Tag Archives: Inside Story

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.

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.”

Announcements

January usually means winding down soccer season, the heart of basketball season, and the first mention of softball season in the way of preseason meetings. To no one’s surprise, soccer and basketball seasons have fallen victim to pandemic cautions.

That leaves the softball season preparation to “announce” and this will surprise no one either. Due to the incredibly unpredictable prison landscape today, the preseason meetings for softball season are postponed until further notice. We are optimistic that we will see some level in-prison activity this summer but, until we have some indication of what that may look like, we are going to move forward cautiously to avoid any confusion or misleading statements.

We appreciate your prayers for our missionary-athletes as they are anxious to once again meet inmates who are desperate for answers once again, face-to-face, in the furtherance of the Gospel.

Hot Topics

COVID-19 certainly qualifies as a Hot Topic, and even more so as it impacts not only our ministry but also the men and women to whom we minister.

Just this week, the first inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Fort Dix passed away as a result of COVID. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a long-time partner of the Saints Prison Ministry and we have visited Federal prisons all over the country. But FCI Fort Dix is right in our backyard, a mere 15 miles from our headquarters in NJ, and we have developed many close relationships there over the years.

One inmate’s death is no more or less important than another, but this news reminds us that the incarcerated men and women we visit are living in perilous conditions. While we may choose to lock ourselves in our homes or wear a hazmat suit in public if we choose, prison conditions are so cramped that “social distancing” is almost impossible.

While our ministry is not allowed in-person visits at this time, prayer is a ministry unto itself and we ask all of our Saints family to be praying regularly for the mission field to which we are called.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them……” Hebrews 13:3 [Link to the nj.com article referenced above https://www.nj.com/news/2021/01/first-inmate-dies-at-nj-prison-ravaged-by-covid.html