Tag Archives: Athlete Stories

We Just Never Know

By Brian Morrison, coach of the WV Saints softball team

*Editor’s Note – the West Virginia softball team is our newest team, playing their inaugural season this summer. On June 18th, they visited Noble Correctional Institution in Caldwell, Ohio. This is one story from that visit, a day when 34 men made the decision to follow Christ!

There was one man who stood out during our visit in June, for several reasons. Eric is a large man; maybe only 6’1” or so, but wide shoulders and a very muscular build. He was one of the prison team captains, and certainly seemed to hold his team’s attention and respect. Always a smile on his face, he played first base and when a Saint reached base, Eric would congratulate the hit, even add a little bit of small talk between batters.

After the first game, I handed out Gospels to the opposing team by their dugout. Eric filled out a response card indicating he wasn’t ready yet to accept Christ, and he listed no prayer request. In the second game, he was an extra hitter, allowing another man to play first. I played catcher the last half of the second game, so I was able to continue to talk to him and the other inmates as they stepped up to the plate.

After our second game the teams gathered in the center of the field, as we always do. We presented the MVPs with the FCA New Testament and additional award books to the umpires and scorekeepers. I had the blessing of sharing a closing remark to end our day. I asked the inmates, “if the State allowed me to take their place, would they want that?” While only one man raised his hand, I “guessed” there were several who would. I shared a thought from the thief on the cross in Luke 23; how Jesus promised eternal life in Heaven to that one who acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. This criminal – a man within hours of his death for his crimes – was still saved by Jesus. I then explained that, while you are never too old to accept Jesus as your Savior, it can be too late, for once you take that last breath, your chance for salvation is over.

I then offered one last opportunity for anyone who hadn’t filled out a response card – or who had filled one out and wanted a “do over” – to do so before we left. We had two men accept the offer; the first had not filled out a card at all and now he wanted more information. The other was Eric, who followed one of the Saints to our bench, where we retrieved a new Response Card for him, and he filled it out.

As Eric walked away, Chris Atkins, one of my teammates, took the card from Eric, looked at it, and looked at me… “Eric just accepted Christ!” As the inmates were heading back to their dorms for head count, I caught up to Eric and walked with him for a few feet. I urged him to read the Gospel of John several times, and understand that Jesus died for Him, just as He did for me. Although Eric was the last man in the yard, he still had to make his way back to the dorms, so I wasn’t able to spend time with him in prayer. I parted by telling him we will pray for him. We did – I hope you will too!

Lightning Alley Crusade: A Veteran Perspective

By Rob Fogel, 20-year veteran Missionary-Athlete

To begin my 21st season, I committed to fly alone to Orlando and join the Lightning Alley crusade to Central Florida. I was going to meet 13 guys from Georgia – only three of whom I know – and I was to pick up the 15th member of the team at the airport, a guy from WV I have never met! After not being able to minister with the Saints since October of 2019, clearly I was so excited to get back into prison and would have signed up for anything!

Having been on approximately 40 crusades in my career, I was expecting the same outcome, the same fulfillment, seeing God work, being used as He saw fit, and bonding with guys willing to serve as I have experienced many times before. Not so much… this trip was different, and my cup is overflowing!

It started out with meeting a Recreation Director in Polk Correctional Institution who told me he wasn’t just holding down a job; he was called to this vocation by God and was investing in men behind bars. He was humble and happy. What I didn’t know until we left was that he was a silver medalist for the Bahamas in the 2008 Olympics. He sold his medal to get to the US because God was calling him. Imagine a calling on your life so great that you would be willing to sell your triumphant prize possession. He truly serves to invest in men behind bars.

This started a fire inside our team. At devotions that night, as a team of brothers – most of whom we just met – God started opening us up to feed, share and love on each other. We lifted up our families at home and the supporters that helped get us there, praying for protection and blessing for all their sacrifice. I knew that first night this trip was going to be EPIC.

Day 2, we went into Hardee CI and once again we were in the perfect center of God’s will. We were asked to eat lunch with the men (unbelievably, this happened every day on this crusade). Lunch the previous day was almost scary enough not to eat but most of us did. I tried, but despite my best intentions and effort, lunch looked so bad I just couldn’t do it. Later we heard an inmate say he has trust issues, but he knew he had met guys who were real when we stayed for lunch: we clearly showed to him we wanted to continue conversations and loving on these men. Best lunch I never ate!

Day 3, we were in Central Florida Reception Center, the intake facility for all of Central Florida. Again, we found a group of Corrections Officers that genuinely wanted us there to shine some light and give the guys a special day, to the point that the fences and barbed wire virtually disappeared. A couple crazy guys on our team actually volunteered to get haircuts by the inmate barbershop! As they did that, I absolutely enjoyed lunch there by inhaling the best bologna and shredded cheese sandwich I have had in a long time. Prison food makes one enjoy the simple things!

At this point in any trip, the team is spiritually, emotionally, and physically spent. But our Father, who loves us so much, was just getting started. Our final devotional time together as a team was epic. It lasted three hours as men shared their experiences, cried to the point of sobbing how God was working – not only in front of us leading men to Himself, but breaking down the barriers in our own lives. As a team that gave us the opportunity to absolutely love each other, lift each other up, and most importantly hold each other accountable. Think about it – we just met, and God had this all planned out!! It is crazy but our God is so good.

Day 4, getaway day. one more prison, 2 more gospel messages and we are on the way home. But God wasn’t done with us yet. The Wellness Department at Marion CI is run by four people who are truly caring and investing in men that are getting out soon. They even had videos they shared with me of inmate lip-sync battles that were awesome!

The men at this prison were respectful and responsive to God’s word. We spoke with one guy named JT that is clearly being pursued by God and I believe he didn’t sleep that night until he surrendered. Without any prompting, the testimony and Gospel message that day were targeted right to his situation. Funny how God works that way sometimes!

You may have noticed there is not a mention of softball games in this recap. It wasn’t intentional, but the truth is that softball was simply the backdrop to all of the ways God showed Himself on this trip.

We collected cards with responses that showed 67 men making a first-time decision to trust Christ, 68 that were not ready but requested more information, and 280 that are already believers. We were able to encourage the believers to get with those who just made decisions and be the iron that sharpens each other. It was an absolute blessing and honor to go on this trip and be used by our Lord in this spectacular way.

 

Lightning Alley Crusade: A First-Timer’s Impression

By Tyler Smith, rookie crusade participant and son of veteran MA Kirk Smith

I’d like to say how much of a blessing this trip was to me – an experience I will never forget. It was crazy to see how much of a blessing we received while trying to bless others.

One thing that surprised me about this past week was how nice most of the inmates were to us. I was not expecting them to accept us, and what we had to say, the way they did. We had 67 inmates come to know Christ while we were in Florida for only four days! I was honored to get to speak to and pray with many inmates throughout the week, and every one of them were open and honest about their struggles or heartaches, and eager to listen to what we had to say.

The inmates were thankful for our visit, and they let us know how much our being there meant to them. I’m not sure if that was because they were able to play softball for a couple of hours, or because they were able to talk to someone new, but they all were very accepting of us. Several of them took time to ask me if I had any prayer requests and prayed over me and the ministry!

Looking back on the trip, conversations with many guys stick out to me. I believe most of the men I spoke with this week are unsaved, but I had a chance to minister to and pray with them, which hopefully helped them along on their journey to Christ. I will continue praying for each and every man that I interacted with this week, and I hope that I made an impact on their lives. I had an exciting time, and I will definitely be going on more of these trips in the future!

 

I Have Loved You

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

“I have loved you,” begins God’s message of unequivocal love for Israel (Malachi 1: 2). Israel challenged God and demanded evidence. In response, God offered a history lesson of love:

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God’s harsh reminder demonstrates His love is shown in what He does…and what He withholds.

God still loves His children today. A novel virus shut the world down for over a year. SPM endured thirteen months of inactivity. No results to report, no news to break. No in-person ministry for this ministry. God’s love might be questioned.

There were no teams to organize and no logistics to prepare a team. Then an invitation to return to action came. The phone was answered. A team was ready to go in 4 weeks. How? How does a ministry focused on evangelizing inmates survive and then spring into action after thirteen months of being unable to carry out their mission? Just as in Malachi, “I have loved you” was God’s reply.

God’s people were faithful throughout the summer of 2020 in anticipation of restarting the softball ministry activity. God’s love was evident when SPM closed the 2020 fiscal year, at the end of September, in the black! However, a challenge loomed. There would be no fall or winter sports, so how would SPM stay afloat?

The challenge was daunting; “I have loved you,” God responded. In November of 2020 a letter from an attorney arrived stating SPM was named in an estate. Not only was God blessing the ministry with a lump sum, but it would to be the largest single gift the ministry has ever received. Naturally, these things take time, but knowing help was on the way afforded a measure of comfort and security. That could be the end of the story – but God wasn’t done.

It would have been easy to say, “thanks to the estate of a supporter, SPM will survive the Covid shutdown and be ready for 2021 when the call comes.” That response, though apparently true, would discount a continuing reliance on God’s simple message; “I have loved you.”

God didn’t stop demonstrating His love with a promissory note from a lawyer about a legacy. The 2020 end-of-year appeal letter – at a time when many were being hurt financially – brought one of the best responses… EVER. Going into 2021 monthly donors and supporting churches never missed a beat in maintaining pre-Covid levels of support. SPM qualified for a payroll protection loan – which was forgiven. A church that annually conducts a crusade under the SPM umbrella opted to “prepay” for their next trip because they thought cash flow problems would exist. These all were reminders that God said, “I have loved you.”

What seemed like a life raft in the form of an estate legacy gave a great level of comfort to facing the ongoing expenses of the ministry. But God had something else in mind – He wanted to show His love is expressed in many ways. He’s not only the God who comforts, He is the God who provides.

“I have loved you,” God clearly confirmed. This is God’s work and so reliance on God must be central. He knew maintaining the ministry would be stressful, given what was looming. He sent a promise, in the form of the estate gift, to relieve that anxiety; then showed His love through more ordinary means. He had an “I love you” purpose for the legacy beyond affording comfort: putting trust in this generous gift wasn’t the right place to trust. God’s love is the place to put our trust.

Pay attention now as the picture comes into focus…that legacy gift has not yet been received by the ministry! Due to the backup in the court systems, the will got tied up in probate court. It is settled and the gift is coming – but not until after God decisively demonstrated His love in sustaining and blessing SPM throughout 2021.

Israel, in Malachi’s day, would have looked at the circumstances during this difficult time and said, “Let’s close the doors. God doesn’t love us.” Thirteen months and not one inmate reached for Christ, not one presentation of the Gospel to lost sinners, would by our human thoughts end this work of God. Yet God spoke clearly through every partner of the Saints Prison Ministry, He said through you, your prayers and support, “I have loved you!”

 

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

Announcements

We’re hiring!

Saints Prison Ministry is seeking one part-time staff member to join our team in serving the Lord through our work in prisons throughout the US. The candidate will work out of SPM’s Hainesport, NJ office during typical business hours.

For more information, email Frank Zeidler, Executive Director, at [email protected]

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Praise the Lord with us!

For the first time in three years, all seven our Saints Softball teams are active! From now until the end of September we have teams visiting prisons every weekend. Thank the Lord for re-opening doors for us!