Tag Archives: Crusade

Lightning Alley Crusade: A Veteran Perspective

By Rob Fogel, 20-year veteran Missionary-Athlete

To begin my 21st season, I committed to fly alone to Orlando and join the Lightning Alley crusade to Central Florida. I was going to meet 13 guys from Georgia – only three of whom I know – and I was to pick up the 15th member of the team at the airport, a guy from WV I have never met! After not being able to minister with the Saints since October of 2019, clearly I was so excited to get back into prison and would have signed up for anything!

Having been on approximately 40 crusades in my career, I was expecting the same outcome, the same fulfillment, seeing God work, being used as He saw fit, and bonding with guys willing to serve as I have experienced many times before. Not so much… this trip was different, and my cup is overflowing!

It started out with meeting a Recreation Director in Polk Correctional Institution who told me he wasn’t just holding down a job; he was called to this vocation by God and was investing in men behind bars. He was humble and happy. What I didn’t know until we left was that he was a silver medalist for the Bahamas in the 2008 Olympics. He sold his medal to get to the US because God was calling him. Imagine a calling on your life so great that you would be willing to sell your triumphant prize possession. He truly serves to invest in men behind bars.

This started a fire inside our team. At devotions that night, as a team of brothers – most of whom we just met – God started opening us up to feed, share and love on each other. We lifted up our families at home and the supporters that helped get us there, praying for protection and blessing for all their sacrifice. I knew that first night this trip was going to be EPIC.

Day 2, we went into Hardee CI and once again we were in the perfect center of God’s will. We were asked to eat lunch with the men (unbelievably, this happened every day on this crusade). Lunch the previous day was almost scary enough not to eat but most of us did. I tried, but despite my best intentions and effort, lunch looked so bad I just couldn’t do it. Later we heard an inmate say he has trust issues, but he knew he had met guys who were real when we stayed for lunch: we clearly showed to him we wanted to continue conversations and loving on these men. Best lunch I never ate!

Day 3, we were in Central Florida Reception Center, the intake facility for all of Central Florida. Again, we found a group of Corrections Officers that genuinely wanted us there to shine some light and give the guys a special day, to the point that the fences and barbed wire virtually disappeared. A couple crazy guys on our team actually volunteered to get haircuts by the inmate barbershop! As they did that, I absolutely enjoyed lunch there by inhaling the best bologna and shredded cheese sandwich I have had in a long time. Prison food makes one enjoy the simple things!

At this point in any trip, the team is spiritually, emotionally, and physically spent. But our Father, who loves us so much, was just getting started. Our final devotional time together as a team was epic. It lasted three hours as men shared their experiences, cried to the point of sobbing how God was working – not only in front of us leading men to Himself, but breaking down the barriers in our own lives. As a team that gave us the opportunity to absolutely love each other, lift each other up, and most importantly hold each other accountable. Think about it – we just met, and God had this all planned out!! It is crazy but our God is so good.

Day 4, getaway day. one more prison, 2 more gospel messages and we are on the way home. But God wasn’t done with us yet. The Wellness Department at Marion CI is run by four people who are truly caring and investing in men that are getting out soon. They even had videos they shared with me of inmate lip-sync battles that were awesome!

The men at this prison were respectful and responsive to God’s word. We spoke with one guy named JT that is clearly being pursued by God and I believe he didn’t sleep that night until he surrendered. Without any prompting, the testimony and Gospel message that day were targeted right to his situation. Funny how God works that way sometimes!

You may have noticed there is not a mention of softball games in this recap. It wasn’t intentional, but the truth is that softball was simply the backdrop to all of the ways God showed Himself on this trip.

We collected cards with responses that showed 67 men making a first-time decision to trust Christ, 68 that were not ready but requested more information, and 280 that are already believers. We were able to encourage the believers to get with those who just made decisions and be the iron that sharpens each other. It was an absolute blessing and honor to go on this trip and be used by our Lord in this spectacular way.

 

Lightning Alley Crusade: A First-Timer’s Impression

By Tyler Smith, rookie crusade participant and son of veteran MA Kirk Smith

I’d like to say how much of a blessing this trip was to me – an experience I will never forget. It was crazy to see how much of a blessing we received while trying to bless others.

One thing that surprised me about this past week was how nice most of the inmates were to us. I was not expecting them to accept us, and what we had to say, the way they did. We had 67 inmates come to know Christ while we were in Florida for only four days! I was honored to get to speak to and pray with many inmates throughout the week, and every one of them were open and honest about their struggles or heartaches, and eager to listen to what we had to say.

The inmates were thankful for our visit, and they let us know how much our being there meant to them. I’m not sure if that was because they were able to play softball for a couple of hours, or because they were able to talk to someone new, but they all were very accepting of us. Several of them took time to ask me if I had any prayer requests and prayed over me and the ministry!

Looking back on the trip, conversations with many guys stick out to me. I believe most of the men I spoke with this week are unsaved, but I had a chance to minister to and pray with them, which hopefully helped them along on their journey to Christ. I will continue praying for each and every man that I interacted with this week, and I hope that I made an impact on their lives. I had an exciting time, and I will definitely be going on more of these trips in the future!

 

It Was the Best of Times…

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

I know there is more… but I simply cannot finish this famous literary reference because the concluding line has no place in this story. The story begins with an invitation, and it ends with God astonishing a group of seasoned Saints Prison Ministry veterans – seemingly at every turn!

In October, as part of the Everglades Expedition crusade, our team visited Moore Haven Correctional Facility in South Florida. This is a prison operated by The Geo Group, a for-profit company contracted to run prisons that house state or Federal inmates. During that visit, our team was welcomed as guests, ministered to 300 inmates in the yard, and witnessed 14 men make a profession of faith.

Shortly after that visit, we were contacted by a representative of the company with a unique invitation: a former professional football player was going to visit Moore Haven to play softball and minister to the inmate population. He was bringing a team of other former professional athletes who are Christians and, when he heard the reports of our visit, he wanted us to join their event!

To save time I will skip the planning process, but the end result was a two-day ministry trip involving two Geo Group facilities in South Florida. To quote Jackie Gleason, “And awaaaay we go…”

Friday morning the team arrived at the front gate of South Bay CF as scheduled, where the Warden of the facility met them. He came out to regretfully inform us that the prison had been the scene of multiple stabbings due to gang violence just a few days before we arrived. Because of this, the entire facility was on lockdown – the worst word we could ever hear at the front gate of a facility. However, he quickly followed that comment with the apology that, because of the lockdown, he would only be able to bring one or two dorms out to see us today! What? Lockdown means no one is moving anywhere for any reason – chapel is canceled, meals are served in the cells, programs are suspended… but not this time.

Once in the yard, escorted the entire way by the Warden, we found a team excited to see us and a field that had seen no attention all week because of the lockdown. Once again, apologies followed but never a thought of stopping the event. Despite the prison being locked down, a sizable portion of the administrative staff was in the yard, along with a team banner for the South Bay Sugar Canes and brand new canopies set up to keep the teams and scorekeepers protected from the sun.

Lunch was served at the pavilion about 300 feet away, catered by the prison’s culinary arts program. The lunch break also featured live entertainment from the prison band, playing worship music…in their own style, of course. It was an amazing time of fellowship and camaraderie, all overseen by Geo administration. The prison was on lockdown, yet we distributed 300 Gospels of John, preached to about 175 men and women, and saw eight men make a profession of faith.

But Friday wasn’t over yet…

We left South Bay CF just in time to stop at the hotel, clean up, and get to Moore Haven CF (about 40 minutes from South Bay CF) in time for a catered dinner in our honor. The dinner was attended by our team, the two inmates team scheduled to play the next day, the Asst. Warden who came in on Friday night to make us feel welcome, and six Golden Retrievers – part of the prison’s very successful service dog training program! What made this dinner most unique is that it was catered by the family of one of the inmates…who were allowed to stay and spend the evening with their son! We spent the evening engaged with the inmate population, talking trash, and making friends.

Saturday was supposed to be a long day… and it was! We arrived at 8 a.m. to play against the Moore Haven Moon Pies “B” team, while the “A” team was schedule to take on the celebrity team after lunch. However, the “A” team was looking for a little payback from losing in October, so they opted to play us in the morning and leave the “B” team to play the celebrities! The “A” team regrets that decision now, since we scored almost 50 runs that morning, but it was a wonderful time of softball and fun.

Before the game, the Geo Group took us all by surprise and presented the Saints Prison Ministry with a gift of $5,000 for the work of advancing the Gospel behind prison fences. It was an unbelievably generous donation, particularly in this era of limiting the overlap between “church and state” in the prison system!

Lunch was once again provided by the prison – this time a cookout on a trailer grill – And once again music provided by the prison band (if we’re keeping score, the South Bay band was better but let’s keep that between us).

After lunch, the “celebrity team,” led by former NFL player Jack Brewer and including former Pro Bowl Chicago Bear Tommie Harris, arrived to play the Moon Pies. Before they played, Jack introduced the former players in attendance, and each took a couple minutes to share the story of their faith journey. The game was a lot of fun, but the Moon Pies “B” team handled the celebrities and walked away with a win in the showcase event. What came next was yet another unexpected blessing.

Despite the celebrities in attendance and the “show” being about them, Jack Brewer deferred to us and allowed the Saints Prison Ministry to take the ministry lead! The basketball court was on a slight hill, so our speakers experienced something we don’t often see – speaking from an elevated position with about 300 inmates sitting on the ground in total silence. A sea of people waiting to hear the Word of God preached boldly, with no distraction. And they heard exactly that! Bob Hellyer shared a testimony of God’s grace and mercy, followed by Jim Jefferson’s message of God’s love reaching them in a dark place. At the end of the day, after preaching twice and playing softball all day., we distributed almost 400 Gospels of John, preached to 240 men and women, and witnessed another 45 inmates come to know Jesus as their Savior!

There were multiple times during these 48 hours that veteran Saints MAs looked at each other and said, “Does that ever happen anywhere else?” It was an unbelievable time of ministry; time spent bathing in the Holy Spirit’s presence. Yet there was one recurring theme as we talked among ourselves after the fact: the people of the Geo Group genuinely care about the men in their charge. Not about statistics or census numbers – but about helping the state inmates assigned to their facility come out as better husbands, fathers, and men than they were when they were admitted. It showed in every aspect of our time in these two prisons, and we heard it from those that are housed in South Bay CF and Moore Haven CF. This is an organization really trying to make a difference and that message was crystal clear to everyone involved – inmates, staff, and visitors alike!

This was the most intense 48 hours of my ministry career, and I doubt it will ever be replicated. It was a time of amazing experiences at every turn: interaction with the inmates, response to the Gospel, respect for us as ministers, the Geo Group’s approach to incarcerations, the harmony of Saints MAs who had never met before Thursday night, and the Holy Spirit settling over the Lake Okeechobee area for 48 hours. More than 1,000 words later I still feel I haven’t done the trip justice, but it’s all I have until we get to Glory…and you get to see the movie in reruns!

              

Inside Story

Florida…Again?

If you have been paying attention to the updates we send via newsletter, email, or letters included with your gift receipt you are probably hoping to read anything but “Florida” at this point. So…let’s talk about Florida!

You have read about Florida the most because they are obviously the most “open” state right now. I will not turn this into a political diatribe or medical analysis, so let’s just stick with that statement of fact – they are open. That statement alone has created immense opportunities for SPM on two fronts – the visible and the unseen.

The visible portion refers to all the information you have read thus far in 2021, but there are a few connections you probably couldn’t make on your own. The first is the extent to which we have ministered in Florida. There are 57 prisons in Florida (50 major institutions and seven private contract facilities). Unless you have been keeping a scorecard, you might be pleasantly surprised to know that we have ministered, or are scheduled in October and November, in 26 FL prisons – almost half the inmates in Florida were exposed to the Gospel through Saints Prison Ministry in 2021! In addition, we geographically covered the entire state in one year, which is no small feat!

The unseen portion of these opportunities involves the process of scheduling any ministry event in Florida. Without the boring details, FL has developed a system that vets every ministry or church that wishes to provide programming or services to weed out those who may only be trying to placate their own egos or pad their stats. The system includes six standards, of which the Saints Prison Ministry covers three, and the application for any event must go through the Central Office in Tallahassee before the prisons can even schedule any program.

This process was filled with landmines for SPM and for a few years we have struggled to gain any traction in addressing those challenges, mostly because we were only applying once a year. However, in 2021 two things happened: the state appointed a prison chaplain to head this Office of Special Events and we applied multiple times, in some cases only weeks apart! Having served many years in multiple prisons, the chaplain was very familiar with the challenges of scheduling events but is a strong advocate for volunteer programming. She believes that volunteers are not only desirable but necessary to fulfill the mission of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), which is Inspiring Success by Transforming One Life at a Time. Because of this, we quickly developed a working relationship that would allow us to focus on the challenges of the process.

Because SPM was applying so frequently, the chaplain was able to see the issues involved and worked with her supervisor to address each hurdle as it arose. She was equally willing to suggest a new approach as she was to dismiss that approach if it proved unproductive. Because of her passion and flexibility, we have seen tremendous strides in the process and the working relationship between SPM and the FDC.

Six crusades to Florida in any other year would be absurd; this year it made all the sense in the world!

 

It’s Not All Crusades

You have read quite a bit about crusades this year. Even in this newsletter we devoted a page to updating you on the details and results of the summer’s activity. But as excited as we are to be back on the field in Florida and Ohio, it’s not ALL about crusades.

While the prisons in the Northeast are still not open to large volunteer groups, Georgia did open their doors to us. The decision on protocols and group size was left to each warden, but we have already seen both of our men’s teams active in facilities local to them. The SE Lady Saints are also scheduled through the end of October, but their first visit was canceled by the prison due to a Covid flare-up involving a couple officers, which left them shorthanded. Please continue to pray for the prisons everywhere to open their doors to volunteers, especially in the Northeast. All our fall/winter sports are conducted out of the NJ office, so right now we are unsure if we will see any activity before 2022 in those states.

 

Crusade Season 2021

In any given year, the Saints Prison Ministry conducts 8-10 crusades – but obviously 2021 hasn’t been “any” year! However, we did see open doors this summer and we walked through every one of them. Preparing for each opportunity was pressure-packed due to time constraints, yet every time the Lord delivered passionate missionary-athletes, enthusiastic inmates, and administrations that welcomed us warmly.

In April, our team answered the invitations from Central Florida – the first events since March 2020! We visited three prisons, in which we ministered to five different populations, and our team preached the Gospel to almost 400 men. We saw 23 professions of faith in Jesus Christ and handed out 737 Gospels of John!

In late June we opted to return to the very same area of Florida, based on the overwhelming response to our April visit. We returned to one of the prisons from our April trip, added three other prisons that invited us and, cumulatively, seven different populations came out to watch us play.

Although attendance was lighter than it had been previously, God still worked through our MAs to draw 10 men to a personal relationship with him. We also distributed 439 Gospels in these four prisons.

Just four weeks later we gathered our team together again, this time in the northern part of Florida. This trip involved 6 prisons, including the first-ever scheduled kickball game in Saints history! More than 450 inmates came out to interact with our team and God once again blessed our efforts. 40 men made the decision to follow Jesus and we distributed 501 Gospels of John in just four days on the ground!

Finally, in early August, we answered a call outside of Florida! Three prisons in Ohio extended an invitation to the Saints, and our ministry team in Huntington, WV was happy to answer the bell. Over a four-day weekend, 66 inmates added their names to the Lamb’s Book of Life and 443 men each took a Gospel of John back to their cell with them.

One hundred thirty-nine prisoners found freedom in the summer of 2021. More than 2,000 lonely souls can discover the peace and joy found only in the Good News of the Gospel they were handed. Don’t let anyone suggest to you the summer of 2021 was wasted by a virus!

Click here for behind the scenes photos!

 

Announcements

SAVE THE DATE

We want you to save the date for our 35th Anniversary Celebration

June 4, 2022
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Easton Bible Church
2407 Fostertown Rd.
Hainesport, NJ 08036

Casual – Fun – Kid-Friendly

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KINGDOM KARS PROGRAM
Did you know that your old vehicle can help us?

You can make a lasting impact on an inmate’s life by donating your used car to The Saints Prison Ministry. It doesn’t matter how old it is, what shape it is in, or even if it runs – we want your car!

For more information, email us at [email protected]