Click below for full edition
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.
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!
By Frank Zeidler, Jr, Executive Director of the Saints Prison Ministry
David Berkowitz hasn’t been the Son of Sam for many, many years… unfortunately, that is a link to his past that he’ll never be able to shake. However, he is now more accurately called a Child of the King; redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and living a new life in Jesus Christ! Our teams in the NE have met him, spoken with him, and seen him on the yard on multiple occasions in NY state prisons.
Recently, with the help of Keith Rovere, a Saints supporter that has developed a pen-pal relationship with David, I was able to “interview” him about his interaction with the Saints Prison Ministry. Since our teams have used David’s evangelistic tract for years, and many people know the story of his past and his conversion, I tried to submit questions that were not addressed in other places.
Q: David, how long did it take for your conversion to be accepted as more than just another man using “jailhouse religion”?
A: It has taken time. I have been a Christian now for more than 30 years. As time went by, I stayed faithful to Jesus and on course, and eventually many were able to accept the fact that I was serious about my faith. Nevertheless, the world still has its naysayers and that will always be the case. Even our Lord, despite all the miracles He did, was still labeled as a lunatic and a deceiver.
Q: When you moved from Sullivan CF to Shawangunk CF, did you have to re-establish yourself as a man of faith, or had your reputation preceded you?
A: After being at Sullivan for so long, and being a Christian for most of that time, I had established a formidable reputation as a disciple of Jesus. I also met a number of men who I had known at Sullivan. So, I was accepted without difficulty when moving here.
Q: How does the prison population view volunteer groups, in general?
A: As a rule, prisoners like, appreciate, and respect the volunteers. We recognize these people come in to encourage us, for no financial gain to themselves. I have seen how even unsaved men will talk freely with the volunteers. Prisoners are very intuitive and perceptive – they can spot sincerity and genuineness and will react to it.
Concerning the Saints Prison Ministry, my observation after years of interacting with them at Sullivan is that the inmates enjoyed your visits. The Saints were always friendly, kind, encouraging and open as they shared their own personal testimonies, and I am certain this meant a lot to the inmates – I know it did for me.
The Saints Prison Ministry teams and guys have a good reputation with the prisoners. Again, this is because they interact with the men on a personal level and are friendly and accepting. I also believe it is the Holy Spirit working to soften the hearts of the prisoners, so the members of SPM find receptive open hearts when they arrive.
Q: Do you have any specific memories of the Saints Prison Ministry?
A: While the names and faces of individual members of the teams have faded, I specifically remember their welcoming kindness. I interacted with them often and it was always pleasant because, even more than just seeing people from the outside, I clearly knew I was communicating with fellow believers.
Q: Given the opportunity, what suggestions would you make to a volunteer that was interested in doing prison ministry for the first time?
A: Pray and Go! The Lord is with you and there is nothing to fear! Ask the Lord for wisdom when interacting with the men. You should be “wise as serpents but harmless as doves” – meaning, be careful not to be taken advantage of, but show love, respect, and kindness at all times.
Q: In your experience, what aspect of ministry has the greatest impact in reaching people for Jesus Christ?
A: Testimony seems to have the biggest influence. It is probably the best way to open the door for communication. When an inmate hears a volunteer getting personal and sees the sincerity behind it, the volunteer can then discern when to open the Scripture and lay out the plan of salvation. But one cannot do that without open lines of communication. Strike a human bond first and talk with the man, not at him.
There it is – the insight into inmates’ experiences with volunteers – and SPM in particular – from a man that God reached in a very dark place. What a blessing to know that NO ONE is out of reach of the grace and mercy of the Lord!
How to go from Locked Out to Locked In
by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach
Now that the Major League lockout is over, I’m glad I can get back to preparing to watch my beloved Chicago Cubs rise from the ashes of being a sub .500 team in 2021 to being a slightly better sub .500 team in 2022. I’m part of the Illinois softball team, and we are in a little bit of a lockout ourselves as we are still waiting for some of the COVID restrictions on volunteers to lift. After watching MLB struggle to reach a deal, I began to wonder what it would look like if they had simply called the Saints Prison Ministry to fix their labor dispute. L
ook, I’ve got to be upfront. We are a non-profit ministry…literally, non-profit in the truest sense of the word… so our ideas for how to help a multi-billion-dollar industry settle a labor dispute are going to be a little outside of the box. Since I have some spare time, here is how I would have solved the labor issues and gotten the season started sooner!
Idea #1- Schedule 4 Games a Day
Here me out on this one. Our teams will often play 4 games in one day on a prison visit. This allows us to see multiple groups of inmates and share the Gospel more than once. Just think of how well this would work out for the Big Leaguers! You play 4 games a day, and the 162-game season is over by the second week in May! The World Series would be played Memorial Day weekend and BOOM! You’re back to the offseason!
Idea #2- Help Players Write Support Letters
Are you an MLB owner who is having trouble filling your 40,000-seat taxpayer-funded stadium? Are you trying hard to find a TV deal that offers maximum exposure to the team while providing a good revenue stream? Here is the answer to all of your problems. Have your players write support letters! Our missionary-athletes write support letters every year to help pay for ministry and travel expenses. If it works for us, it will surely work for them!
Idea #3- No more 5a.m. Bus Times, Gas Station Food, or Layovers in Airports 800 miles away from Home
These are actually demands from our last Missionary-Athlete contract negotiation. I’m not sure how it made it onto this list. Whoopsies!
Idea #4- Hugh Dwyer will oversee the postgame spread…for all 30 MLB Teams
If this sounds like an outlandish, crazy, unreasonable request, you have obviously never met NJ softball coach Hugh Dwyer!
Idea #5- Send the Northeast Teams into the Room to just get a Deal Done
I’m from Illinois. Outside of terrible politics, we are mostly known for being polite and for being the birthplace of Betty White. In order to get this deal done, you need guys who aren’t afraid to speak their mind and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. 100% of the MAs from the Northeast meet this qualification! If we had sent those guys into the room, they would have come out with the deal done – and they could have talked the owners into buying Illinois a new bus!
Look, I refreshed my Twitter feed 287,755 times in March alone looking to see if a deal had been done. Next time they hopefully reach out to us for some help because baseball talk is important for the long Saints bus rides and layovers in airports 800 miles away from home…
I just want to say thank you for being a real God fearing person who takes the time to remember the men in prison on their birthdays. People seem to have lost God and are just doing themself. Its like God is no more but I know God is and all ways will be. So I want to say thank you for remembering me on my birthday. PS – I want to wish all of you a very Happy Birthday and a Happy Mother’s day and Father’s day too. – Douglas W. IL
I received yet another birthday card and newsletter from you, and I want to thank you from the top to the bottom of my heart. I don’t receive birthday cards from anyone else. My family does love me but it’s just my dad and my brother and we don’t really express our emotions very much, being guys and all. So getting this card is something very special and you have done it for 10 years now, even following me as I transfer! Thank you deeply and sincerely. – Brian L., FCI Safford, AZ
Peace and love to you all and families too. May all your days be more than ever imagined. I as always thank you for the cards and just being consistent. All from a softball and wiffleball game pretty awesome to me. A sign of what good can come from prison from events to people. So, may you all be blessed and always in all ways continue to be blessings to all you are and more.
– Dyron, TN
There wasn’t any need to apologize for my not getting the card you sent me on my birthday. The most important part was the thoughtfulness. I’ve been appreciative of your efforts from day one. I’ve had my share of problems resulting from the covid virus, but I’m in the swing of things now, Divine intervention was the nature of things regarding my somewhat miraculous recovery. Anyone who had contracted this virus will tell you this, it is a monster. I thank God for delivering me from the depths of hell. We lost a lot of people to this virus and the complications from it are still taking its toll, its still somewhat of a mystery regarding its effects. How are the fellas doing/ heres hoping that your all doing fine. The impression that you fellas gave us upon first meeting us is an everlasting one his was a very good day and the atmosphere you all created were electric. Just to let you all know that you are appreciated for you all just being you. And it means something. – Jimmi, Union CI, FL
I hope all of you there are enjoying a very pleasant week in fellowship with one another and with the Holy Spirit. II Cor. 13:14. Thank you for remembering me on my birthday! It is comforting to know that I am not alone and a genuine member of God’s family, who is not forgotten. (30 years incarcerated). It is reassuring to see that you have each come to a place in your individual lives where you have learned about God’s “language of love.” A language that one speaks in expressions of compassion…tenderness…a prayer…a touch… tenderness…a prayer…a birthday card…a smile. This language easily understood by all; even I, a prisoner at Corcoran State Prison. May each of you fully come to understand that your “labor of love” towards a person such as myself is never in vain but deeply appreciated. I Cor. 15:58. Though Covid-19 is very much a reality of this world, let it never dictate to you the way that you are to live, knowing that our higher reality is of the Lord; a quality of life that can only be found in relationship with our Creator (John 10:10) in a dark and hurting world. Let your perspective continue to be in Him who is a covenant keeping God, who remains faithful, trustworthy and good. (Hebrews 8:6-12, Col. 3:1-3, Rom. 8:31,32). Thank you again for your thoughtfulness and brotherly love. – Joseph B., Corcoran SP, CA