Tag Archives: Crusade

A Story of Courage

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!

Short-Term Missions Opportunities

We are all familiar with the term, and many of our churches are currently active in missions around the world. The Saints Prison Ministry has embraced the concept of these short-term trips for long-term impact and is actively seeking churches to partner with in this area.

Perhaps your church is planning to resume mission trips when access becomes available. But even then, there are likely men in the church that simply are not interested in teaching VBS or painting a church on the mission field. They want to serve, but the opportunities just don’t match their skills and gifting. What if that same opportunity included playing sports instead?

For the last few years, SPM has partnered with three different churches to reach inmates with the Gospel in areas that our current schedule cannot accommodate. These churches have collectively reached thousands with the Gospel, seen hundreds come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and found fulfillment in serving the Lord with the talents He gave them!

Right now, the state of Florida is wide open to our ministry, and others will soon follow, so there is a great opportunity for your church softball or basketball team to come under the Saints umbrella and make an impact for the Kingdom. Doing something they already do for “fun,” the church can join with the Saints Prison Ministry and send a team to one of four regions of Florida, to minister to inmates who are simply waiting for someone to remember they are still there!

If your church would like to join us in 2021 – using athletics to reach this unreached people group – contact Frank Zeidler, Executive Director, at [email protected] to get the ball rolling!

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!

 

A Krusade Memory

by Dr. Jay Thatcher, SPM Director of Ministry Relations

Editor’s note: Dr. Thatcher accompanied the women of the Keystone Krusade, the first-ever crusade conducted by a Lady Saints team. A crusade team made up of “rookies” from Cornerstone Church (Mt. Laurel, NJ) and a few veteran Lady Saints visited two prisons in PA in mid-November. Complete results were not available at the time of publication due to some procedural challenges experienced with the PA Dept. of Corrections, but the Gospel was shared with more than 100 women and at least eight made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ! This is Jay’s account of the first stop on the crusade…

As the women of the Keystone Krusade Team were making the 3 ½ hour trek to SCI Muncy in November, one of the missionary-athletes read a verse of the day aloud. Acts 4:31 – “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” In hindsight, it matched our visit that day perfectly!

Three-days prior to this trip we were informed by the Recreational Director that the volleyball event was canceled due to a structural problem with the gymnasium. Our staff developed a new plan of action; with the help of the Recreation Director, we secured a room in a basement of the building and played cornhole, Pictionary, and cards with our sisters behind bars. Whatever it takes, right?

As the team and inmates bonded over the games, we transitioned into our standard Gospel presentation. Carolyn Jefferson introduced the Saints Prison Ministry, Nicole Zook shared a powerful testimony that prepared the inmate women’s minds and hearts for the Gospel presentation by Coach Gail Gargani.

Picture a basement with a low ceiling, and a group of 30 people consisting of corrections officers, inmates, and Saints missionary-athletes. What was incredibly touching during the presentation was you could hear a pin drop. Near the end of the message, I scanned the room – through tears in my own eyes – and every woman was glued to Gail’s Gospel presentation. The Holy Spirit was palpable when Gail said, “there is no place in the world that I would rather be than in this dungeon of a space, sharing the Gospel with all who are gathered here including the COs.”

After this incredible presentation, one of the leaders of the SCI Muncy Inmate Organization handed me a letter. It read:

New Jersey Saints: Thank you for coming to SCI Muncy through the years. We always look forward to playing volleyball, talking, and catching up. Unfortunately, this year, we were unable to play volleyball due to the issues in the gymnasium. However, we have been looking forward to all of you coming to spend the day with us. As a token of our appreciation, we are donating $500 to your organization on behalf of the Muncy Inmate Organization. Thank you again. Sincerely, Muncy Inmate Organization Jesus shares in Luke 21:1-4, “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all others. All of these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

These women, who have no possessions of their own to speak of, devoted the time and energy to do whatever was necessary to raise what is in prison a monumental sum. Not out of their wealth, but in the face of conditions most of us would consider unbearable, they put the appreciation of the Saints visit above their own personal situation.

Imagine if we had never shown up due to the volleyball game being canceled. My lasting memory was there is no place on earth that I would have rather been when the Holy Spirit shook the basement and left us in awe of His majesty and goodness!

 

South Carolina 2019

At the time of our first crusade to South Carolina in 2000, we played more than 20 softball games in one week, at 11 different facilities. The state couldn’t do enough for us – to the extent of housing the team in the DOC training academy and providing state vehicles to transport the team each day!

However, like everywhere else we travel, budgets, staffing, and ideology change over time and, more than any other state we visit, South Carolina has changed dramatically in the ensuing years. In September, The Saints team from Virginia conducted a 3-day weekend crusade to five SC prisons – and would have been hard pressed to extend the trip to a fourth day because only seven prisons were even available to host our team! Some prisons no longer have softball fields, some don’t have a Recreation Leader, and a couple that do have both are not inclined to invite outside teams in at this time!

As if that wasn’t enough, two days before we were to travel one of the five that did schedule the team found it necessary to cancel the visit! Fortunately, one of the prisons graciously filled that slot on short notice…but the cancellation reflects the fragile status of recreation in SC these days.

Rather than be dissuaded, our team rose to the occasion and prepared for the trip as they have many times before. The crowds were smaller than usual, but that just meant more quality time individually. The teams weren’t as good as usual, but that simply offered more opportunities to relax and joke around with the inmates. There was one constant – the Gospel is the same as it has always been and the Holy Spirit moved in those five prisons to bring 34 men to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

Please continue to pray for our DOC friends in South Carolina. The state recently appointed a new man to fill the vacant Chief of Recreation job and it is our hope that things may turn around in the future. And if not…we’ll still be back as long as they will have us!

Announcements

Crusade Results
SONshine State – Central FL

Facilities: 4

Inmates in Attendance: 377

Stayed for Gospel: 165

Professions: 10

Gospels Distributed: 439

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