually. It can’t be easy to stand in front of a group of people and put your not-so-perfect life on display for people to hear, but last year you had a guy that gave his testimony that touched me in a way that made me come to attention. He caused me to realize what I already knew in my head – that God is truly real and very much alive! I hope to stay in contact with you and I want to be enrolled in your Bible Studies (I lost the card you sent me). I look forward to seeing your guys come again soon.

Will S., SCI Mahanoy, Pennsylvania

A Peek Behind The Curtain

Ben Morrow wrote a piece about his First Crusade – a retelling of the experience of a crusade rookie. It made me smile because as I read his submission I was thinking,If he only knew… Then it occurred to me that maybe he – and you – should know how God works behind the scenes to use us for his glory.

A prevailing misinterpretation of the scheduling process holds that we make a phone call to a Chaplain or Recreation Officer, agree on a date, and carve that agreement in stone. However, the process rarely goes that smoothly for any sport or any trip. Reality dictates that we contact one of those individuals, who “suggests” a mutually agreeable date – but then runs that suggestion up the chain of command to ensure everyone involved in scheduling and securing prison events also finds the date agreeable. Then, and only then, is it carved in Play-Doh…with the prison holding the option to smash the carving and reform it again!

In the case of Ben’s first crusade, (spoiler alert!) he references “a second trip back to FCI Phoenix”, which leads me to your peek behind the curtain. We were never supposed to visit FCI Phoenix twice! Although that scenario aligns with my belief in relational evangelismand we have intentionally scheduled repeat visits in both recent seasons and other crusades the schedule for this trip did not allow for an encore performance. We were fully booked with four federal prisons and one private prison in four days, and Sunday set aside as a travel day due to the distance and time change.

Just days before we were to depart, the private prison called me and stated that their customer (the state of AZ) would not sign off on the visit, so they had to cancel or risk losing their contract. They were on our itinerary for the day we arrived, meaning I now had 15 men prepared to get up early, fly thousands of miles from three different locations, and go sit in the hotel until the next day; that would be a hard sell to say the least!

With virtually no options I called Jon Wood, the Recreation Supervisor at FCI Phoenix and a man I have come to call a friend. He has always been supportive of the ministry and usually works with us to schedule his facility as works best for us. My hope was that he would shift his event from Saturday to Wednesday, allowing me a couple extra days to fill the gaping hole the cancellation left in our plan.

Jon never batted an eye (I would have heard it over the phone – he is a big guy!). He suggested we could land on Wednesday and come straight to his facility from the airport – he had a “B” team that never gets to play outside competition and he would do everything he could on short notice to get a crowd in the yard! And, my friend, that is exactly what happened and more.

We arrived at FCI Phoenix less than two hours after the team gathered at Sky Harbor International Airport via various flights. Not only was the “B” team excited about the opportunity to play the visiting team, in hindsight our men felt they gave us as good or better a game than the “A” team did on Saturday. In addition, Jon outdid himself because we walked into a prison yard filled with 250 men, all anxious to see the Saints Prison Ministry for the first time in 4 years!

When the team left for Arizona, only a few of them knew what had happened – most assumed this was the schedule as we planned it. When they updated their supporters during the trip – or when you read Ben’s article – it appears that this crusade was another example of our commitment to relational evangelism. The truth is that just days before takeoff, only God knew what was going to happen in Arizona! He used my experience, Jon’s flexibility, and our teams’ whatever-it-takes attitude to create the schedule that best suited His purpose because that first day 33 men made the life-changing decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!

Could He have done that sooner, saving me some angst and the private prison some disappointment? Sure…after all, He is God. However, if so, it might have been “Frank’s schedule” that resulted in such a great first day. Once again, it is clear that God is leading this ministry for His glory; the staff and I are just doing our best to keep up with Him!

It does not always go the way we plan, and most of the time no one is even aware of the hoops our staff jumps through or the challenges of planning a trip with so many uncertain, moving parts. That is as it should be – we simply want you and the teams to be praying that inmates lives are changed and God is glorified in the end.

Oh, and in case you are curious about how FCI Phoenix reacted to all of this, Jon sent me this message not long after the trip:

Your team was exceptional this past week. Everyone who showed [inmates in the yard] had a genuine interest in the Good Gospel. If you can reach one, you’ve WON!

It was a pleasure to see Old dogs still in the game. They even heard the BUZZ from our population.

I cannot tell you enough how much this has met to the FCI inmates. The good word of the Gospel needs to visit once a year instead of 3-4 years. This would peak more interest and be good for everyone here.

God Bless and please share my e-mail with them.

Thanks, J

P.S. Keep that Ben-Gay Close boys. LOL

To God be the glory!

Ben’s First Crusade

*Editor’s note: Ben is a member of the Illinois Saints softball team and, after years of prodding from their coach, he joined 14 of his brothers-in-arms on the Arizona crusade in April. The crusade ended right after our Spring edition went to print, but this is his reaction to that experience as recounted at the time.

All last week, I was telling my co-workers and customers that I was headed to prison for 4 days. After a short moment of silence and discomfort from them, I explained that my passion in this life is to see men get free from guilt, shame, condemnation and truly step into becoming “free indeed”.

Similar to the 80’s movie classic “The Breakfast Club” our team was comprised of men from all walks of life—business men, factory workers, church and ministry leaders, current and former military personnel, an IT wizard, an addiction counselor and even a 76 year old former professional baseball player. This was God’s plan. Through these men, we experienced breakthroughs in both the prison yard and in our personal lives.

We played 13 games in prison, winning 7 of them. The most significant day though, was our fourth and final visit—a second trip back to FCI Phoenix to play their all-star team. Crusade veterans speak of the 4th day as traditionally a white towel waving experience of exhaustion and body aches. Instead, we were lead into battle by two of our most talented leaders Rodney and Rob with prayers of Holy Spirit healing and a 100% all-in mentality. With Andy and Gibby as our coaches, we forged the path to rise up and win all three games that day! Most of us experienced a miraculous sense of fresh legs and endurance; and on top of that—we had capped off a crusade that saw 76 men give professions of faith to Jesus Christ. This can only be explained by God’s abundance of grace. We don’t even deserve it, yet He pours out His grace freely like the Good Father that He is. 

After the last visit, we spent close to 2 hours in a hotel conference room eating pizza, investing time in God’s Word and speaking life over one another through encouraging speech in what we dubbed word gifts—knowing that each of our lives have meaning and value through the shed blood of Jesus. It was in this time that our team of seemingly random strangers a few days earlier became a brotherhood of sons sent to accomplish the Father’s work. This night was transformational and encapsulated the Holy Spirit’s influence on our week.

It’s safe to say that after my first crusade, I will never be the same. Sunday afternoon, I will come back to Peoria, Illinois with a passion to love my family, to serve my workplace and to give grace as the Father flows through me—all because of 15 men that were willing to lay down their lives for one another. To God be the glory! 

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