Tag Archives: Inside Story

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!

 

Meet Jay Thatcher!

Jay was called by God to be our NE Regional Director and it seems appropriate that we introduce him to the family!

I am so thankful to the Lord and the Saints Leadership team for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this organization. My first passion in life growing up in Easton, PA from the age of five years old was the game of basketball. I had the opportunity to play at Susquehanna University and be a part of two NCAA tournament teams. I also had the privilege to be the team captain my junior and senior year and scored 1,000 points during my career.

It was not until after I graduated college at the age of twenty-two years old that I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I am grateful to have grown up with loving parents and siblings. I am beyond blessed to be married to my best friend and soul mate. My wife and I are blessed with five wonderful children between the ages of seven years-old and twenty-two years old.

The two things that have remained constant in my life through the highs and lows of pastoral ministry are the call to preach the Gospel for the transformation of lives and my heart for racial reconciliation. Since January 2015, I have been pursuing a Doctorate in Ministry from Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA. Although I have been praying, studying, and preparing for what is next in my life, I did not realize that the Lord was preparing me for prison ministry. The Lord Jesus used Dr. Damone B. Jones, Sr., a gifted Seminary Professor, to change the course of my life by taking our seminary class on a field trip to a Philadelphia correctional facility. My heart began to break when I witnessed the de-humanizing conditions that many of the inmates face twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I believe a call to ministry is when God breaks your heart for what breaks His heart. When I saw men, women, and youth physically locked up behind bars, God began breaking my heart for His love and desire to be reconciled to each and every inmate.

 Beginning October 1, 2016, I answered God’s call to a new full-time position as the Northeast Regional Director of the Saints Prison Ministry. Both sports and the Gospel have been used by God to shape and mold my life for spiritual battle. I am convinced today more than ever “that our struggle is not against flesh and blood …but against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The Saints Prison Ministry teams are entering into a spiritual battle each and every time we enter a prison.

This spiritual battle can only be won when Christians come together as the body of Christ. I have discovered, painfully I should add, that the key to life and ministry is developing and growing partnerships in the Gospel …trusting that God will fulfill his mission and purpose through these partnerships. So I conclude this introduction through the words of the Apostle Paul, “I thank God every time I remember you… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).

God Called …Me?

by Jimmy Cochran, SE Regional Director

God calls us all……..whether working with Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, sharing the gospel with the homeless, or serving in the mission field of the secular workplace. But when God called me to the Saints Prison Ministry full-time, I discovered that no matter the calling, when we put our “Yes” on the table, we never truly know the refining and the pruning the Lord is going to put us through. You might have a conversation like mine with the Lord:

“Are you ready Jimmy?” Yes, Lord! “Will you serve Me, Jimmy?” Yes, Lord. “Will you give Me all of you?” Yes, Lord. But what if I fail? I don’t know what I am doing.  I’m just me, I am nobody special. You know my faults and but you also know my heart. I can’t do this on my own. This has to be all You, Lord. “I know Jimmy … now you are ready to begin.”

Saying yes, well, that is almost the easiest part. What happens after that……OUCH. It made me realize that if it was easy, everyone would do it!  My two years as the Southeast Regional Director have been the most amazing, blessed, beautiful and at the same time, difficult two years of my personal and spiritual life. Would I trade it for anything in the world? Absolutely not. The easiest comparison for me to draw on is the last 10 years with our daughter Megan. As a father of a terminally ill child, I have been presented with tough challenges. However, my walk with the Lord has been strengthened, most notably through the stumbles. Would I trade it to have an easier lifestyle? Absolutely NOT!

warden-cain-_jimmy

In the same capacity, God’s call on my life has seen many instances of His hand being ever-present over me, my family and the ministry. I have seen desperate prayers answered on and off the field, I have watched God take over and carry me through the fire over and over again. I have praised Him in the midst of the storm and fell to my knees when I was too weak to stand. I have had times that I felt completely unqualified and unworthy to take such a role. I went from doing a secular job I knew very well to a path where I knew less than I thought I did. That has been a huge challenge for me. The Lord has shown me several things, the most important of which was fully surrendering to Him and allowing Him to work in and through me. He was there to remind me that His grace is sufficient and in my weakness, He is strong. Despite my shortcomings, He still wants to use me! He has given me the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

I can honestly say it amazes me that God has allowed this simple Georgia man, who still has so much to learn, to be a part of something so Kingdom-minded as the Saints Prison Ministry. My Pastor preached recently about being “Much More.” He said “If God sent His Son to die for us only to save us and that’s it, then He would have just taken us home as soon as we got saved. But instead He has so much more for us.” I am so thankful that I answered the call to my “Much More” as the Southeast Regional Director of the Saints Prison Ministry.

God at work…… in me

by Andy Solomon, Coach, Middle GA Saints softball team

I joined the Saints Prison Ministry about five years ago. At the time, God was teaching me that He desired for me to use all the skills, talents, abilities and passions He had given me to honor Him, even if they didn’t necessarily fit within the context of typical church ministry. As I thought about what that specifically meant for me, my thoughts drifted toward softball.  I enjoy the game and I am pretty good at it (depending on who you ask). So I began exploring how I could use my passion for softball to honor God and point others to him.

I saw a post about the Saints Prison Ministry on a softball message board so I sent an email to the coach of the North Georgia team. I just wanted to see if this ministry might be what I was looking for. Instead of getting an email with information about the ministry, I was asked if I would meet with the SE Regional Director of the Saints to talk about possibly forming a new team in the Macon, GA area. I reluctantly agreed. In the beginning, I was uneasy with the idea. I just wanted information on the ministry, I wasn’t looking to jump in with both feet quite yet. After meeting with the Director I was sold on the ministry and with a lot of help from a lot of people, the Middle Georgia Saints team was formed.

In the five years I’ve been a part of the team, I have seen many men profess faith in Christ. I’ve heard firsthand stories of how the ministry has changed lives. I’ve seen countless smiles on faces of men who probably didn’t have much to smile about. I’ve heard numerous words of appreciation for the encouragement the ministry brings. I’ve made many friends among the men I’ve ministered alongside.

But, I can also look back and see how much I’ve grown spiritually during this time. Much of this spiritual growth can be directly attributed to my participation in the ministry. Five years ago, the thought of sharing my testimony in front of a group of 100 people, much less inmates, terrified me. Five years ago I would not be one of the first people to volunteer to share the gospel in front of a large group. Today, I regularly share both my testimony and the gospel during our ministry time in the institutions. My ability to communicate the gospel has improved because of the many opportunities this ministry gives me to share. My boldness in sharing the gospel has grown. Hearing the many stories of how God changed others’ lives constantly inspires me to share the life-changing message of the gospel more.

I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities this ministry has given me to serve and minister. I’m thankful for the growth that this ministry has spurred in my life. I know many other Missionary Athletes can testify to the same spiritual growth in their lives because of this ministry. It is amazing how God works through this ministry not only to draw inmates to him, but also to grow the participants of the ministry, to build us up in the faith so that we can minister to others better and serve him more.

 

Announcements

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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!

But time is fleeting and paperwork has to be done, so contact Jimmy Cochran now at 770-286-2812 for more information

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The Saints Golf Classic was a hit in three different locations in 2018 !

Whether you played in Virginia in April, New Jersey in June, or Georgia in August, thank you for making these fundraisers a success! We're certain you had a good time and look forward to seeing you in 2019..

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