Tag Archives: Inside Story

Inside Story


If you have been paying attention to the updates we send via newsletter, email, or letters included with your gift receipt you are probably hoping to read anything but “Florida” at this point. So…let’s talk about Florida!

You have read about Florida the most because they are obviously the most “open” state right now. I will not turn this into a political diatribe or medical analysis, so let’s just stick with that statement of fact – they are open. That statement alone has created immense opportunities for SPM on two fronts – the visible and the unseen.

The visible portion refers to all the information you have read thus far in 2021, but there are a few connections you probably couldn’t make on your own. The first is the extent to which we have ministered in Florida. There are 57 prisons in Florida (50 major institutions and seven private contract facilities). Unless you have been keeping a scorecard, you might be pleasantly surprised to know that we have ministered, or are scheduled in October and November, in 26 FL prisons – almost half the inmates in Florida were exposed to the Gospel through Saints Prison Ministry in 2021! In addition, we geographically covered the entire state in one year, which is no small feat!

The unseen portion of these opportunities involves the process of scheduling any ministry event in Florida. Without the boring details, FL has developed a system that vets every ministry or church that wishes to provide programming or services to weed out those who may only be trying to placate their own egos or pad their stats. The system includes six standards, of which the Saints Prison Ministry covers three, and the application for any event must go through the Central Office in Tallahassee before the prisons can even schedule any program.

This process was filled with landmines for SPM and for a few years we have struggled to gain any traction in addressing those challenges, mostly because we were only applying once a year. However, in 2021 two things happened: the state appointed a prison chaplain to head this Office of Special Events and we applied multiple times, in some cases only weeks apart! Having served many years in multiple prisons, the chaplain was very familiar with the challenges of scheduling events but is a strong advocate for volunteer programming. She believes that volunteers are not only desirable but necessary to fulfill the mission of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), which is Inspiring Success by Transforming One Life at a Time. Because of this, we quickly developed a working relationship that would allow us to focus on the challenges of the process.

Because SPM was applying so frequently, the chaplain was able to see the issues involved and worked with her supervisor to address each hurdle as it arose. She was equally willing to suggest a new approach as she was to dismiss that approach if it proved unproductive. Because of her passion and flexibility, we have seen tremendous strides in the process and the working relationship between SPM and the FDC.

Six crusades to Florida in any other year would be absurd; this year it made all the sense in the world!


Meet our newest team members!

Sandra Skurla
Office Manager

 I had been looking for a role with a Christian ministry when my pastor, Rev. Bill Cook, informed me the Saints Prison Ministry had a position open. Having worked for many years as an Administrative Assistant at Central Baptist Church, I knew I would love working where I could serve the Lord and I was familiar with the Saints ministry from their relationship with that church. Coming to the Saints is an answer to prayer for me. I am grateful to serve God with a team that loves the Lord and to be part of a ministry that reaches out to the prisoners is very fulfilling. I have three grown daughters and I’m greeted by a wonderful dog when I come home. I enjoy outdoor activities such as the beach, trail walks, and seeing beautiful sunsets; all of which I can appreciate since I live in an area of NJ that is full of beautiful wildlife. Beholding God’s glory has become my favorite past time!


Yasmeen Fierro
Team Operations Assistant

 My name is Yasmeen Fierros. I came to Easton Bible Church in 2015, where God allowed me to become a new creation in Christ! He put amazing people in my life as a new believer, including Tom and Faith Hogan who became my mentors. Being introduced to SPM through them, as a volunteer in 2017, I was drawn to the purpose and vision that the ministry brings to the inmates. So, when I heard they needed more hands, I was not hesitant; I was ready to be onboard! I am very excited to be on the Saints’ staff as the Team Operations Assistant and can’t wait to see what God has in store for me. I presently live in Lakewood, NJ along with my husband Jesus and my beautiful little girl Laila. I believe in helping others on their journey with Christ, which is why Hebrews 13:3 makes my service with SPM so special: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

So, what have you been up to?

by Frank Zeidler, Executive Director

Silly question, right? You’ve been staying home, being careful, keeping your distance, and trying to figure out how to accessorize a mask. But for us, it isn’t such a silly question. What does an evangelical prison ministry do when the prisons close their collective doors?

The obvious answer is that we do have an incredible outreach that doesn’t require walking through a prison gate. You are well aware of the impact the SPM birthday card ministry, and that has not changed at all. The volunteers involved in signing and sending our birthday cards have had to adapt a little bit to the current circumstances, but they did not let the Covid precautions stop them from getting the cards out as scheduled.

However, given that we recently passed the one-year anniversary of our last in-prison ministry opportunity, the original question is very real; what has the staff of the ministry been doing? As a supporter of the ministry, I think you deserve an answer…even though you didn’t ask the question!

After spending the first six months of Covid-closures trying to salvage some form of 2020 softball season, it became apparent that we were not going to be entering a state or federal prison at all in 2020. Once that was clear, we determined to continue ministering without being able to go in person.

Our NE Lady Saints were the first team to pick up that mantle. They recorded a video that somewhat replicated a typical Lady Saints visit, shot from the perspective of an inmate. As with every visit, it included not only game action but also a Gospel message passionately delivered by Jill from her living room! I also have to give a special shout out to high school student Alex Spositi for using his editing talents to turn our VERY amateur video into something worthy of sending to prisons. And that is exactly what we did – in early 2021 we sent the finished product to 8 different women’s prisons in the NE region. Most we have been to in the past, but a few were added that have never invited our team. Maybe this will be the impetus for them to finally invite our Lady Saints to share the Gospel in their facility!

At the same time, the NJ Soccer team indicated they were not happy with having no ministry opportunities and indicated they wanted to do something for those men they would have seen during their 2020-21. Together we formulated a plan to write to every inmate who filled out a response card during the 2019-20 soccer season – 93 letters, signed by the whole team, sent to the seven prisons in which they ministered their last season. We anxiously anticipate the responses to come pouring in soon!

In March, the NJ basketball team and the men’s softball teams in GA took their turn recording and producing Virtual Visits. In taking this opportunity to the next level, we engaged a professional company to record and produce the NJ basketball event. As part of the agreement, they supplied us with the digital file for future use and 50 DVDs to be mailed to prisons all over DE, NJ, NY, and PA, as well as the prisons from the team’s 2020 crusade.

I am certain that you will agree with me that His sovereignty has been especially evident in the last 12 months, and I believe that God has sustained the Saints Prison Ministry through this pandemic because He has a purpose for us. Maybe there will be ministries that will choose not to go back inside, creating new opportunities for us.

Maybe God plans on opening doors in states we haven’t visited yet, or maybe He has something completely different in mind for us. With that in mind, we used this time to improve the infrastructure of the ministry. Our staff created a page on our website specifically for missionary-athletes (MAs). It is something we have discussed for many years and we finally had the time to invest in making it happen. Once we had a dedicated space for MAs, we focused on updating all of our prison clearance forms and making them “fillable” forms –meaning our almost 200 MAs can complete the forms right on the computer, then just print them out and sign them.

Every organization needs some form of structure and the Saints Prison Ministry is no different. Our protocols and policies had not been reviewed since 2006 so, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, I took advantage of the extra hours to completely rewrite the SPM Employee Handbook. It was time well spent because we discovered that many HR issues of the 21st century – even in a non-profit, Christian ministry – were not addressed at all in 2006!

There are more housekeeping functions that we addressed as well, but I won’t bore you with those details. As you can see, the staff of the Saints Prison Ministry has kept busy caring for some aspects of the organization that were “back burnered” for a long time. Our organization, specifically Director of Team Operations Jimmy Cochran, maintained the relationships we have developed with prisons all over the country; and in some cases, grew those relationships to transcend individual prisons and reach state level. Most importantly, our teams and Directors sought – and found – ways to share the Gospel when Satan thought he had the upper hand!

God has blessed us far more than most of us anticipated a year ago. Not just sustained us, but blessed us: with sufficient finances, with determined volunteers, with passionate missionary-athletes, and with a resolute staff and Board. The verse I claimed when I entered full-time ministry in 2000 is even more applicable today:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8,9

After what I experienced in the last 12 months, whatever He has for us next is okay with me!

Inside Story – But God…

This is not hyperbole: I never doubted that we would get back to ministering face-to-face inside prisons. Honestly, I could think of no other reason God sustained us for 13 mostly inactive months. However, “My ways are higher than your ways…” was never more evident than now!

To understand this requires a little historical perspective. The last pre-pandemic softball game played in a Saints uniform was on March 7, 2020 at Marion CI in Region 3 of Florida. Region 3 includes 9 men’s prisons: Avon Park, CFRC, DeSoto, Hardee, Lake, Marion, Polk, Sumter, and Zephyrhills. The recently completed Citrus Country 3 crusade was also to Region 3 of Florida. Now watch God work.

In 2020, I notified all 9 men’s prisons of the upcoming crusade. After much planning, we were set to go. But the schedule was changed by two last minute prison cancellations – one due to a Warden change and one due to a lockdown the Friday before we were to leave. We scrambled to fill those holes and the schedule was finalized on Monday, one day before we left on Tuesday! We ministered at 4 of those 9 men’s facilities – Sumter, Zephyrhills, Hardee, and Marion – and saw over 1,500 men in those yards.

Fast forward to March 2021. We found out that Florida is actively courting volunteers, so we leap at the opportunity. Our first contact was with the current Special Events Coordinator, who informs me a) she is new and still trying to understand the process, b) she doesn’t know who we are, and c) there is a problem with the computer system that she must sort out. God bless her, because she could have told me “try again next year” with all of those obstacles. But God put her in place for a reason. She worked with me, offered advice, and finally said “Just submit a proposal and I’ll try to get it approved.”

I submitted Polk CI because they were the first ones to contact me this year, and then added Hardee CI and Avon Park CI due to their proximity to Polk. I heard back a week later – everything we asked for was approved, and the plan was passed down to the three wardens for their response. Each warden replied to the message with a resounding “Yes”! We were shocked – but God wasn’t.

Hardee CI was a repeat from 2020, invited only due to proximity, but would you like to guess which two prisons had canceled at the last minute in 2020? Correct…Polk CI and Avon Park CI.

I could have listed any of the 9 prisons on the 2021 application. It certainly would have made sense to go back to the same 4 prisons from 2020, since we know they enjoyed our visit. But God had other plans and had already primed those prisons that blocked us in 2020 to be the ones to welcome us back. Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Psalm 118, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD had done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

God had the Citrus Country 3 crusade planned since March of 2020 – and He did so as only He is able!



Inside Story

Sense of Call and Purpose

by Pastor Omar Fisher, Missionary Athlete

This has been a different kind of year with the Saints Prison Ministry considering that we have not been able to enter prisons in the Northeast since March 2020. This is also the year that I was supposed to be completing my internship with the Saints so that I could complete my Master of Art in Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary.

I have been involved with the Saints since 2003 when I joined the basketball team as a missionary athlete. I joined because at 26-years-old, I visited a friend of mine who was incarcerated at FMC-Lexington and on the flight back home to Philadelphia I prayed to the Lord to help me to do something to reach the incarcerated. It hurt my heart seeing grown men treated like first grade students as they were being told to line up and being told not to get too close to the family member who came to visit them. From that point on the Lord used me to minister to inmates and introducing them to freedom in the body of Christ.

I always enjoyed going into the prisons with the men and ministering to the incarcerated. I loved that we did not do it out of any religious obligation or even with the expectation of any monetary reimbursement, but simply because we loved the Lord and had a burden on our heart for the unsaved. The Bible calls us as followers of Jesus to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” in Matthew 28:19. Jesus also said the words, “…I was in prison and you came to me,” in reference to us showing love to our fellow man or woman. Those of us who go into the prison feel led to do so by the Lord.

Having had many wonderful experiences in the prison it was almost a no-brainer when choosing the Saints as my parachurch organization for the internship. This decision was made in the pandemic so the work that I thought I might be doing to prepare me for full-time ministry after I finished my seminary degree, was already not happening. But God blessed us with some creative solutions. I was able to help at a Saints golf fundraiser in New Jersey in September 2020. Men with masks on gathered and golfed and the Saints raised funds. I was able to engage in some engaging letters between myself and several inmates. I was able to see the affect of the Saints visit, birthday cards, and Bible studies on a number of inmates and to respond to their letters with answers to their questions about God, grieve with those who were grieving, encourage the ones who needed encouragement in the Lord, and celebrate with those who were celebrating. I was able to work on the creation of some training videos to teach new missionary athletes about delivering their testimony and the Gospel in the prisons during half-time presentations. I was blessed with an opportunity to minister at a homeless encampment in Philadelphia and I met one man there who I had also ministered to when he was incarcerated. I also was able to send some tracts to a fellow prison minister in Mozambique and he was willing to translate it into their local languages, Chewa and Portuguese, and use it for street ministry and for prison ministry.

I was also able to record three sermons and send it to Chaplain Reitz at the State Correctional Institute at Rockview which he played for the inmates on three different Sundays. He reported back that they were all well received. To all those opportunities I say, “God is good!” We may not have been able to do things the way we normally do them, but we have still been able to fulfill the Great Commission and show the love of the Lord by visiting the inmates in creative ways. We are not called to stop what we are doing just because of a pandemic. Our God is still Lord even during the pandemic and those of us who call ourselves Christians or disciples of Jesus have to use the gifts God has given us in creative ways to continue to do the work of the Lord.

I am reminded of Paul who was incarcerated in Rome but did not stop doing the ministry and in fact wrote a number of epistles and continued to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ, “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

We are in tricky times but that does not stop us for being ambassadors for Jesus Christ. I would encourage you all to continue to do the work of the Lord. Find creative ways to continue the do His will.

Getting Drenched for the Kingdom!

by Jeff Marthins, retired missionary-athlete and current Board President

The Saints Prison Ministry softball season 2020 was not quite the way I remember it in my playing days. You know, like when we actually played softball games all summer! But then again, 2020 was unlike any previous year too. It gave me occasion to look back at what I remembered about my playing days, and one of those things was… the weather.

Throughout the softball season and, I’m sure during any outdoor ministry events, the players usually huddle up in the morning before heading out to pray for, among other things, good weather. I could tell you of many days which offered uncertain weather conditions and we ended up playing games in dry conditions. God has answered our prayers many times regarding good weather. And sometimes He didn’t…

One of my first memories of playing in the rain was in Camp Hill, PA. Before the game under cloudy skies with the threat of rain, my teammate, Frank DeConcini, prayed. He closed his prayer with, “thank you, Lord, for holding off the rain.” As the words left his lips, the skies opened up! The Lord sent a drenching rain to the field, soaking everyone. We played in the rain, slipping, and sliding in the rain. Both inmates and players alike were laughing and joking. I recall watching pitcher Dave Storms sliding in what can only be described as a slip and slide exhibition!

Fast forward to South Carolina, on a crusade now referred to as the Palm-wet-to Crusade, as it rained almost every day. Arriving to each prison, the prison was curious if we would play in such conditions. Convinced that we would play in rain, the staff had a surprised look as they escorted us to the field. I recall using large brooms to push the water off the field in a squeegee manner. The Saints players and the inmates prepared the field for play side-by-side. In one particular game with a muddy infield, outfielder Walt Nesbitt rounded second and was sprinting towards third. The third base coach yelled, “down, down, down” signaling to Walt to slide to avoid getting tagged. Walt slid headfirst into third with a wave of mud resembling a log flume. The crowd erupted into cheers, joy, and laughter. The joke was on Walt as there was no play at third! Walt stood up with his uniform now completely brown and took a bow.

During the same Palm-wet-to crusade, at another prison, the field was full of water and nowhere for it to go. There was a puddle around second base. A runner on first had to run into right field, then turn left to make the move to second base. No one was called out for running out of the baseline! However, what I remember most was the large puddle between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. The water was roughly two inches deep and any ground ball hit there would simply stop instantly and wait to be retrieved. I remember pitcher Hugh Dwyer and myself splashing through the water to get to the ball multiple times.

Finally, a New Mexico Crusade memory. I know when you think of New Mexico you might think of dry desert-like conditions however, on this afternoon, it poured rain. The prison was surprised as we took to the field, but even we were looking for shelter anywhere that we could. I don’t recall what inning, but it became apparent that the idea of staying dry was no longer an option… so we just embraced the situation. Seeing that, the inmates also abandoned the pretense of trying to stay dry and we played the remaining innings out in the rain.

No one likes to get wet or much less soaked to the skin in wet uniforms but, understanding the purpose of ministry, it becomes more bearable. What about the inmates? Why would they endure it? We’ve watched them play in the rain with us many times. Some inmates were there just as spectators standing in the rain getting wet! For many prisons, the Saints coming is a huge, welcomed event. We may be only scheduled for one day a year… or even less frequent. The inmates look at the Saints’ visit as a break from their normal routine and a chance to forget the barbed wires for a while.

To play in the rain probably took many of us back to the days of our youth when nothing could stop a game. Inmates laughed and joked and played in the rain with joy and smiles. No one complained. Even the inmates who didn’t play stood in the rain – with laughter and joy – to watch this new version of water sports!

At the end of all these games, no one went inside; they all stayed to listen to the Gospel presentation. I don’t recall how many decisions took place each time, but I know that they listened – even while standing there soaking wet. The inmates we have met throughout the years certainly appreciate the time and sacrifices made “just to play them in softball” and it shows in how many have responded to the Gospel message.

And sometimes the sacrifice is simply sacrificing comfortable dry clothes for soaking wet ones.


October Crusades

The fields in Florida continue to be “white unto harvest,” and the prison administrations continue to invite us at an unprecedented pace!

October 21-24, a softball team of mostly NJ and PA missionary athletes will descend on the northeast part of FL.

Join us in praying for this exciting opportunity!

Hot Topics

Due to the prison systems in the NE Region remaining closed to volunteers, we have come to the tough decision to cancel the seasons for the NJ and PA softball teams. We continue to stay in touch with our contacts in each state and hope to hear better news as we move into the Fall.