Tag Archives: Inside Story

Coaches Summit 2019

For the first time in Saints Prison Ministry history, on November 8, 2019, all of the coaches from our teams around the country met at the same time in the SPM office to compare notes, hear from the ministry leadership, and help chart a plan for future opportunities. We were also privileged to include their spouses in the invitation, and most of them were able to arrange their schedule to join us!

After flying or driving in from every direction on Friday afternoon, the first meeting of Coaches Summit 2019 occurred that evening and it included everyone – staff, coaches, spouses, and invited guests. The evening’s agenda was a discussion focused on making sure every person in a leadership position was clear on who we are, what we do (and don’t do!), and why we are on the path we currently travel. It included not only philosophical points, but also very team-specific discussions and an overview of how the support raised by these teams is spent. A

fter a brief night of rest, we met again on Saturday morning…but went separate ways. While the coaches met to discuss more “nuts-and-bolts” concepts like paperwork, support, and future direction, the office staff and spouses took a day trip to beautiful Cape May, NJ, traveling in the same Saints van the teams use for local trips. It proved to be a great time to get to know each other and they enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the landmark Blue Pig Tavern.

On Saturday night, everyone reconvened at Easton Bible Church and each coach hosted a table of supporters as we celebrated God’s goodness this past year (see page 4 for details). It was a whirlwind weekend, but everyone involved left the event looking forward to the next time we can all gather together to embody the message: Multiple Teams…One Ministry…One Message!

Inside Story: A Chaplain’s Perspective

by Chaplain Sterling Averett, Dodge State Prison, Chester, GA

I’ve been serving at Dodge State Prison for 28 years, eight as a volunteer and twenty as Chaplain. I’ve seen many wonderful ministries come through our gates, but one of the most solidly consistent groups is The Saints Prison Ministry softball team. The Saints have been making their annual trek to Dodge for the last seven years, and the men here always look forward to their arrival. The Saints are like Chick-Fil-A – they do one thing, and they do that one thing really well. They bring the heat, then they bring the light. They attract the men with a highly competitive softball game. Then they present the gospel, using personal testimony and a short, strong biblical message to shine the light of Jesus from baseline to bleachers. I am a pastor/teacher by calling, so I really appreciate the evangelistic thrust of The Saints. A lot of guys who won’t come to a church service will gladly come out for a good softball game, and some of them will even slip up and get saved if they’re not careful! Respect is a big thing for men in general, but especially in the chain gang. And by playing a tough, competitive game of softball, The Saints win the men’s respect and earn the right to be heard by those who might normally turn a deaf ear to a gospel presentation. Then it’s up to the Holy Spirit, and He always moves in the hearts of the men as The Saints move among the crowd – passing out literature, praying, encouraging, and drawing in the net so that none are lost. Plus, not to be forgotten is the simple follow-up of a handwritten birthday card sent each year to any inmate who asks. The kindness of such a simple, yet profound, act is not lost on men who appreciate cards and letters more than you’d imagine. Put simply, The Saints do good, and they do it well. If you can help them out with prayers, encouragement or even a little piece of change, be assured that anything you can sow is going into good ground, helping The Saints as they’re “bringing in the sheaves.”

Because it is Necessary

by Will Lynch, MA and Pastor from New Jersey

I love to watch how God works. Many things are expected, such as His Word will not return back void. But many things are unexpected too. Allow me to share an unexpected way God has worked in leading me to Florida in early March to join up on another Saints Prison Ministry softball crusade.

The first time I met Kirk was in a light drizzle in the parking lot of a prison in southeast Ohio. He was meeting us to help lead a softball crusade team from West Virginia. We needed one more veteran to fill out the roster and this guy, Kirk, from Georgia “happened to be” in Ohio for a business trip.

Due to the rain, we were in the gym instead of on the diamond so we broke out the whiffle ball bats and started our game. On the first pitch, Kirk was beaned with the whiffle ball and without hesitation, he charged the “mound.” Watching all this from third base, I will never forget the faces of the first-time Saints players we had with us as Kirk ran at a convicted felon with a whiffle ball bat for hitting him with a plastic ball. Their jaws were on the floor…until Kirk stopped and smiled causing an uproar from everyone in the gym.

This is what makes The Saints Prison Ministry so effective: interactions like this, in the context of sport, that remove perceived barriers and allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to go forth unhindered.

Inmates rarely have hope. You would think that the hope they have would be in their release date (for those who have a release date), but I have talked with many previously incarcerated inmates who are still hopeless. Even though they were released and are “free,” the stigma of being a felon or their guilt enslaves them as they live out the rest of their days.

Except for those “in Christ” – having set their hope in Him alone and the finished work of the cross and resurrection, they find freedom, whether still behind bars or not. This hope anchors their souls. When we go into these prisons, we are asking the Lord to help us communicate this hope in clear and powerful ways. That is why this ministry is necessary.

 

A Peek Behind The Curtain

Ben Morrow wrote a piece about his First Crusade – a retelling of the experience of a crusade rookie. It made me smile because as I read his submission I was thinking,If he only knew… Then it occurred to me that maybe he – and you – should know how God works behind the scenes to use us for his glory.

A prevailing misinterpretation of the scheduling process holds that we make a phone call to a Chaplain or Recreation Officer, agree on a date, and carve that agreement in stone. However, the process rarely goes that smoothly for any sport or any trip. Reality dictates that we contact one of those individuals, who “suggests” a mutually agreeable date – but then runs that suggestion up the chain of command to ensure everyone involved in scheduling and securing prison events also finds the date agreeable. Then, and only then, is it carved in Play-Doh…with the prison holding the option to smash the carving and reform it again!

In the case of Ben’s first crusade, (spoiler alert!) he references “a second trip back to FCI Phoenix”, which leads me to your peek behind the curtain. We were never supposed to visit FCI Phoenix twice! Although that scenario aligns with my belief in relational evangelismand we have intentionally scheduled repeat visits in both recent seasons and other crusades the schedule for this trip did not allow for an encore performance. We were fully booked with four federal prisons and one private prison in four days, and Sunday set aside as a travel day due to the distance and time change.

Just days before we were to depart, the private prison called me and stated that their customer (the state of AZ) would not sign off on the visit, so they had to cancel or risk losing their contract. They were on our itinerary for the day we arrived, meaning I now had 15 men prepared to get up early, fly thousands of miles from three different locations, and go sit in the hotel until the next day; that would be a hard sell to say the least!

With virtually no options I called Jon Wood, the Recreation Supervisor at FCI Phoenix and a man I have come to call a friend. He has always been supportive of the ministry and usually works with us to schedule his facility as works best for us. My hope was that he would shift his event from Saturday to Wednesday, allowing me a couple extra days to fill the gaping hole the cancellation left in our plan.

Jon never batted an eye (I would have heard it over the phone – he is a big guy!). He suggested we could land on Wednesday and come straight to his facility from the airport – he had a “B” team that never gets to play outside competition and he would do everything he could on short notice to get a crowd in the yard! And, my friend, that is exactly what happened and more.

We arrived at FCI Phoenix less than two hours after the team gathered at Sky Harbor International Airport via various flights. Not only was the “B” team excited about the opportunity to play the visiting team, in hindsight our men felt they gave us as good or better a game than the “A” team did on Saturday. In addition, Jon outdid himself because we walked into a prison yard filled with 250 men, all anxious to see the Saints Prison Ministry for the first time in 4 years!

When the team left for Arizona, only a few of them knew what had happened – most assumed this was the schedule as we planned it. When they updated their supporters during the trip – or when you read Ben’s article – it appears that this crusade was another example of our commitment to relational evangelism. The truth is that just days before takeoff, only God knew what was going to happen in Arizona! He used my experience, Jon’s flexibility, and our teams’ whatever-it-takes attitude to create the schedule that best suited His purpose because that first day 33 men made the life-changing decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!

Could He have done that sooner, saving me some angst and the private prison some disappointment? Sure…after all, He is God. However, if so, it might have been “Frank’s schedule” that resulted in such a great first day. Once again, it is clear that God is leading this ministry for His glory; the staff and I are just doing our best to keep up with Him!

It does not always go the way we plan, and most of the time no one is even aware of the hoops our staff jumps through or the challenges of planning a trip with so many uncertain, moving parts. That is as it should be – we simply want you and the teams to be praying that inmates lives are changed and God is glorified in the end.

Oh, and in case you are curious about how FCI Phoenix reacted to all of this, Jon sent me this message not long after the trip:

Your team was exceptional this past week. Everyone who showed [inmates in the yard] had a genuine interest in the Good Gospel. If you can reach one, you’ve WON!

It was a pleasure to see Old dogs still in the game. They even heard the BUZZ from our population.

I cannot tell you enough how much this has met to the FCI inmates. The good word of the Gospel needs to visit once a year instead of 3-4 years. This would peak more interest and be good for everyone here.

God Bless and please share my e-mail with them.

Thanks, J

P.S. Keep that Ben-Gay Close boys. LOL

To God be the glory!

Mountain Moving 101

by Jimmy Cochran, SE Regional Director

They say that faith can move mountains. In my case, the mountain came in the form of putting on a southeast regional fundraiser. I am not one who is overflowing with creative ideas nor am I a Pinterest geek. After thinking of some ideas and praying about it, I decided on having a golf tournament. Golf tournaments in my part of the country are a dime a dozen. On any given day there is a golf tournament somewhere, so my greatest fear was that this event would get shuffled in with the rest and I would be left with a dozen golfers and egg on my face!

I began my hike towards the mountain in March and after seeking godly counsel from people who have put on many tournaments in the past, I settled on a course and a date. Since the golf course was taking care of many details of the event, including the buffet meal, I was left with seeking sponsorships and above all…golfers!

Again I prayed over who would be the primary sponsor of the tournament, and asked if God would place in front of me those who be the other main sponsors. Slowly the doors began to open and one after another the key sponsorships were filled. Moving on to hole sponsorships, my goal was to get 18 – one per hole – and not being the greatest of salesmen I launched out in search of companies that would buy into what we represent. I started out with folks I knew who owned their own businesses; maybe I can help them out bit but since they already know what I do for a living it wouldn’t be so much of a “cold call”!

Many of my friends took me up on the offer but the Lord really opened the doors when my buddy Keith Boggs, founder of Real Momentum and our primary tournament sponsor, began to send out emails to his guys. Many of them own their own business and if they don’t, they know someone who does. The word began to spread and in mid-June the hole sponsorships were filling and I was also receiving emails from people wanting to play!

God was answering prayer after prayer as the tournament filled. I had originally prayed for 48 golfers but really hoped to get 60. As the event drew near, that number slowly started to move from hope to reality, and as of three days prior to tee-off the number was there. I had 60 golfers for my fundraiser and I was overjoyed!  August 21, 2017 was a blessed day to be on the course: He gave us great weather, a full field of golfers, a sponsor on every hole plus a few extra, a great meal …… and He threw in an eclipse to show off a little!

For those who do not believe in the power of prayer, I would simply like to say, pray and have faith that God will answer. James 1:6 says “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” Yes, there were times I let doubt creep in and when I did I felt like waves tossed on the seas, not really knowing which direction I was headed in. But when I asked forgiveness and asked God to set me on firm ground, grant me wisdom and discernment for the event at hand, He responded. He answered beyond what I expected or hoped and for that I give Him all the glory, honor and praise!

 

Reputation Matters

Reputation Matters

By Frank Zeidler, Jr., SPM DirectorFrank_TBN

 Anyone that has ministered alongside me or worked on our staff knows that I am fiercely protective of the reputation of the Saints Prison Ministry.  Everything that we do as a ministry is done for a reason, and more often than not that reason can be traced back to reputation.

I recently fielded a call from a Chaplain in Kentucky unlike any other call in which I had ever engaged.  He opened the conversation by suggesting that if he had been born an explorer instead of a prison chaplain he would search high and low for three things: Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, and the Saints Prison Ministry.   Obviously intrigued, I asked how we found ourselves among such legendary company.  His answer astounded me:

I have been a chaplain at four different federal institutions, in four different regions, prior to this assignment.  At every prison in which I served, I heard of this ministry that I had ‘just missed’ – the Saints Prison Ministry. I would ask staff about who they found effective or easy to work with and the answer was the same ministry each time.  The legend of this softball team was the same at every stop – “they don’t come in with the attitude that these godless heathens need what we’re selling.  Instead they come to play a ballgame, have some conversations, share a personal message, and interact with the men because they genuinely care.”

He then ended his explanation with this comment – “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were describing Christians!” 

He shared that his current warden is opposed to any outside teams coming into the prison, so he has no intention of trying to have us visit but he called because he finally had to track down this ministry just to see if they were for real!  He went on to share that he had been told the facility would be getting a new warden this year, and if the situation changed he would like to try to work something out for the fall.

I have shared stories – both personally and in my writings – of chaplains, staff, and inmates thanking us for showing we care, making an impact, or simply being so professional.  I’ve gone on endlessly about the need to protect our reputation because of the doors it can open or close along the way.  But this chaplain validated every word I have ever spoken or written; his first-hand account of our reputation traveling around the country demonstrates that we are being watched and we are being talked about at many levels.

God has done amazing things through this ministry and the number of lives He has touched are almost innumerable.  Perhaps one of the greatest things He has done is to call men and women to serve on the front lines who genuinely understand that they represent Him first, the ministry second, their teammates, our supporters, their own families, and finally, themselves last.  Without the quality of personnel that God has called, this ministry’s reputation would not be what it is.

John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA, wisely said “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, your reputation is merely what others think you are”.  While I don’t disagree with Coach Wooden, I suggest that our reputation of excellence has traveled beyond the 34 states in which we have ministered in large part because of the character of the men and women involved.  To them I say “Thank you” – not for heeding my admonitions to protect our reputation, but for answering the call of the One on whom that reputation has been built!

 

Announcements

Thank you for helping us end 2019 financially strong and looking to the future. Please be in prayer for our leadership as we head into 2020!

Hot Topics

Softball preseason meetings are right around the corner! Mark your calendars for these dates:

New Jersey - January 25th at Cinnaminson Baptist Church, Cinnaminson, NJ

Georgia - February 8th at Oakland Baptist Church, McDonough, GA

Illinois - February 8th at Calvary Baptist Bible Church, Peoria, IL