Tag Archives: Inside the Mind of Gibby

Inside the Mind of Gibby – Confessions of a Useless Missionary

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

I wish I had a more epic story about how I have spent the last 12 months. I wish I could tell you a tale of how I spent my year of social distancing at a forgotten village in the Himalayas being trained by Liam Neeson, John MacArthur, and Jedi Ghost Don Zimmer. Once the pandemic was over, I would be ready to be the best prison minister, missionary athlete, and vigilante of all time. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything quite that interesting.

But even in the pandemic, God chose to encourage me as a missionary athlete. One of the highlights of my past year was attending my church’s annual missions conference. This conference always rekindles a spark in my heart for what we do in prison. This year, more than others, it made me really, really miss a normal Saints season. Here are some of my major takeaways from our missions conference.

I Underappreciated Spending a Day in Prison

A visiting missionary to Bradley University had a term for time spent discipling college students – he called it Life-on-Life time. This involved his living room being filled with college students who piled their shoes up at his front door, ate all of the food in his kitchen, and learned the Bible together with him in his living room. As he showed the slides of them spending time ministering this way, my heart sank and missed spending a day in prison. I missed the games, but I really missed the conversations in the grass by the softball fields, sitting across from inmates during a prison meal, and praying with guys who may have heard the Gospel for the first time. Life-on-Life time as I know it!

God’s Word Changes Hearts

Another missionary was a young lady who is translating the Bible into the different Nigerian languages. She talked about what it meant for people to hear God’s Word in their own native language; how people’s eyes would light up or even fill with tears when they finally heard the Bible in their own language. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I reflected on what a privilege it is to preach the Word to the inmates that we see. My teammates and I have also seen eyes light up and men start to cry when the Word pierces their heart and strikes at the core of who they are! There are several things I miss about our visits, but I really miss sharing the life changing news of the Gospel out on the prison yard.

Confessions of a Useless Missionary

One of the things that struck me the most was something that one of the missionaries said in passing. He talked about all of the mistakes that he had made over 20 years in ministry and jokingly said that he could write a book called, “Confessions of a Useless Missionary.” We discussed how God extends grace and works through us, despite our sin nature and imperfections. This hit home for me as I have made more mistakes as a missionary athlete and as a coach than I ever care to admit. I keep a small journal on my phone, with the title of one section being “Things I would tell myself if I could go back to 2011.” One of my entries is: “It takes 10 years to get 10 years of experience.” Since launching the IL team in 2011, I have spent a few Saturday evenings discouraged after a prison visit; about something I may have said incorrectly when sharing the Gospel, of not having the right answer for an inmate’s question at the correct moment, or with struggling over some aspect of trying to lead our team. This missionary’s conversation was an encouragement to me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” If we didn’t make any mistakes or didn’t have any discouragement, we would be tempted to take all of the glory for ourselves and not give it to God. This missions conference showed me that God is still at work and that the Gospel is still going out. I have never had a better appreciation for missions and I can’t wait for our first Saturday visit, whenever that may be!

Inside the Mind of Gibby

Putting the Fun in Fundraising

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

We did it! We made out of 2020! With the super weird year full of pandemics, politics, and church services over Zoom behind us, it is time to start looking forward to what is ahead in 2021.

Will we still remember how to play? Will we remember how to get to the prisons? Will we have to wear hazmat gear on the field? Who knows for sure, but in the meantime, we need to figure out how to pay for it all. As we look forward to a more normal prison ministry season, we will have to figure out some ways to do some fundraising so we can be ready to hit the road in 2021.

Late Night Infomercial: Did you ever stay up late watching your team play a game on the west coast but then you wake up and find yourself watching the commercial to buy the piece of workout equipment that can also be used as a steak knife and gets the hardest stains out of your shirts? Of course you have! Cue up that one Sarah McLachlan song they play for the animal adoption commercials, because we are going to have a spot that airs between 2:45 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Thursday mornings on the Weather Channel!

Softball Team Hit-a-Thon: Get your credit card ready, because there shouldn’t be anything more impressive than a bunch of middle aged guys who haven’t swung a bat in 18 months trying to hit. You can sponsor a missionary athlete as they see how many balls they can hit that day. You can donate $1 per hit…or miss depending on who your favorite MA is… But wait, there’s more! If you act now, we will include an autographed picture of Cliff Goller [OR UNSUSPECTING INFAMOUS MA] absolutely free!

Used Book Sale: Missionary Athletes, do you know of that one book that you got from that one men’s retreat that you just don’t have time to read? Or maybe the fitness book that is supposed to get you in shape for playing recreational sports? Or the one you got for Christmas from your aunt that is written by that one TV preacher who has all of that crummy theology? Maybe you really are going to get around to actually reading these or maybe they are propped under a table leg somewhere but here is your chance to get the most value out of it by selling it at our used book sale! Of course, part of the plan to success is having that person to also not read the book and donate it again next year!

50/50 Raffles: Whoa, whoa, whoa… I’m pretty sure that our Sunday school teachers call this gambling!

PBS Style Telethon: I’ve already made the calls and set it up with our local PBS station. We should be able to get someone like Tony Danza [OR FADING CELEBRITY WHO IS DESPARATE FOR A GIG] to host the event. The North Georgia team will perform a choreographed melody of Backstreet Boys songs to start the evening. They will be followed by [INSERT UNSUSPECTING MA HERE] who will be juggling softballs, bowling pins, and chainsaws… [MA NAME HERE] knows how to juggle, right? Later on in the evening, board president, Jeff Marthins will do a comedy bit on the life of prison ministry and being mistaken for Glen Beck. As of right now, I am doing a five hour drum solo between 1 a.m. – 6 a.m. as I haven’t found anyone else to take those spots…

Do we know what 2021 is going to be like? Absolutely not. But with a little help from some foolproof fundraising and Tony Danza, we should be ready for whatever happens!

I Guess it’s not all Bad…

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

Let’s face it, producing an article that pokes fun at prison ministry while trying to live through the Medieval Plague of 2020 is a really tough task. I mean, do I write another passive aggressive article about how the Northeastern guys drive, or yet another article about our bus with yet another secretly-coded message desperately pleading for anyone to come rescue me with their fleet of new reliable buses?

This year has been tough as our season was postponed, postponed again, postponed some more, and then eventually cancelled. We all miss sharing the Gospel in prison. We all miss the games and the competitive fellowship and comradery that we have among our teammates and the inmates. We miss talking about the stories that we hear from the men that we see and how some of them chose Jesus in their darkest hour. We miss the long bus rides and meals after the games. But here are some of the things that I haven’t missed in the slightest!

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Waking Up at 2:40 am

It is physically impossible to be in bed before 11 p.m. the night before a Saints prison visit. There is always a kid’s activity on a Friday night that will run late. There is always one part of your uniform that didn’t make it into the washing machine yet. The printer will run out of ink as you are printing your Gospel message the next day, resulting in a trip to Walmart. And, of course, there is always that elusive right-handed batting glove that is somewhere between your garage and diamond #2 at the local park. Of course, you are playing at Mayberry State Prison which is on the other side of the state and 4 hours off of the highway. Of course, they have requested that you arrive at 7 am. This will require meeting in the middle of the night with several other zombies who also left a batting glove at diamond #2 earlier in the week!

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Gas Station Food

Naturally, there isn’t a restaurant nearby Smallville State Prison so, of course, we will dine at the local Shell Gas Station. No, it’s not the nice one near the interstate with the Subway or Arby’s attached. It is the one in Middle-of-Nowhere, IL that has the four rolling hot dogs and the out of order fountain soda machine. There is always the gas station pizza option… but everyone is afraid to try that. There may be some local stuff like Farmer Jenkins’ Beef Jerky, or Junior’s Boiled Peanuts but this meal will most likely consist of Jack Links and a bag of Hostess frosted donuts.

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Prison Food

I take back all of the bad stuff I said about the gas station pizza…

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Getting Blown Out by a Prison All-Star Team

We have a pretty good record overall when we play against the inmate teams but sometimes you play a team of destiny. They got the notice about your August visit back in February and they have been doing a Rocky IV training montage-type practice every day since that Saints poster went up in the prison gym. They will recruit the guy who played AAA baseball and some guys who played in the NCAA tournament a while back as soon as they hear about this prison visit. This game is usually ugly. Your outfielders will either quit on the spot or go hide in the crowd. Your team will either leave the field humbled or ready to retire and join a basket weaving ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, I would be more than happy to get up early and eat some bad gas station food before playing against the prison all-stars tomorrow if asked – but those aren’t at the top of my list of things I missed the most about not going to prison in 2020!

Inside the Mind of Gibby – I Declare a Do-Over

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

As of this writing I am social distancing in the basement of the Mind of Gibby headquarters. I am hunkered down with quarantine survival supplies, which amounts to delivery pizza and the 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series DVD.

Yes, 2020 is off to a flying halt thanks to the COVID-19 that took America by storm the first half of the year. Doing home projects and playing video games replaced the grind of getting up early and traveling to prisons on Saturdays. 2020 could use a lot more hand sanitizer and a lot less Facebook; but the one thing that 2020 needs most is a do-over!

I repeatedly wished I had a do-over after a crummy math test or a bad at-bat in little league. After 33 years, The Saints Prison Ministry would like to have a do-over or two. There have been countless transportation gaffes and several prison softball/basketball/volleyball games gone awry, so there are plenty of missteps that we wish we could have back.

Do-over #1 – Man vs Food

Playing sports in prison works up an appetite. We often will get a quick meal in between yard times before returning to play more games. Occasionally, that food can be a Mexican, Italian, or breakfast food buffet in between games…on a 95-degree day…against the Kentucky State Reformatory all-stars. Was it nice to have an authentic Mexican meal with some pals? Absolutely! Can you be a competitive sports ministry team when half of your outfield cannot – or should not – move? Absolutely not!

Do-over #2 – The Illinois Bus

There is also that one time we bought a bus for the IL team…Ok, Ok, I know telling this story again is like beating a dead horse. Of course, buying a dead horse would have been a better deal than that bus! If we had a time machine and had the ability to go back to that fateful day, we would have tackled our lead negotiator Kurt Hand before he shook hands on that deal.

Do-over #3 – Uniforms

Picking out uniforms is fun! Picking uniform colors that don’t mix well with dirt and sweat stains is the pits! To my knowledge there have only been two teams guilty of this offense: The IL team (white pants with blue pinstripes) and the GA team (white jerseys). We always looked

good on Opening Day, but both teams looked like they had been changing oil with their Saints uniforms on by the end of the year. All the Illinois and Georgia wives would like this do-over…

Do-over #4 – That Time we Visited that One Prison

We have a good team of professional staff that makes arrangements for our prison visits and there are professional staff across the country that invite our sports teams in to play and share the Gospel. Sometimes miscommunications happen and things go haywire. Did we book a softball visit to a prison that did not have a softball field? Yes. We. Did. How about the day a chaplain told us that we would see only 30 guys, but it turned out there were 300 guys in the yard? You should have seen the look on the guy’s face who packed our literature that day! Ha! You should have seen the look on the guy’s face who had to walk back to the bus to get more literature.

With the COVID-19 messing up 2020 plans for everyone, it reminds us that we need to be flexible when doing prison ministry…or we could just start declaring do-overs!

 

Inside the Mind of Gibby – When you Wish upon a Star

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

I have no doubt the day is coming. No doubt whatsoever. Any day now it is going to happen; we will be purchased by the Walt Disney Company just like the Avengers, The Muppets, and Star Wars. With the impending offer coming any day, we should be considering what we have to offer to best impress the Disney Board of Directors with what we have to offer.

Illinois Bus…The Ride – Families will book their Walt Disney World fast passes months in advance to ride the legendary bus! Does the animatronic bus ride break down on the Dan Ryan in Chicago while trying to merge onto I-55 or does it break down in a busy left turn lane in East St. Louis? Thrill ride seekers can sit in the back near the exploding floorboards, while those looking for a flume-ride splash experience can sit in the front where the windshield leaks during a thunderstorm!

Star Wars Mandalorian Season 2 featuring Saints Crusade to Tatooine – While we are playing indoor soccer at the local intergalactic detention center, there is unrest when Mandalorian bounty hunters confuse Jonathan Lambert with Obi Wan Kenobi. Production is slowed down a little as the iconic Mandalorian helmet “somehow” ends up at a prison ministry charity auction. Millions of Disney Plus subscribers will be torn between what is more adorable: Baby Yoda or Rodney Stewart’s North Carolina accent!

Regular Programming on ESPN – Disney owns a controlling stake in ESPN so, with our world-class sports ministry, this is a perfect match! We could do regular segments on SportsCenter or a weekly panel discussion show. This is a great idea, and I know of a few guys with conflicting sports opinions who would wreak havoc on the sports talk shows. Is Joe Girardi the right manager for the Phillies? Is Carson Wentz foolhardy or just brittle? Does Ben Simmons really have to be able to shoot? On second thought, maybe it would be best not to include the Philly sports fans in this part of the business…

Toy Story 5 featuring Andy Solomon – It turns out that Andy Solomon is the same Andy from the original movies! He left them to join the Saints once Disney bought Pixar and now Disney has him back. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen return for another guaranteed blockbuster sequel, and the hijinks ensue when

Buzz Lightyear and Woody stow away inside the literature bag during a Middle Georgia prison visit. This is a heartwarming story where Buzz and Woody learn the joys of friendship and perseverance. Andy learns the heartburn-inducing lesson of double-checking the literature bag for contraband…

Live Action Goofy Cartoon – In the true Disney fashion of taking our beloved animated classics and turning them into live-action film, Disney will remake the Sports Goofy Cartoons using our missionary athletes. As he is the only MA to play a game in every sport, Butch Smith will land the starring role of Goofy.

From the parks to the silver screen to on-demand streaming, this will be without a doubt the most profitable Disney merger to date! We have so many personalities represented on our teams across the country. How can this not be the greatest thing to happen to the entertainment industry?

 

When the Trip Gets Boring…

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

This is one of the most exciting ministries on the planet! Taking the Great Commission to prisons across the country is exciting, challenging, and fulfilling. But let me just level with you; sometimes the trip to exciting and fulfilling is a lot of “meh,” with the occasional “ugh” mixed in for good measure. Maybe Ed Mosely, Chris Copeland, or Vinny Maggio didn’t show up to keep everyone on their toes. Perhaps the NJ Gamemeister (Hugh Dwyer to the rest of us) chose open heart surgery that week, leaving the back of the bus to discuss boring things like the weather, the stock market, or the NHL. Perhaps the drive is the same corn field for miles and miles and miles… it can happen on any Saturday, but on a crusade this becomes magnified because tomorrow might not be any better! If at some point you find yourself in this situation, here are four ways of turning a “Humdrum Crusade” into an “Epic Crusade!”

Let anyone from the NE Region – past or present – drive the bus

After four games in a prison, your expectations are to sit in your seat and drift off to sleep as you pass by corn fields and herds of cattle. This is usually what happens… unless you are riding in a vehicle with someone who is from north of Virginia and east of Ohio! For some unknown reason, they will mistake rural Indiana for the New Jersey Turnpike! You will want to make sure that your seat belts are fastened with your seat backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position as you make your way home!

Sit in and play drums with a local band in the middle of Nowhere, AL

Sometimes you are enjoying a nice meal with teammates when suddenly you are drug on stage and asked to sit in with a local band. This is rare and requires a few years of drum lessons, and a year or two in your local high school marching band, but nothing breaks up the monotony of a long drive back to the hotel like a prison minister…dressed in full softball uniform…playing a Brooks and Dunn song during dinner!

Create your own transportation crisis

Break up the monotony of the interstate by turning and asking for directions. Joe Technology – insisting his smartphone app is the only right way to go – will have you driving across a cow pasture to get back to the state road; while Captain Knowitall – absolutely sure he’s “been here before” – will have you visiting all five boroughs of NY before arriving in NJ!

Go to church with Alice Cooper

A few years ago, on the last day of an Arizona trip, most of the team flew home while the IL guys stayed behind an extra day. Flights to Peoria were “better” the next day, but really someone (we’ll just call him Zrank Feidler to protect his identity!) was just too cheap to send us home on time… but I digress. Since we had the extra day, and we now controlled where the van went, the IL guys searched for a local church. My pastor recommended a church with solid expository preaching and oh by the way, Alice Cooper goes to church there too! Of course, being the nice guy I am, I was happy to let him get his picture taken with a pseudo-famous newsletter author.

2020 will no doubt be great but will also have its moments where it is less than exciting. So, if any missionary-athlete reading this find yourself bored outside the prison walls this upcoming season, remember, these are four surefire ways to liven up any Saints trip!

Announcements

After over a year without visitors, we have begun to see movement within many state DOC’s regarding visitation. While we are not classified as being a part of inmate visitation, it shows that they are beginning to relax restrictions to the point where they are letting visitors which bodes well for us.

Currently, Florida is the only state in the union that is accepting volunteers and hot on the heels of our most recent crusade in April, it is my pleasure to announce that we are headed back in June! The dates for the crusade are June 23-27. Click here for more information on how to get involved!

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Text-to-Give!

Text-to-give is possibly the most convenient way to support the Saints Prison Ministry – and we have it in place now! Yes, SPM is providing one more way for our faithful supporters to continue donating, even while on the run! It just doesn’t get any easier than texting a single number to a pre-assigned phone number.

Visit our Donate page to learn more!