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!