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 re–form 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 evangelism – and 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.
P.S. Keep that Ben-Gay Close boys. LOL
To God be the glory!