Tag Archives: Athlete Stories

Ben’s First Crusade

*Editor’s note: Ben is a member of the Illinois Saints softball team and, after years of prodding from their coach, he joined 14 of his brothers-in-arms on the Arizona crusade in April. The crusade ended right after our Spring edition went to print, but this is his reaction to that experience as recounted at the time.

All last week, I was telling my co-workers and customers that I was headed to prison for 4 days. After a short moment of silence and discomfort from them, I explained that my passion in this life is to see men get free from guilt, shame, condemnation and truly step into becoming “free indeed”.

Similar to the 80’s movie classic “The Breakfast Club” our team was comprised of men from all walks of life—business men, factory workers, church and ministry leaders, current and former military personnel, an IT wizard, an addiction counselor and even a 76 year old former professional baseball player. This was God’s plan. Through these men, we experienced breakthroughs in both the prison yard and in our personal lives.

We played 13 games in prison, winning 7 of them. The most significant day though, was our fourth and final visit—a second trip back to FCI Phoenix to play their all-star team. Crusade veterans speak of the 4th day as traditionally a white towel waving experience of exhaustion and body aches. Instead, we were lead into battle by two of our most talented leaders Rodney and Rob with prayers of Holy Spirit healing and a 100% all-in mentality. With Andy and Gibby as our coaches, we forged the path to rise up and win all three games that day! Most of us experienced a miraculous sense of fresh legs and endurance; and on top of that—we had capped off a crusade that saw 76 men give professions of faith to Jesus Christ. This can only be explained by God’s abundance of grace. We don’t even deserve it, yet He pours out His grace freely like the Good Father that He is. 

After the last visit, we spent close to 2 hours in a hotel conference room eating pizza, investing time in God’s Word and speaking life over one another through encouraging speech in what we dubbed word gifts—knowing that each of our lives have meaning and value through the shed blood of Jesus. It was in this time that our team of seemingly random strangers a few days earlier became a brotherhood of sons sent to accomplish the Father’s work. This night was transformational and encapsulated the Holy Spirit’s influence on our week.

It’s safe to say that after my first crusade, I will never be the same. Sunday afternoon, I will come back to Peoria, Illinois with a passion to love my family, to serve my workplace and to give grace as the Father flows through me—all because of 15 men that were willing to lay down their lives for one another. To God be the glory! 

Inside the Mind of Gibby

The Official SPM Crusade Survival Guide

By Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

At some point during a Saints Crusade, probably during a devotion or pregame speech, someone will quote Joshua 1:9 and tell the team that we must be strong and courageous, that we are a band of brothers who are ready to storm the gates of hell, that we are here to chew bubblegum and share the Gospel, and …… you get the picture.  Unfortunately, not everyone is totally equipped to handle the REAL struggles that come with a Crusade.  After going on 13 different Crusades, I have a pretty good grasp on how to navigate through some of the tougher situations, so here are my tips for surviving a Saints crusade.

Dealing with a Snoring Roommate

First of all, this guy will be in denial that he has a snoring problem.  He will claim that his wife is overreacting about his snoring and that he knows more about sleep apnea than your average pulmonary doctor!  With that being said, he is now YOUR problem once the lights go out.  YOU CAN’T SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW (It doesn’t look good for the ministry and isn’t good for your testimony!).  The key to dealing with him is earbuds.  You pop those babies in and you can fall asleep listening to a classic movie soundtrack, a good book, or your favorite Weird Al Yankovic songs!  If your roommate is a major league snorer and can overpower Weird Al, you can always get caught up on sleep when you return to work on Monday.

Playing out of Position

On every Crusade we will have too many Missionary Athletes that play the same position.  We will either have too many outfielders and no third basemen or we will have too many infielders and someone will get shoved to the outfield.  Whoever is coaching the team will try and make this YOUR problem and shove you to a position in which you rarely if ever play. The key to making this work is to immediately announce, with overwhelming conviction, that you are not an outfielder or corner infielder.  This absolves you from the errors that you will make the rest of the day; but it is still important to remind your teammates each time an error does happen, “Hey!  My bad, but I’m not a shortstop!  He just put me here!”

Going out for Mexican Food

You may choose to insert Chinese, Thai, Guatemalan, or other foreign cuisine here, but there will come a time when whoever is picking food will choose something you don’t like.  I have the appetite of your average 12 year old.  I like pepperoni pizza, fries, chocolate milkshakes, and that is about it (My wife can verify this and can also verify that this is not one of the qualities that attracted her to me).  Looking up and down the menu you will either find nothing you like or you will not be cultured enough to know what anything on the menu is!  Relax, because there are three fixes to this scenario.  1. Is it ok for you eat just queso and chips for dinner?  Yes, yes it is!  2.  Get up and tell the guy next to you that you are using the bathroom, then sprint across the parking lot to the Wendy’s for a Baconator and a Frosty; it’s WAY better than the Gordita surprise that everyone else is ordering.  3. Quietly order the chicken fingers off the kids menu and just tell the rest of the team that the restaurant messed up your order!

Restroom Not Available

There are limited times to use a bathroom during a prison visit, and playing softball while having to use the restroom is the worst.  Most of the time you will have a chance to use one in the lobby of the prison, but chances are your snoring roommate is using it the entire time that you are checking in through security.  If it happens during a game, the last person you want to talk to is the coach; he will just tell you to tough it out.  The person that you should talk to is the officer in charge.  They will sometimes “airlift” you in a golf cart from the yard to a wonderful staff restroom.  While you are gone, the coach will just have to find someone else to play out of position in your spot!

Surviving a Political Conversation on the Bus

If you really are inclined to smother a teammate with a pillow, now is the time to do it!  This conversation will start out with something really brilliant like, “Those IDIOTS who voted for (scoundrel politician) should be shot!”  The reply will be even more brilliant and sound something like this, “Oh yeah, well if (deadbeat representative) had done something, then we wouldn’t have the budget/jobs/stray cat crisis that we do now!”  This pointless, mind-numbing conversation will last for hours unless someone lies on a grenade and changes the subject.  If you are traveling with the IL team, a comment like “I don’t think Jay Cutler got a fair shot in Chicago” or if you are traveling with the PA team something like, “I really wish we would have given Dominic Brown one more chance”, should bring unity to the bus.  Unfortunately, they will now be unified in destroying the guy who changed the subject!

Are Saints Prison Ministry Crusades for the faint of heart?  Not really, but after reading this you are well-prepared to survive any of the major dilemmas that come up on a Saints Crusade!

 

Light in the Darkness

by David Cogliano, Board of Trustees member and North GA Softball Missionary-athlete

The Saints Prison Ministry has visited Kentucky State Reformatory at least twice in the past – and this was my second visit personally.  It is a prison that has a very active recreation program, inviting many teams into their facility all year round – Christian or not, whether for ministry or just for a game.  One could easily reach the conclusion that with that many teams coming through the gates, the inmates don’t care who is in the other dugout.

Since the day I started with the Saints I have heard Frank, Jimmy and others repeatedly talking about the value of the ministry’s reputation.  After just a couple years with the North GA team, I began to see the truth in that position and since I joined the Board of Trustees in 2016 it has been something I have repeated often myself.  I’ve seen the reputation of the ministry open doors that seemed closed, and I have heard inmates talk about how much they like us.  But on this crusade, that “talking point” became reality in a way I never saw coming.

KSR beat us handily the last time I was there, so this crusade team was determined to make a good showing.  We gave the team all they could handle that first game, so when it came time to break for the Gospel message I felt pretty good walking around the yard handing out literature.  I approached one particular prisoner and asked if he would like a Gospel of John and a tract.  He stuck his hand out and said he would take one from the Saints but that is all.

It was an odd response – not a typical yes or “Nah, I’m all right” – so I felt compelled to follow up and ask him what he meant by that.  He proceeded to tell me how other organizations – Christian ministry organizations – “come in here, hand you a piece of literature, and leave thinking they have done something good.  All they’ve done is check off a box.  But when the Saints come here, we know they are sincere in everything because you spend time listening to our stories, pray with us, and play softball with us.  So I’ll take a Gospel from the Saints.” (Note – SPM had not been to KSR since 2014, yet this guy knew some of us and recognized who was on that trip!)

I was genuinely moved – no surprise to my teammates who know I can get emotional – and I told him how much that means to me and my teammates to hear that.  I asked him if there was anything I could pray for in his life and then hugged it out as we always do with the guys we meet.  It was a short amount of time but he could not have encouraged me more if we had spent all day together.  Simply because we choose to reflect Jesus Christ in the way we do ministry, this man now has the Gospel of John in his cell with him!

 

Playing Soccer for Jesus

Playing Soccer for Jesus

Bradley Teisen, Saints Missionary-Athlete, NE Soccer Team

 

It is not a typical teenager’s dream to go out on a Saturday morning into a prison to play the game of soccer. I would have never imagined playing the game I love with the most dangerous people that I may ever face. I never thought to play on a field surrounded by a tall wall with barbed wire attached to it from one end to the other. And as you look at the top of the fence, you could see just the tip of a pine tree waving in the wind. But, that game was one of the best games I had ever played.

 

I was able to play for Jesus in a barbed-wire prison with no way out and no turning back!

 

It was early in the morning when I got up and gathered all of my equipment together for the big game. I was pretty nervous about it, unsure how everything was going to play out. I kept thinking about the prisons I’d seen on TV and how violent the people on that show were. All I could do was to keep trusting God. As soon as the team arrived to our destination, we headed inside the doorway to the prison. Once we got out to the field, the team stretched, warmed up, and then we waited for the inmate population to join us in the yard.

 

The doors finally opened and the prisoners stepped on the field. We greeted each other and started right away. While playing the game, I was having so much fun that I forgot who we were playing against. During half time, I stood side-by-side with the “dangerous people” and listen to my father preach to them about Jesus and giving them a second chance in life. I was able to pray with those same men I had been nervous about meeting and show them the way to the light. It was amazing because a total of 8 prisoners accepted Christ. To me, being there and seeing their lives change before my eyes was incredible. In addition, we were able to make the prisoners feel like they weren’t caged in, but free with joy and happiness thanks to Jesus and the game of soccer.

 

This experience has helped me grow in my faith and learn more about how God uses people in the most unpredictable ways. I still can’t believe that I actually went to a maximum security prison and shared the gospel. But, I’m very glad that I did and would definitely do it again. Like they say, “Anything is possible with God.”

 

Ed note: Besides being a rookie this year, Bradley Teisen is also the son of Steven Teisen, an 18 year veteran and current captain of the Saints NJ Softball Team – and in this case, soccer player.  Father and son shared this very special experience together!

 

One Man’s Story

It took months to plan the SE Regional Crusade to South Carolina – and it took one day to turn our plans upside down.  The crusade was planned for the first week of October; but we didn’t realize that hurricane Matthew had made reservations in South Carolina for that week too!  

By now you have probably heard or read about the tremendous heart shown by these men, as they turned their attention from softball to the pending storm and jumped in to help with disaster preparation.  But as those plans were being made and as we were scrambling to line up service projects to fill the ensuing days, one man had the presence of mind to chronicle what he was thinking during this chaos.

Ray Koonce of the Illinois Saints softball team – Papa Ray to all of us – recorded some brief thoughts as the days unfolded and it provides a glimpse behind the curtain you may never get again.  In his own words…

Day 1

Day one began to be somewhat of a letdown due to the cancellations coming in because of the weather issues (Hurricane Matthew).  The opportunity to do what we normally do and what we had traveled so far to do was no longer an option.  It seemed as though we may have to head home before we even started.  That possibility lasted only a few seconds.  We serve an awesome God and he has a plan!

The opportunity to serve at a local church arose – and as servers that is what we did.  No softball turned into playing with kids, giving testimonies, and preaching the Gospel just as we do in prisons, except for the kids of course.  Cancellations kept coming, but opportunities to serve kept coming as well.  We are going to be able to help the area for a few more days.  We are going where God leads us – that’s what we (Saints) do.

Day 2

Pretty simple tpapa-ray_2houghts today.  Started by helping a local food bank with offloading donations from one of their support partners.  14 guys unloading one truck – well, that took all of about 10-15 minutes.  We stayed around for a few more hours doing whatever we could to help out this organization, which serves around 7,000 people on a regular basis.

One thought that holds strong in my mind today is how God will always answer prayers.  It may not be exactly what you asked for, but today it was a whole lot more.  The leader of this organization that we were helping had prayed for ONE man from God to come help her – and God gave her 14 Saints!  That allowed all the smaller prayers they were asking for to be answered as well; cleanup, stacking, marking food products, and helping unload donations in preparation for the upcoming storm.  We stayed until we were no longer needed.

Myself and 13 other men are being led around the area to where we are needed – thank you, Jesus!  Super great bunch of guys, proud to call all of them my friend and brother in Christ!

Day 3

A little drizzly out, really not much rain or wind yet.  We left early to get to an old church which helps veterans, as well as was being set up to help hurricane refugees who were being brought here from the coast.  After helping to move boxes and many other items out of a storage room to make more space, we offered to help bring up mattresses to set in place.

Angela was the lady letting us know what to do and God again used the Saints to bless those who help others.  Angela was so overwhelmed tears poured out.  As we left there to continue on to our next stop, Angela said a prayer over us that overwhelmed us all.  She was extremely passionate for all parties involved.  It was incredible.

Our Walmart visit was next and we greeted customers, helping to raise snacks for a local Snack Pack program.  Went fantastic, raised a lot of product for the program and was able to bless and serve a lot of locals.  God is good.

Ended our day with dinner at Steve’s Classic Burgers in Columbia.  Awesome place!  The owner opened the place after being told by God to do so.  Very, very nice place.  Feeling blessed by God.

Day 4

Hurricane Matthew is here.  Too much weather, so we’re heading home.  Opportunities to serve ran out.

Over the past 4 days I was able to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  Not the typical crusade but all in all a very rewarding trip.  God has a plan for everyone and everything in life.  When He shows you the plan…Run with it! You won’t be disappointed – I’m not.

I love each and every one of my new Saints teammates as much as I do my old friends.  It’s a brother I will carry with me for life.  Thank you to the Saints Prison Ministry for this opportunity to serve.  Praise God!

My Band of Brothers

By Tom Gibson, Coach of our Illinois Saints softball team

I am currently reading a book by a Navy SEAL who fought in the war in Iraq (The Last Punisher by Kevin Lacz).  Early in the book he remembers a situation where he and his Seal teammates had to rush to the top of a rooftop and defend their position.  He talks about the moment and talks about how proud he was to serve with that team and how much he loved his SEAL brothers.  One line from the book says “I had literally nothing but my gun and my brothers.  I hope it will always be like this.”

I have really grown to love stories from our armed forces and especially the Navy SEALS.  I love the stories of men banding together as brothers.  Sacrificing and fighting hard for a common purpose.  I have also grown to regret not serving my country.  Serving with the Saints Prison Ministry has quenched some of that desire.  I love the group here in Illinois that I serve with and I love the brothers across the country that I get to call teammates a couple of times a year.  There have been countless stories over my brief five years in the ministry in which I have seen missionary athletes make sacrifices for the sake of sharing the Gospel as well as making sacrifices in serving each other.  I have seen guys wake up at crazy hours of the morning, miss events in favor of a Saints outing, and sacrifice playing time in order to spend more time sharing the Gospel with inmates.  I have seen guys serve each other by encouraging them on the field or after a Gospel presentation.  I have also seen our guys serve by giving up their seat on a long trip or by making sure someone else got to eat first after a long day.  I have seen our guys serve by comforting a hurting teammate who just lost a loved one or who had a sick kid (or grandkid!) at home.  I have also seen our guys serve on the toughest of the front lines by confronting a teammate who needs to be confronted about a sin issue.   One of the unexpected blessings of starting a team here in Illinois is the godly men that God has brought into my life to serve alongside.  I have grown and seen them grow as well.il-team-at-robinson

Our trip to Robinson Correctional Center was typical of the Illinois Saints experience – once again a very early morning and a three hour drive – but sharing it with these men makes it easy to face that long drive.  Upon arriving at RCC, we found we had the opportunity to play 4 games against a few different inmate teams.  We won the first two games of the day on the backs of some big time hitting from our guys.  In between the first two games, Jesse Miller shared his life story about how he came to know Jesus as his Savior, and Darrell Pine – a charter member of the Illinois Saints – once again did a great job of sharing the Gospel with the men there.

After we returned from lunch, we again did battle on the field, winning the first game and tying the second game before they called yard.  However, in between games Jeremy Test shared his testimony about how he came to know Jesus.  I have heard his testimony several times and I am very proud of the godly young man he has become.  Jeremy is also a charter member of the team and has grown to become one of the leaders on which I depend heavily.  After JT finished, I shared the Gospel.  It is always an honor to share the Gospel in prison, and I was blessed with a very attentive crowd.

Overall on the day, we handed out 295 Gospels of John and saw 58 men make a first time commitment to follow Jesus!   According to the Officer in Charge, we were the first outside team to come in and minister at Robinson CC in more than 15 years! He was very pleased with the way we interacted with the inmates, and commented that the day will be talked about for a long time.  I believe the quality of the men that I call my brothers has a lot to do with his impression of our ministry!

I am so proud of these men, and I hope it will always be like this!

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Saints Prison Ministry Basketball team is gearing up for 2019 season!  We’ve had the first meeting of the year but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the fun!  The season begins right after the new year but practices are starting now.  Come out and join the most exciting way possible to share the love of Christ – playing a game you love!

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