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Getting Drenched for the Kingdom!

by Jeff Marthins, retired missionary-athlete and current Board President

The Saints Prison Ministry softball season 2020 was not quite the way I remember it in my playing days. You know, like when we actually played softball games all summer! But then again, 2020 was unlike any previous year too. It gave me occasion to look back at what I remembered about my playing days, and one of those things was… the weather.

Throughout the softball season and, I’m sure during any outdoor ministry events, the players usually huddle up in the morning before heading out to pray for, among other things, good weather. I could tell you of many days which offered uncertain weather conditions and we ended up playing games in dry conditions. God has answered our prayers many times regarding good weather. And sometimes He didn’t…

One of my first memories of playing in the rain was in Camp Hill, PA. Before the game under cloudy skies with the threat of rain, my teammate, Frank DeConcini, prayed. He closed his prayer with, “thank you, Lord, for holding off the rain.” As the words left his lips, the skies opened up! The Lord sent a drenching rain to the field, soaking everyone. We played in the rain, slipping, and sliding in the rain. Both inmates and players alike were laughing and joking. I recall watching pitcher Dave Storms sliding in what can only be described as a slip and slide exhibition!

Fast forward to South Carolina, on a crusade now referred to as the Palm-wet-to Crusade, as it rained almost every day. Arriving to each prison, the prison was curious if we would play in such conditions. Convinced that we would play in rain, the staff had a surprised look as they escorted us to the field. I recall using large brooms to push the water off the field in a squeegee manner. The Saints players and the inmates prepared the field for play side-by-side. In one particular game with a muddy infield, outfielder Walt Nesbitt rounded second and was sprinting towards third. The third base coach yelled, “down, down, down” signaling to Walt to slide to avoid getting tagged. Walt slid headfirst into third with a wave of mud resembling a log flume. The crowd erupted into cheers, joy, and laughter. The joke was on Walt as there was no play at third! Walt stood up with his uniform now completely brown and took a bow.

During the same Palm-wet-to crusade, at another prison, the field was full of water and nowhere for it to go. There was a puddle around second base. A runner on first had to run into right field, then turn left to make the move to second base. No one was called out for running out of the baseline! However, what I remember most was the large puddle between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. The water was roughly two inches deep and any ground ball hit there would simply stop instantly and wait to be retrieved. I remember pitcher Hugh Dwyer and myself splashing through the water to get to the ball multiple times.

Finally, a New Mexico Crusade memory. I know when you think of New Mexico you might think of dry desert-like conditions however, on this afternoon, it poured rain. The prison was surprised as we took to the field, but even we were looking for shelter anywhere that we could. I don’t recall what inning, but it became apparent that the idea of staying dry was no longer an option… so we just embraced the situation. Seeing that, the inmates also abandoned the pretense of trying to stay dry and we played the remaining innings out in the rain.

No one likes to get wet or much less soaked to the skin in wet uniforms but, understanding the purpose of ministry, it becomes more bearable. What about the inmates? Why would they endure it? We’ve watched them play in the rain with us many times. Some inmates were there just as spectators standing in the rain getting wet! For many prisons, the Saints coming is a huge, welcomed event. We may be only scheduled for one day a year… or even less frequent. The inmates look at the Saints’ visit as a break from their normal routine and a chance to forget the barbed wires for a while.

To play in the rain probably took many of us back to the days of our youth when nothing could stop a game. Inmates laughed and joked and played in the rain with joy and smiles. No one complained. Even the inmates who didn’t play stood in the rain – with laughter and joy – to watch this new version of water sports!

At the end of all these games, no one went inside; they all stayed to listen to the Gospel presentation. I don’t recall how many decisions took place each time, but I know that they listened – even while standing there soaking wet. The inmates we have met throughout the years certainly appreciate the time and sacrifices made “just to play them in softball” and it shows in how many have responded to the Gospel message.

And sometimes the sacrifice is simply sacrificing comfortable dry clothes for soaking wet ones.

God’s Got This!

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

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 many times 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 – while only losing a couple of events!  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 unknowns 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 of some become a prolonged situation.

As partners with us in reaching men and women behind bars, you may rest assured the Saints Prison Ministry remains committed to our mission and we value your 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 side-by-side 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!  In case you’ve never used it, the link to online giving is available below, or just visit our website directly.

“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.

 

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Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability

We are proud to announce that ECFA has renewed our membership for the 22nd consecutive year! After a comprehensive review of our audited financial reports, our 990 tax return, and current financial statements, they found that we meet the standards for integrity, reliability, and fiscal trustworthiness.

As an organization, we have always made it a point to do things “decently and in order,” and the renewal of our membership in this highly respected watchdog organiza- tion is a testament to that philosophy.

 

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Competitive or Missional?

Short-term mission trips are common today. Whether as an evangelistic outreach or a support system for a missionary who is overwhelmed with opportunities, churches have come alongside missionaries both domestically and internationally to help fill the gap between needs and the missionary’s capacity.

But what if your talents aren’t in construction or painting? And not all of us feel gifted for VBS or street evangelism. How about something outside the box…like sports? In the past few years, four different churches have seized on the opportunity to conduct a short-term mission trip through The Saints Prison Ministry crusade schedule!

Most recently, Solid Rock Baptist Church of Berlin, NJ traveled to New York with a basketball team made up of members of the church and led by two SPM veterans. The Saints Prison Ministry handled all the details and the partnership resulted in 56 new names in the Lamb’s Book of Life! (see page 4 for more on the trip) They are already discussing a new destination for 2019 because it was such an unbelievable experience!

For more details on how your church can transform their church league team into a short-term mission trip, contact us at [email protected] Your team will never be the same!

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Reputation Matters

Reputation Matters

By Frank Zeidler, Jr., SPM DirectorFrank_TBN

 Anyone that has ministered alongside me or worked on our staff knows that I am fiercely protective of the reputation of the Saints Prison Ministry.  Everything that we do as a ministry is done for a reason, and more often than not that reason can be traced back to reputation.

I recently fielded a call from a Chaplain in Kentucky unlike any other call in which I had ever engaged.  He opened the conversation by suggesting that if he had been born an explorer instead of a prison chaplain he would search high and low for three things: Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, and the Saints Prison Ministry.   Obviously intrigued, I asked how we found ourselves among such legendary company.  His answer astounded me:

I have been a chaplain at four different federal institutions, in four different regions, prior to this assignment.  At every prison in which I served, I heard of this ministry that I had ‘just missed’ – the Saints Prison Ministry. I would ask staff about who they found effective or easy to work with and the answer was the same ministry each time.  The legend of this softball team was the same at every stop – “they don’t come in with the attitude that these godless heathens need what we’re selling.  Instead they come to play a ballgame, have some conversations, share a personal message, and interact with the men because they genuinely care.”

He then ended his explanation with this comment – “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were describing Christians!” 

He shared that his current warden is opposed to any outside teams coming into the prison, so he has no intention of trying to have us visit but he called because he finally had to track down this ministry just to see if they were for real!  He went on to share that he had been told the facility would be getting a new warden this year, and if the situation changed he would like to try to work something out for the fall.

I have shared stories – both personally and in my writings – of chaplains, staff, and inmates thanking us for showing we care, making an impact, or simply being so professional.  I’ve gone on endlessly about the need to protect our reputation because of the doors it can open or close along the way.  But this chaplain validated every word I have ever spoken or written; his first-hand account of our reputation traveling around the country demonstrates that we are being watched and we are being talked about at many levels.

God has done amazing things through this ministry and the number of lives He has touched are almost innumerable.  Perhaps one of the greatest things He has done is to call men and women to serve on the front lines who genuinely understand that they represent Him first, the ministry second, their teammates, our supporters, their own families, and finally, themselves last.  Without the quality of personnel that God has called, this ministry’s reputation would not be what it is.

John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA, wisely said “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, your reputation is merely what others think you are”.  While I don’t disagree with Coach Wooden, I suggest that our reputation of excellence has traveled beyond the 34 states in which we have ministered in large part because of the character of the men and women involved.  To them I say “Thank you” – not for heeding my admonitions to protect our reputation, but for answering the call of the One on whom that reputation has been built!

 

Meet Jay Thatcher!

Jay was called by God to be our NE Regional Director and it seems appropriate that we introduce him to the family!

I am so thankful to the Lord and the Saints Leadership team for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this organization. My first passion in life growing up in Easton, PA from the age of five years old was the game of basketball. I had the opportunity to play at Susquehanna University and be a part of two NCAA tournament teams. I also had the privilege to be the team captain my junior and senior year and scored 1,000 points during my career.

It was not until after I graduated college at the age of twenty-two years old that I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I am grateful to have grown up with loving parents and siblings. I am beyond blessed to be married to my best friend and soul mate. My wife and I are blessed with five wonderful children between the ages of seven years-old and twenty-two years old.

The two things that have remained constant in my life through the highs and lows of pastoral ministry are the call to preach the Gospel for the transformation of lives and my heart for racial reconciliation. Since January 2015, I have been pursuing a Doctorate in Ministry from Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA. Although I have been praying, studying, and preparing for what is next in my life, I did not realize that the Lord was preparing me for prison ministry. The Lord Jesus used Dr. Damone B. Jones, Sr., a gifted Seminary Professor, to change the course of my life by taking our seminary class on a field trip to a Philadelphia correctional facility. My heart began to break when I witnessed the de-humanizing conditions that many of the inmates face twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I believe a call to ministry is when God breaks your heart for what breaks His heart. When I saw men, women, and youth physically locked up behind bars, God began breaking my heart for His love and desire to be reconciled to each and every inmate.

 Beginning October 1, 2016, I answered God’s call to a new full-time position as the Northeast Regional Director of the Saints Prison Ministry. Both sports and the Gospel have been used by God to shape and mold my life for spiritual battle. I am convinced today more than ever “that our struggle is not against flesh and blood …but against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The Saints Prison Ministry teams are entering into a spiritual battle each and every time we enter a prison.

This spiritual battle can only be won when Christians come together as the body of Christ. I have discovered, painfully I should add, that the key to life and ministry is developing and growing partnerships in the Gospel …trusting that God will fulfill his mission and purpose through these partnerships. So I conclude this introduction through the words of the Apostle Paul, “I thank God every time I remember you… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).

Announcements

Virtual Celebration

On October 22, 20200 we hosted a virtual celebration, Manna in the Wilderness!

If you missed it, you can watch it now!

Click HERE to check it out!

Hot Topics

We must regretfully announce that the SPM softball season 2020 is officially cancelled. After previously announcing the cancellation of many crusades - and the softball seasons for IL, NJ, and PA – this message serves to inform everyone that all softball events still pending are now also cancelled.

We have been in touch with the DOC Volunteer Coordinators on a weekly basis since early July, and more recently have received counsel from a high-ranking DOC official that nothing is likely to change until at least October, leading us to this painful decision.

Thank you all for your patience, as well as your passion. We do not know what the future holds, except to say that we anticipate being “back in business” in 2021 and every prison we talked to is anxiously awaiting the day we can return. There may be new protocols in place by then, but there is no virus strong enough to stop the Gospel message from reaching those who need to hear it!