Tag Archives: Athlete Stories

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!

Thoughts from a Southerner in Ohio

Thoughts from a Southerner in Ohio

By Kevin Greene, Missionary-Athlete, North Georgia softball

After missing the trip to Colorado, I perked up when I received the invitation for experienced Saints to go and join a team from New Jersey on a different crusade. Without hesitation, I put my ‘yes’ on the table thinking surely 2-3 other Saints I knew would sign up!  I was a bit surprised when a week or two out Frank asked if I was okay going on my own and playing with guys I’d never met! I said, “We are on the same mission, with the same heart to serve our Father by serving inmates, so let’s do it!”

Well the team received me as one of their own just like I thought.  There are bumps along the way when different cultures and styles are involved, but the camaraderie was there right from the start. However, as always, Satan tried to plant seeds of doubt: “should I have come?”, “do these guys really need me here?”, “are these inmates connecting with me?”

On Day 1, I’m playing first base and coaching first as well, talking trash in love to the inmates in the stands and on the other team.  A guy approached with a funny look on his face and he says, “You ain’t from Jersey, like the rest of these guys! Where are you from”? I said, “I’m from Georgia.”  He replied “Where in Georgia?” When I told him I am from Austell, he was dumbfounded!

He said he was too: he went to the same middle school and high school I attended, and he lived less than three miles from where I was born and raised!   He is a fellow believer and we talked for about an hour, encouraging each other in the process. He shared his poetry with me and said when he gets out he would like to keep in touch.

I don’t know if the team needed me in Ohio, but God obviously did! Two Georgia boys in Ohio!  He’s a big, big God!

 

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!

 

Announcements

 

We are proud to announce that Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has renewed our membership for the 22nd consecutive year! The Saints Prison Ministry has also been awarded the Gold Seal of Transparency by Guidestar!

Click here for more information

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Softball crusade season is here!

June 20-24: Softball Crusade to Indiana
July 10-14: Softball Crusade to Colorado
August 8-11: Softball Crusade to New England
August 13-18: Softball Crusade to Michigan
August 14-17: Softball Crusade to Western NY