Tag Archives: Inside Story

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!

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!

 

Announcements

God’s Got This!

As the impact of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 continues to unfold before our eyes, I keep hearing the same voice in the back of my head.  A former teammate of mine, and a friend to many in the Saints family, offers the same deeply held belief every time the ministry (or he personally) must face a difficult situation… “God’s got this!”

As a child of the King, that is our reality; and those words bring comfort and peace in a plethora of situations.  Yes, this virus is nasty. Yes, we must exercise caution and be part of the solution, not the problem.  Yes, the situation is unprecedented for most of us.  But none of this changes the fact that “God’s got this”.

As I have reminded you of this before, my chief concern as the Director is guiding this ministry as God is leading it; never to force my agenda or ideas, but diligently trying not to lag behind His plans either”.  I am more committed to that than ever, and through this “crisis” I have felt God’s Spirit guiding our staff and Board at every turn.

Recently, the prisons have begun closing their doors to visitors and volunteers.  As news came out that state after state was taking this necessary step, our staff took the initiative to contact the prisons where we had softball games already scheduled.  As a result of taking this action, we were able to shift the opening of our softball season back from April 25th to June 4th.  Will the doors be open by June 4th?  I have no idea.  But clearly the Spirit was leading this decision, as evidenced by this email received from a Recreation Supervisor in IL:

Thank you for reaching out to us to reschedule.  You are the only one that has so far, and I think most are just waiting to see what happens.  Look forward to seeing you guys again sometime this summer”

Or this phone message from a Chaplain in Delaware:

“Thank you for taking the time to call me.  I just assumed we would lose the games because I didn’t think rescheduling would be an option with how busy you guys always are.”

Given the uncertainty of the next few weeks and months, it is important that you know we continue to serve those behind bars as much as we are able.  The other aspects of our ministry (birthday cards, follow up discipleship, fall scheduling, etc.) go on as always.  We have taken necessary steps to be ready for mandatory work-from-home announcements and our Board has reviewed our budget for potential modifications should the current financial uncertainty become a prolonged situation.

As partners with us in reaching men and women behind bars, you may rest assured the Saints Prison Ministry maintains committed to our mission and we value our partnership as much as ever.   For understandable reasons we will have no personal interaction with any of you soon, but there are two things you can do to continue working with us. First, include the inmates we serve in your prayers.  In grim times we all suffer from tunnel vision a little bit, so I’m going to suggest a way to be intentional about this.  Think back over the stories you’ve heard or articles you’ve read and come up with one item: a crusade, a prison name, a Missionary-Athlete’s name, a program like Birthday Cards or the Glove Exchange, maybe even an inmate’s name.  Make that single item the focus of your prayers for the ministry over the next few weeks.  Thank God for His providence and pray for His direction.

Second, if you are able, please make your regular gifts online instead of mailing in a check.  Obviously, we want to make supporting this work as easy as possible; if you are not comfortable online feel free to continue to use the US mail.  But in the interest of caution, the less mail our staff handles at this time the better.  Who knows – you may find you like it!

“God’s got this” – and He has all along.  It is the greatest comfort I can offer you and at the same time the only comfort any of us should need.

Serving Him gladly,

 

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Northeast Golf Classic
June 15, 2020 at Merchantville Country Club

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