Tag Archives: Inside Story

Inside Story – No Games Doesn’t Mean No Blessings!

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

Compiling the content for this edition of the Insider Online was challenging to say the least. The ministry has not been inside a prison since Saturday, March 7th – basketball in Virginia and softball in Florida the same day. Since then you are aware of the happenings nationwide, so I have no need to recount them yet again. Instead, I ask your indulgence as I share a story with you that seems self-serving, but is really intended to demonstrate the goodness of God and His continued blessing on the Saints Prison Ministry.

At the beginning of this nationwide slow down (which led to a shut down of many businesses and ministries), I was forwarded two videos from ministries that were sharing their plight with the viewer. After viewing each of them, I could not help but feel the videos conveyed a sense of desperation. I’m certain this was not the intention of the producers, but the choice of imagery and language used did not sound optimistic. That observation set the course for our ministry.

I conveyed to both our Board and our staff that, despite facing a very uncertain summer season and possibly even losing all prison events the rest of the calendar year, we will not send out a message of desperation. If we believe “…my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19) on a personal level, then we must also believe that He will see His ministry through the difficult times as He sees fit. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and if the Lord wants to use SPM in 2021, He will see that we are still here to serve.

As the staff set about conveying that message through intentional conversations, we saw very small, simple signs that we were on the right path. But the real validation – if you will let me be so bold – that our message was the message that God honors came late on a Friday afternoon. Jay Thatcher, Director of Ministry Relations, called me about 5:30pm to share that our ministry was to be the recipient of a $15,000 estate gift! The story can be hard to follow, but the short version is that a woman in another state passed away leaving no living heirs; she left instructions for a law firm to disperse her estate with the condition that all the money had to go to missions organizations; one of the attorneys on that team knew of our ministry through Jay’s friendship and communication, and she advocated on our behalf to be included on the list of organizations blessed by this woman’s final wishes!

This has been a challenging summer, to say the least, and we are all frustrated by the lack of opportunities to serve inside prison. But one of the most common phrases we hear in prison chapel services rings very true today: God is good…all the time; and all the time…God is good!

 

Batten Down the Hatches…There’s a Storm Coming!

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

Crusades are among the most exciting things about the Saints Prison Ministry. Among the missionary-athletes, besides visiting states to which they’ve never been, we often experience “firsts” – a first plane ride, a first ferry ride, a first time playing an alternate sport due to weather, or a first foray into a regional culinary experience.

The inmates find it hard to understand why a team full of men – with families, jobs, and church responsibilities – would put all that aside to travel thousands of miles, just to spend a few hours with them. But occasionally we find we are the only outside team willing to “go to the trouble,” making for such a unique experience that the prisoners talk about it for months!

For our supporters – including you reading this – we have ample evidence that communicating crusade experiences and results underlines your belief in what God can do through this ministry.

In preparing for the Central Florida 2020 crusade (results and details on page X), a fourth reason to know how exciting crusades are was reinforced for me – Satan works overtime when we are preparing for something great.

We began planning this crusade in September 2019. By mid-January, the system for attaining clearance in FL had come to a screeching halt. We reapplied, the Program Director was replaced, the prisons couldn’t commit without DOC approval…despite our best efforts nothing was moving forward. The next few weeks were spent on the phones and on our knees. For a trip scheduled to depart on March 3rd, for which we initially applied in 2019, we were finally granted approval on February 21st. The background checks still had to be done, even though paperwork was submitted much earlier, and we were finally cleared and confirmed on February 25th – just one week before we planned to leave! Oh, but the enemy was just getting started…

On March 1st, two days before departure, three different missionary-athletes contacted the trip leader to communicate potential problems. Not just obstacles, but serious, “I can’t go” problems. The first was a sudden dental problem causing so much pain the man couldn’t focus on his job and even had trouble sleeping. The second man was suffering from job-related stress to the level that he did not think he was spiritually fit to be ministering to others, and the third was the most serious. His wife collapsed at church and was being admitted to the hospital for a couple days of testing.

This abridged version of the experience doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m on a word count and I want to get to the purpose of this article. You see, I am not writing this to evoke sympathy or garner attention for our efforts. My goal is to demonstrate for you the lengths to which Satan will go to dissuade our MAs and discourage our staff.

He cannot tolerate knowing thousands of men and women are touched every year by the invitations we accept to visit areas of the country where we don’t have a standing team. He is infuriated by knowing that in FY19 alone, our crusade teams saw 500 professions of faith in Jesus Christ and they distributed almost 6,000 Gospels of John! And he will go to any length to try to stop our army – the athletes on the front lines backed by all our supporters praying each day of a crusade – from effectively introducing those behind prison walls to the one who can and will change their lives.

Despite all the fantastic results we report, the beautiful artwork elsewhere in this newsletter, and the touching letters we receive almost daily from inmates, I implore you to never forget that the spiritual warfare is very real. There are 11 crusades planned for this year and while we may not share every skirmish or battle, you should recognize that they occur regularly. When you review the crusade schedule on the back page, please begin praying for those crusades well in advance… because Satan is certainly not waiting until the last minute to plan his attacks!

 

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!

Announcements

Covid-19 takes a backseat

As a ministry called to introduce inmates to Jesus Christ,  the current culture dictates that we are ministering to a predominantly minority population.   It is important that we recognize this, even as we acknowledge that the Good News of Jesus Christ’s atoning work is free to all.

Even as protests appear to be waning in some areas, it is escalating in others.  The issue of racism in America is as relevant and important today as it was the day George Floyd was heinously murdered on the streets of Minneapolis.

It has become expedient that I address the racial climate of today, and express what we believe as regards to racism in America  and our response as believers.  To that end, I invite you to click on the link below:

Open Letter from the Executive Director

Serving Him gladly,

 

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