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!