Tag Archives: Featured

We Don’t Have To Know Why

By Hugh Dwyer, Crusade Leader, Indiana softball crusade

In my 21 seasons of participating with the Saints on various trips throughout the country, I have been taught flexibility is an essential quality – a fellow Saint and long-time prison chaplain described it is as the key to prison ministry.  Our most recent Crusade to Indiana has reinforced this belief.  In speaking with Frank Zeidler on Saturday which was three days before the Crusade was set to begin he described for me how two days of the trip had been unexpectedly canceled early in the week and then God worked to quickly fill those days with other prisons.  For those unfamiliar with prison ministry the idea of a visit by 16 guys into a state institution with only six or seven days lead time is virtually unheard of, even more so when working with a state that we do not visit often.  Frank and I have seen God do amazing things before so were grateful for him opening the door for us to visit Westville and Putnamville Correctional Facilities! 

However, Frank informed me that we were still waiting on confirmation from the prison scheduled for Sunday, the last day of the Crusade.  Little did either one of us know that God had other plans.

Fast forward to Thursday, Day 3 of the Crusade at Putnamville CF.  It rained throughout much of the night and there was threat of additional rain during the day.  We planned to spend the morning and afternoon at this facility speaking with multiple units during each session.  As we approached the ballfield, the recreation director asked if we were still willing to play, as the field was pretty wet.  I reassured him we look forwarded to the opportunity to get a little dirty.  The skies were cloudy but not one drop of rain came during the morning event!  We played very well and shared the Gospel with approximately 100 inmates. 

Rather than leave the prison between games, the recreation director invited us to lunch within the facility.  This is always an anxious moment, as prisons are not known for the high caliber cuisine.  However, if we know we will have the opportunity to interact with the inmates during the meal then we will accept the offer, so I naturally said, “Yes, of course we would love to eat lunch here, thank you.”  

We walked into a room with several tables at each table there were six place settings.  Linen table clothes and linen napkins awaited us as we pulled up to the table.  In the front of the room was a menu informing us what was to be served:  rib eye steak sandwiches with fresh peppers, cheese, and au jus accompanied by French fries.  For dessert, apple or peach crisp.  We waited for the food to arrive, not really expecting muchThe warden shared those men who were in the culinary education program at the facility prepared the food Three men came in to the room pushing carts of food, clearly proud of what they had created.  The food was AMAZING!  A couple of my teammates had two servings – unheard of when we eat inside the walls – and I believe one teammate even had three servings.  Dessert was even better! It was a special time for us as a team to interact with the men who had skillfully prepared the meal for us. 

We headed back to the field to play against the same team we had beaten soundly in the morning, but there was a new group of inmates in the stands.  This group was much more vocal than the morning crowd, making for a fun atmosphere.  The rowdy crowd of close to 200 never let up while we were playing [read – winning!] the game, but as we picked up the microphone they drew quiet and listened to the Gospel proclaimed passionately.  I was sitting on a bleacher near the top row, looking to the left and right, and every man around me was fixed intently.  It is an awesome image that I wish everyone could witness first hand!

This visit to Putnamville CF was one of those that the Lord added to the schedule seven days prior, and it was an amazing day.  However, God still had more!

Fast forward to Friday midday, Frank contacted with disappointing information nothing worked out for Sunday morning.  For an MA on a Crusade, this is the most disappointing news we can receive.  We want to visit prisons, and end on a high note, but we all understood that there was nothing to be done.  I did some research and found a church nearby our hotel that I thought would be a good fit for our team.

Sunday morning most of us are wearing our black Crusade shirt, creating quite a visual impact as 16 men file into the worship center at Plainfield Christian Church in matching attire.  It was a great service; however, I admit I found myself thinking that I would rather be in prison or home with my family. 

As the service concluded, the Senior Pastor came over to us and introduced himself to us.  He questioned who we were and what we were doing.  Several of us shared with him and as we spoke, his eyes lit up.  It was clear that he was extremely excited to hear about our ministry.  He asked what prisons we had visited while we were in Indiana.  We listed each prison, but then his eyes filled with tears as we went through the list.  He said to us that what we do is such an amazing blessing, and then continued to share about his son who had grown up in the church and was working in the church but was exposed to opioids.  His son was arrested and convicted and was now serving a five year sentence in Putnamville CF!  The Pastor asked if he could pray with us.  We gathered in a circle and this Pastor from a church that we did not originally intend to visit prayed over us in tears as he praised God for sixteen men who visited his son – in a prison that we did not originally intend to visit.

What an amazing God we serve!  

The Ups, The Downs, And The Constant

By Warren Miller, Missionary-Athlete, Indiana Crusade

Years ago, the Miller family ventured to NH where we stayed at a Christian camp where a mare named Sugar Bee grazed casually under a tree. She was nothing spectacular to look at until you brought the halter with you into the corral, placed the blanket and saddle on her back and led her out to the staging area to ride – then she perked up and was all the horse anyone could hope to ride.

 

That is similar to what happens to me when we near a prison: I put on my sports glasses and cleats, the glove and helmet in hand, and we walk in. The adrenaline is racing through this 49+ body anxious to handle the 3rd base hot corner and I really get wound up. Now I am going to do it for 5 days in Indiana!

  

Crusades can be extremely tiring, but my teammates do all they can to lessen the physical exhaustion from traveling, playing multiple games, carrying equipment and expending the emotional energy necessary to stay focused while playing and ministering. They also are like mother hens worrying about me at 3rd base especially when I move closer for a double play or try to get on ground that is more level!

 

While at Putnamville CF, I presented the Gospel message using John 3:3 and John 19:38-41. After the message, the first person to approach me was a young black inmate (initials D.S.) who handed me his response card. I noticed he checked the first box on the card indicating he received Christ into his heart! His eyes conveyed his sincerity and his mouth confessed that he had accepted Christ that very day while in prison garb. When I asked if I could pray for him, he said he would really appreciate it! Two men separated by generations, our skin color quite different, and only one of us with the freedom to walk out of the prison are eternally bonded together because he is a “New Creature”! Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17 (ESV)

 

When we arrived at Pendleton CF, a security detail pulled up in their vehicle to inform us that the entire facility was in lockdown mode. Instead of fretting, we gathered and prayed over the situation. Shortly thereafter, the two officers returned and informed us that the lockdown was lifted and we could go into the prison.  We processed through security, walked to the field, began warming up and even sat for pictures taken by the Recreation Supervisor. Almost immediately after that impromptu photo op, the Warden himself came to the field and informed us that he had no choice but to cancel the game; there was an incorrect headcount and for our safety, the yard was going to remain closed.

God’s sovereignty is hard to understand sometimes. I felt blessed and humbled that God used me at Putnamville CF to bring D.S. to the cross, but found myself taken “out of the game” at Pendleton CF the very next day. Frustrating to be sure, but please allow me to let you in on a secret: I stopped questioning how God works in my life and this ministry a long time ago! Many prayer warriors back home were praying for our safe travels as we embarked on the IN Crusade, for protection while ministering inside, and for receptive inmate hearts to the gospel message. It may not be how we expected, but I can say unequivocally that – once again – He answered every one of those prayers!

Inmate Letters

I would like to thank you for all of the birthday cards you have sent me over the years and the concern and care that goes with them. Although I have never written back to thank you before this, it has really touched my heart to know that someone cared enough to remember me, especially since some years yours is the only card I get for my birthday.

I have been incarcerated for approximately 34 years now. My parents have long since died, and the only family I have left now are my sister and her son, so it is very nice to hear from someone else in addition to them. Thank you for caring.

Joseph A., CTF North Facility, California

Thank you so much for the Bible Studies I’ve done with y’all. After doing these Bible Studies I feel like I have a new life now. I’m a child of God and the Holy Spirit is working in me. I did enroll in Crossroads Bible School as you suggested and I am now working on their lessons. I study the Bible every day, go to church every week, and pray many times a day. I feel my faith life growing and I look at things much different now.

I wake up each morning with a positive attitude, I’m happy, and I love my life. I have so much love in my heart, I just hope and pray that I find a safe place to go to when I am released. I am putting it all in God’s hands because as long as I trust in God, he will never turn His back on me. I still have 18 months left but meeting y’all was the best thing that has ever happened in my life. Thank you again, and please keep in touch.

Joseph B., Caroline CU #23, Virginia

Thank you for not only the birthday card, which made me feel very special, but also for the information that was included with it. I enjoyed the pastor’s message and it was all very encouraging. I embraced every bit of it and read it multiple times, meditating on it each time. Within the near future, I will submit some of my artwork for you to include in that newspaper. I don’t consider myself an artist, but the guys here say I draw pretty good so maybe you can use it. Again, thank you for the birthday blessing and keeping me in your thoughts.

Paris D., Broad River CI, South Carolina

Thank you for the birthday card –you are very good people. May God bless you with good health for many years to come. I am 68 years old and have been down for 35 years so God is good to keep me healthy this long. I would have wrote sooner but I had to trade my dinner tray for the envelope and stamps to write to you and one other friend who sent me a birthday greeting. Both of you are appreciated very much because I don’t get any other cards or letters except your two on my birthday. My sister don’t write to me and she is very busy working and taking care of the house. They don’t have much too so they can’t send anything. I’ve got no money in here but God is good and I survive by exchanging some of my food for things – I don’t need that much to eat anyway. Say “hello” to all the brothers in Jesus and maybe you can come play ball here someday.

Carlos P., Okeechobee CI, Florida

Inside The Mind Of Gibby

Welcome to another edition of “Inside the Mind of Gibby”! Just in case you haven’t noticed, (and judging by the lack of Facebook likes and comments, you haven’t!), this is my 7th article! We have discussed topics such as hijacked crusade devotions, bus problems, Star Wars, snoring roommates, more bus problems, and Mexican food, but a topic we haven’t discussed yet is just how Illinois became involved with The Saints Prison Ministry. I have asked Kurt Hand, a charter member of the team, to help where my memory might get cloudy.

In the beginning…

I have been involved with sports ministry in different capacities for the last 15 years. While researching sports ministries online, I ran across the Saints Prison Ministry. I contacted the Saints to get more information and in 2011, I drove to Ohio to join the NJ softball team on their annual crusade. I was initially scared to go in but I was really amazed at how sports connected with the men on the prison yard and created an opportunity to share the Gospel. I was so excited that I wanted to start a team and share the Gospel with the prisons in Central Illinois!

KH: So check this out, Tom Gibson meets some dude on the internet, rents a car, and drives all the way to Ohio, BY HIMSELF to go into prison with a bunch of strangers. I mean, these dudes could have been from Craigslist or something! Then he voluntarily hops up on their bus and sits down to go to prison with these guys! I mean who does that?

Ok, I guess when you put it that way, it does sound a little creepy! I mean I thought I just went on a missions trip and came home. No big thing...to me anyway.

We need a team in IL…

Over that winter, I talked to several church softball friends and acquaintances from other ministries and we assembled a team. These guys were excited to use a game they loved like softball to reach men in prison for the Lord!

KH: I believe I spoke for everyone in saying: “I’m sorry … you want us to do what?”

Now we need somewhere to go…

Our first visit was to FCI Greenville and we had a few veteran Saints come to help us get started. We walked through the gate and were greeted by a huge crowd. It reminded me of some of the big crowds that I saw in Ohio and so I was excited for my team to experience this.

KH: They slammed the gate behind us and everyone but Gibby and the NJ guys were freaking out. I mean, we were all thinking, “man, we’re in prison…like we weren’t getting out, we were in prison!” Oh, and “big crowd”? How about walking into a big open yard and facing 500 felons while you go off to the side to chat with the NJ guys!

Yeah, I guess I forgot to prepare everyone for that…but hey, we go in and we won the first game and despite not playing that well the rest of the day, we were on our way as a Saints team.

KH: Dude, we got killed. I don’t even remember the first game but all I know is we got destroyed! I do not know where Gibby found these guys but we stunk – and he made us play four full games that first day!

No, I can’t sugar coat this one. He’s right, we stunk. Like stunk so bad that we didn’t get another win for 11 months! However, it was a team effort because no one could have played that bad all by themselves!

Many of the men that God used to launch the IL Saints softball team are ministering in other areas today and we have had more bus issues than Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinators. Despite these challenges, God has used us to see several thousand men meet Jesus at the foot of the cross because a handful of Christian brothers proved to be almost as crazy as me!

The Right Question

By Jim Orr, Saints supporter

My brother-in-law, Butch Smith of the NJ Saints, recently visited my home state of Indiana to share his testimony with inmates here.  When he asked me if I’d like to attend some softball games inside of prisons I thought: “Sure, what could be more fun than going into penitentiaries and watching guys run around a baseball diamond in the 90 degree Southern Indiana heat, to the cheers and jeers of inmates who’d rather be almost anywhere else in the world?” 

Wrong question. What I found was an answer to: “What can be more rewarding than witnessing a group of men share their testimonies to those most in need of receiving the Gospel?”   The humility exhibited by Butch as he shared his testimony observably touched those privileged to be present. Yet I was reminded that our own individual (wayward) stories are significant only insomuch as we can share with others how even the lowliest–in the saddest of states–can receive the greatest of Gifts.  It was truly a spectacle of grace in action.

Incidentally, God won.

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!

 

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Saints Prison Ministry Basketball team is gearing up for 2019 season!  We’ve had the first meeting of the year but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the fun!  The season begins right after the new year but practices are starting now.  Come out and join the most exciting way possible to share the love of Christ – playing a game you love!

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