Tag Archives: Athlete Stories

A Krusade Memory

by Dr. Jay Thatcher, SPM Director of Ministry Relations

Editor’s note: Dr. Thatcher accompanied the women of the Keystone Krusade, the first-ever crusade conducted by a Lady Saints team. A crusade team made up of “rookies” from Cornerstone Church (Mt. Laurel, NJ) and a few veteran Lady Saints visited two prisons in PA in mid-November. Complete results were not available at the time of publication due to some procedural challenges experienced with the PA Dept. of Corrections, but the Gospel was shared with more than 100 women and at least eight made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ! This is Jay’s account of the first stop on the crusade…

As the women of the Keystone Krusade Team were making the 3 ½ hour trek to SCI Muncy in November, one of the missionary-athletes read a verse of the day aloud. Acts 4:31 – “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” In hindsight, it matched our visit that day perfectly!

Three-days prior to this trip we were informed by the Recreational Director that the volleyball event was canceled due to a structural problem with the gymnasium. Our staff developed a new plan of action; with the help of the Recreation Director, we secured a room in a basement of the building and played cornhole, Pictionary, and cards with our sisters behind bars. Whatever it takes, right?

As the team and inmates bonded over the games, we transitioned into our standard Gospel presentation. Carolyn Jefferson introduced the Saints Prison Ministry, Nicole Zook shared a powerful testimony that prepared the inmate women’s minds and hearts for the Gospel presentation by Coach Gail Gargani.

Picture a basement with a low ceiling, and a group of 30 people consisting of corrections officers, inmates, and Saints missionary-athletes. What was incredibly touching during the presentation was you could hear a pin drop. Near the end of the message, I scanned the room – through tears in my own eyes – and every woman was glued to Gail’s Gospel presentation. The Holy Spirit was palpable when Gail said, “there is no place in the world that I would rather be than in this dungeon of a space, sharing the Gospel with all who are gathered here including the COs.”

After this incredible presentation, one of the leaders of the SCI Muncy Inmate Organization handed me a letter. It read:

New Jersey Saints: Thank you for coming to SCI Muncy through the years. We always look forward to playing volleyball, talking, and catching up. Unfortunately, this year, we were unable to play volleyball due to the issues in the gymnasium. However, we have been looking forward to all of you coming to spend the day with us. As a token of our appreciation, we are donating $500 to your organization on behalf of the Muncy Inmate Organization. Thank you again. Sincerely, Muncy Inmate Organization Jesus shares in Luke 21:1-4, “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all others. All of these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

These women, who have no possessions of their own to speak of, devoted the time and energy to do whatever was necessary to raise what is in prison a monumental sum. Not out of their wealth, but in the face of conditions most of us would consider unbearable, they put the appreciation of the Saints visit above their own personal situation.

Imagine if we had never shown up due to the volleyball game being canceled. My lasting memory was there is no place on earth that I would have rather been when the Holy Spirit shook the basement and left us in awe of His majesty and goodness!

 

A Warden, a Woman, and a Wake-up Call

by Ashley Couey, missionary-athlete and co-coach, Southeast Lady Saints

I want to share about our visit to Whitworth Women’s Facility this summer, and I have probably made this statement a few times over my seven years with the ministry, but this was, BY FAR, the most amazing prison visit of my life!

Being very transparent, I have been struggling personally with a few pretty big things this year. Normally I just push through times like this, but these challenges have left me feeling overwhelmed. So, to set the stage, that was the mindset at the beginning of the day. In addition, we normally have one of the Saints’ staff members or a pastor accompany us on each trip but due to an unusual set of circumstances, that did not happen on this trip.

On the way into the facility, my teammate, co-coach, and best friend Stacy and I saw the warden, an old friend from another GA women’s prison. It was good to catch up with her and share thoughts on the difference between the two facilities.

As we were talking to the warden, a woman being released that day came out with a bag and a smile on her face. Beaming, she looked at the warden and said, “I want to thank you so much for everything, particularly that you encouraged me to get my education. I never would have done that without you.” But it wasn’t enough that the warden had shown some interest…the fact is that the warden was the ONLY person to show some interest!

Her mom won’t take her back in – even temporarily – so the car waiting at the curb was to take her to a homeless shelter. These are the stories the public NEVER hears. The bad and the ugly get the headlines, but a simple act of genuine concern goes unnoticed…except to that woman.

Suffice it to say…my world may now be forever different as I look at it through this new lens. This ex-offender had real joy about her future, even though she walked out that door with nothing to her name and no one waiting for her to return.

Some moments just are life changing and this was one of them. I realize how much I complain when circumstances do not go my way. But #1…I know Jesus! I also have people who love me; I am clean, fed, have a place to call home; I have a great job and a litany of other things that are true blessings. She left with none of that! She was thrilled simply to be clean right then – and it was already hot, so that was temporary – yet her primary emotion was to be GRATEFUL. I cannot even tell you what it meant to encounter this woman and I think I have needed that for a while. Maybe you can relate…you catch yourself missing the blessings in your life because the focus is on what you don’t have or experience, instead of what you do have.

Please notice – our visit was just beginning! We played a great game of softball, and even though we won by a landslide the inmates were all smiles all morning. Then my friends, Jess and Ashley, shared the love of Jesus through their testimony and a Gospel message.

We also had the opportunity to personally spend time and pray for inmates one on one. Y’all, I had no idea but one of the inmates asked me to pray for her, so I prayed to Jesus for her and she THANKED me – then told me she was a professing Muslim. It was like being in a different universe…seriously!

Our team then had the rare privilege of eating lunch in their chow hall with the inmates’ softball team! I sat with my other best friend Julie and two inmates named Joanna and Jessica who had a kid the same age as one of mine (just another coincidence, I’m sure!). We had a great conversation about their lives and their hopes and their future AND JESUS!

Turns out that Jessica has a smart mouth (good thing my teammates aren’t commenting here!) and so her and I talked smack the entire afternoon game. She kept yelling “easy out!” when I would come up to bat, and I in turn thoroughly enjoyed telling her that I was so sorry I couldn’t deliver that easy out as I crossed the plate about five times that game. We won that game too…but the score didn’t matter.

The whole day was amazing. We shared the hope of Jesus, our own stories, and discussed how life does not have to be a repeat cycle. We played a lot of softball, talked a lot of trash (in good fun of course), and built some relationships that will not soon be forgotten.

“Your words, your time commitments, your finances, your emotional highs and lows, your relationships, and your spiritual habits together form a portrait of what is really valuable to you.” – Paul Jeon

But I’m Too Bad…

by Tim Travis, Softball Missionary-Athlete from GA

I met Deatrick, an inmate at Madison Correctional Institution, Camp A (OH) on our crusade in August. This guy must have been the shot caller in this prison, because every man that came on the yard checked in with him. If an inmate sat on the bleachers unapproved, Deatrick told him to “get off my bench,” and they would. No questions, no argument.

After I gave my testimony and Jimmy shared the Gospel, I was walking around talking to the men and collecting response cards. When I got his card, I noticed he had “Tennessee” next to his name, but more importantly had checked the first option on the card to indicate salvation.

I asked Deatrick what part of Tennessee he was from. He said he was from Memphis and spent a couple years in the juvenile detention centers. After chatting a little bit, I got serious, looked at Deatrick, and said’ “did you really make this decision today?” Believe me I was not ready for the response.

He nodded his head and with tears in his eyes said that he had murdered five people and he couldn’t believe Jesus loved him. He was broken to the core and the Gospel demolished his strongholds. I told him that God absolutely loves him and that the blood of Christ had washed him clean. That it didn’t matter what he had done because the God who created him loved him so much the He sent His Son for him.

He was in awe that Christ still loved him even after everything he had done. He gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever had from an inmate! Deatrick got saved in that prison yard that day!

Even the hardest of the hard can be captured by the truth of Jesus Christ. There is no one too far gone that can’t be reached. After a bit of prayer and encouragement Deatrick went off that field justified, forgiven, and a brother in Christ.

What it Means to Me

by Kevin Scala, first-year missionary athlete, NJ Soccer team

Several years ago, I began asking the Lord to give me an opportunity to enter prisons to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those that may never have heard. This past year I met a brother in Christ that mentioned he was a part of an organization called The Saints Prison Ministry. He told me that they go into prisons to play soccer against the inmates, and also to freely proclaim the message of the cross to those that are there. What a God we serve that He is willing to open these doors of opportunity to His redeemed!

I longed to take part in the preaching of the gospel during halftime and to see my brothers do the same. We are the most privileged people in the whole world to be enabled to wield the message that God has promised will shatter sin and hell and produce light and eternal redemption in the souls of mankind.

Amidst the utter seriousness of the message we brought, it was great to show the inmates that Christ makes all things new, even soccer. I figured that if I was in prison and heard that a team of Christian men were coming in to challenge us, then I would expect them to bring it. And my whole team did just that each week; unafraid to unleash the skills that occasionally dazzled inmates and drew the satisfied yells from the fans.

A couple of things stood out to me while taking part in this ministry. One was how some of the men tightly gripped my hand while we all prayed and asked God to save, renew, and strengthen us in our walks. We all knew that the love of Christ was being openly shown to each other, and rejoiced in it together. Another was that I realized that many of the conversations I had during the season were directly a result of the prayers of all of my brothers and sisters in Christ that had been supporting us while we were playing. I thank God that there are many that continue to hold up each of these sports teams throughout the year. I pray that He continues to give strength and wisdom to those that lead this ministry, until we see Him who says to us even now, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

 

For Now or Forever

by Sam Stengel, first-year missionary athlete, NJ Basketball

“You can’t change a man’s heart by locking him in a cage.”

These are the first words I hear uttered by the Chaplain of Sussex Correctional Institution, no more than 10 feet inside the gate. Immediately, everything is put into perspective and all of my preparation is useless. This was my first time visiting any prison, let alone going in to serve. I had prepared my thoughts, words, and prayers I wanted to share but I had not prepared to learn or listen. It’s funny how God can work things in your life using a sentence of no more than 10 words.

After our brief interaction with the Chaplain, his words stuck with me for the rest of the day. Starting our first basketball game, I began to ponder the concept of what we were doing and where we were doing it.

A prison has many rules and guidelines to follow, for good reason, similar to that of the game of basketball. On one side of the court stands The Saints team and the other side the inmate team, with only one true difference between the two teams – jersey color. We both must abide by the same rules of the game, our objectives are the same and we both have the desire to compete.

It hits me; the game of basketball has put value to everyone on that court. Everyone has a purpose in the moment that is only restricted by the rules of the game. We are free from everything else and owners of our game. This might be the first time anyone on the other team has had a sense of freedom in quiet some time.

Purgatory is a word that is often thrown around when talking with inmates or about prisons. This idea of purgatory is sometimes defined as “a place or state of temporary suffering.” To me we all suffered purgatory with the fall of man. However, it took until a Saturday afternoon in a prison somewhere in Delaware to realize the biggest word in that definition is TEMPORARY. God is bigger than anything I encountered that day and anything I will encounter moving forward with Saints. To have the ability to bring hoops and the Bible together to create a special freeing bond in the hope of Jesus Christ, now that’s something that lasts FOREVER.

As much as I was prepared for Saturday, God continues to prove to me that I must listen and learn to see the beauty in his work. That beauty? To me, it was the sights and sounds of 10 brothers battling against each other in this game we call basketball.

Crusade results (1)

 

Enemy at the Gates

Although Ed Harris is one of the actors that I seem to enjoy in everything he does, this is not about the 2001 war film in which he starred. Last year at this time, I wrote an article entitled “Not Gideon’s 300” referencing the resiliency of our NE Lady Saints. They had exactly three women on the roster before the season began, yet managed to pull together a successful season and engage in recruiting new members at the same time.

New year, new challenge. In 2018, they had a full roster of very committed women, including the return of a seasoned veteran, so the enemy chose a different tact to try to discourage them…cancellations!

They typically visit women’s prisons in the tristate area once a month and the schedule this year reflected exactly that. Yet they have only been able to conduct two events since August due to multiple excuses from prisons – including one prison where we arrived at security with a copy of the prison’s own gate memo in hand and were still denied entry!

Please add our Lady Saints to your personal prayer lists throughout 2019 – when the season rolls around this fall, we are coming back with a vengeance and Satan is going to have to find a new way to try and stop us!

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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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