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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!

Amazon Smile…to make prisoners smile!

You are right in the middle of the busiest shopping season of the year and we have a unique way to accomplish your gift-buying adventures, while continuing your commitment to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them”!

Amazon Smile is a simple way for you to support the Saints Prison Ministry every time you shop online, at no cost to you.  This program offers the same shopping destination that millions around the world use every day – the exact prices, selection and shopping experience you expect – with the added bonus that Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible purchases to the Saints Prison Ministry!

To sign up, simply head to smile.amazon.com and type our name into the search bar. We are listed as Saints Prison Ministries, Inc. on their menu of choices.  The site will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make all year will result in a donation to your favorite ministry!  Note: If you have an Amazon account, this site accepts the same login information.

Just last month we received a check from Amazon for $225 – what a blessing!  Imagine the potential impact on the lives of men and women when ALL of our friends get involved!

This entry was tagged as

2016 Crusade Update

2016 Crusade Update

God has blessed abundantly through our crusades of this year and we anxiously await more fantastic stories of His transforming power as we finish the last few crusades of 2016!

March 3-6                        Ohio                                                NJ Saints basketball team

*116 decisions / 925 Gospels distributed

 

March 9-13                      Central Florida                              Ministry-wide softball team

*31 decisions / 1,189 Gospels distributed

 

April 13-17                       South Carolina                              Coastal Christian Ocean City team

*33 decisions / 510 Gospels distributed

 

June 2-5                          Western Pennsylvania                Calvary Chapel Mercer County  team

*31 decisions / 765 Gospels distributed

 

July 6-10                          Adirondack Region (NY)             PA Saints softball team

August 16-21                  Wisconsin                                      NJ Saints softball team

September 23-25           Allegheny Mountains (MD)         VA Saints softball team

October 5-9                     West Virginia                                 NE Region (open)

October 5-9                     Western Tennessee                     SE Region (open)

 

We are excited about all the doors God is opening for us, even in the face of challenges. Praise the Lord for those who have made the life-changing decision to put Jesus first in their lives!  We are thrilled that God allowed us to be there when He revealed Himself to them and wrote their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life!

Please be in prayer for all the men that will participate in the remaining crusades, that God will use each and every one of them to His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom!

The Changing Tide_Part 1

by Frank Zeidler, Jr.

Ocean tides are widely regarded as relatively stable and predictable.  Fishermen and those living in coastal areas are very familiar with the high tides and low tides – so much so that they rarely have to consult a chart to know when to expect each on a given day.

However, even the most casual beachgoer knows the changing of the tide is not instantaneous.  That subtle shift from low tide to high tide is not something anyone actually sees – it usually takes six to seven hours – but the evidence of the tidal change is obvious to any vacationer who fell asleep in a beach chair and woke up on a raft!

For many years, the Saints Prison Ministry’s interaction with prisons in the Northeast was as stable and predictable as the ocean tides.  Sure, on occasion we were cancelled but it was rare and usually for a very obvious and serious reason.  We enjoyed almost unfettered access to more prisons than we could accommodate, and any opposition to our visit was a huge anomaly.

We opened a Southeast Regional office in 2010 to very similar results.  After just one softball season our reputation preceded us and by the third year we needed three teams operating in the state of Georgia!  Again, we were seeing incredible access and being greeted with open arms.  The Saints Prison Ministry has been faithful to the principles we were founded on and God is blessing that faithfulness every bit as much as He did in 1987.  Except today the tide is turning.

It has been subtle to be sure.  Maybe it comes in the form of an increasing Muslim presence that leads to a slight change in procedure.  Or an individual prison that finds itself short-staffed so they ask to reschedule the event.  We respond to these changes – but much like the beachgoer who sees the tide coming in but only moves the chair a few yards rather than overreact and leave the beach, we have been accommodating and remain optimistic.

But as I look at “the beach” that is our mission field, I see a very distinct line where the tide used to be – and I cannot believe how far it moved while I was right in the middle of things!  Consider these recent developments:

  • In South Carolina, a particular Warden with his own value system began ripping up the softball field to install a very large garden. He is now responsible for at least three prisons that were once considered staples of our crusades being deemed “unable to host” our team.
  • In Maryland, a Muslim chaplain at a federal prison openly challenged our authority to not only share the Gospel but to distribute any literature at all.
  • In Arizona, the Head of Pastoral Services for the entire state – a self-proclaimed Christian – told us he would not approve the program for any state facility because “if I let you do this, I would have to let every religion that has a ball team do it”.
  • We have had more cancellations in the last two years for less than stellar reasons (when we are even given a reason) than we had in the previous 10 years.

The list goes on: restricted access to only certain parts of the recreation yard, crowds that used to be 200 now restricted to 30, places that used to be regular stops for our teams in the NE now telling us the rules make it “not worth the effort”, a Muslim population that is growing at an alarming rate…..stop me when you’ve read enough.

Friends, the tide is indeed turning and unlike the coastal tides we have no expectation that in short order it will return.  This could very well be our new normal – a mission field that has pockets of administrative resistance, areas we cannot reach, and a target audience that is increasingly fraught with those hostile to the Gospel

We intend to continue to move the beach chair incrementally rather than give up the beach, but it is important that you are aware that the enemy has intensified his efforts.  The ministry that God has entrusted to you and to us is being challenged on more fronts than ever, with a vigor that we have not seen before.  I see only one course of action that will keep the tide from reaching our chair… pray!

We know the One who made the sun stand still for Joshua  and we know the One who has the ability to stop the tide, even reverse it if He so desires!  He and He alone, can influence corrections officials to change their policies, their minds, and their hearts.  It is to Him that we turn for direction, guidance, and intervention.

We invite you to join the Saints Board of Trustees as we commit to making every Friday a day of prayer for this specific need.  It does not matter what time of day, nor does it matter for how long.  What matters is that our Heavenly Father hears our prayers and knows that His children are resting in the knowledge found in Isaiah 55: 9-11:

 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

It is time to turn the tide back again!

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The Changing Tide_Part2

by Frank Zeidler, Jr., Executive Director

Ebb and flow is an idiom familiar to most of us, used most often to describe a fluctuation of both a positive and a negative nature in daily situations. But the etymology of these terms is rooted in the seas – ebb being the flow back to the ocean of tidal waters; flow referring to a strong progression comparable to a river or stream. In my last article, I described for you the negative side of those fluctuations as they apply to our ministry – the flow of once unimpeded access to prisons “stealing away our beach” and the challenges we are facing in repelling the tide such as we have never historically faced.

I appreciate the many who contacted our office in response to that article to indicate they would be joining our Board in dedicated prayer for the Saints Prison Ministry on Fridays.  It is an immeasurable blessing to know we have such dedicated followers, supporters, and friends.

Shortly after submitting that piece – and hopefully instilling in you my strong faith that God would continue to lead us as he has for almost 30 years – He proved once again that He and He alone controls the ebb and flow of this our His ministry.

Even while the last issue of our newsletter was being printed, SPM had a softball team on the Citrus Country II Crusade to Central Florida.  Following a standard crusade schedule they were to visit 8 prisons in five days, including a morning and afternoon visit on Friday, and a single visit Sunday morning before heading home.  On Thursday, I received a call from Jimmy Cochran in FL informing me that in the span of just a few hours both of our Friday visits were cancelled. Knowing the enemy is constantly attacking we chalked this up to “more of the same” and began considering alternate activities for Friday.  But then….God.

That same Thursday evening, my cell phone rang with a Florida area code on the ID screen.  Knowing I had a team in Florida, I excused myself and took the call.  It was the Director of the Central Regional for the Florida Department of Corrections…calling me on a Thursday evening from his home!  He apologized for his department treating out-of-state guests poorly and indicated that if we were still willing, he would arrange for us to be allowed access to at least one of the prisons originally scheduled for Friday!  After clearly indicating our willingness, the next call I received was from the Warden of that facility – calling from his home at 8 PM on a weeknight!  He made it clear that he was also embarrassed by the situation and would not only welcome us back, but have extra security at the gate to see that we got through immediately upon our arrival.  We agreed to a visit from 8 AM to 11 AM the next morning and I called Jimmy with the news.

8 AM to 11 AM?  Not with God in charge!  Our team showed up on time and, as promised, was very quickly escorted through security and led to the ball field.  After just a brief time had passed, the decision was made that this day was going to be extended.  Our team spent the entire morning in the recreation yard with the inmates, had lunch at the facility with the team, and then returned to the yard for an entire afternoon with a different portion of the inmate population!  We left the prison at 4 PM, exhausted but overwhelmed at what a mighty God we serve!

But wait…there’s more.

While our men were ministering that morning, I chose to confirm yet again the visits scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.  After speaking with the chaplain at each institution I breathed a little easier, satisfied that the worst was behind us and the weekend was settled.  But by now you know better, right?

Just a few minutes after I left Jimmy a very positive and encouraging voicemail message about his remaining schedule, my phone rang again and Sunday morning’s visit was called off – Warden’s decision.  No real explanation; just a decision that we were expected to respect.  Since the Central Region Director had called on my cell phone the night before….that’s right, I hit redial!  He not only remembered who I was, but he was dismayed when I stated unequivocally, “It happened again”.

He asked for a few minutes to find out what was going on, and this time when the call came back it was much more to the point.  “You are approved – just show up as expected originally”.  No explanation again; but this time a decision we were happy to respect!

In less than 24 hours, the tide had begun creeping in on us again.  But while we were deciding how far to move our beach chairs, God decreed that an ebb was in order.  He pushed back the tide to reveal not only the beach we previously enjoyed, but a far greater beach He had prepared – one that included one-on-one time with the inmates over lunch, a new and dynamic relationship with a Florida DOC administrator, and a team of 14 men who once again stood in awe of being on the front lines watching God work His sovereign will in our lives!

The ocean tides are a mighty force, and we can never dismiss the power of those changing tides.  But even more important, let’s never lose sight of the power of the very One who created and controls those tides at His pleasure!  To God be the Glory!

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2015 Volunteer of the Year

Due to some scheduling issues, recognition of these two incredible people did not make it into our previous issue.  But it gives us great pleasure nonetheless to announce to you our 2015 Volunteers of the Year.

In the Southeast Region, many functions are still taking root as we transition the leadership team, and Jimmy would not only have his hands full but be pulling his hair out if Julie Flores had not stepped up and completely embraced one of the most important tasks that we need done.  She completely took ownership of making sure not a single inmate fell through the cracks as teams from all over the region sent Inmate Response Cards to her in the mail.  Her tireless efforts to ensure every card was entered properly and quickly made Jimmy’s life that much easier as the SE Region took on entering their own response cards full time.

In the NE Region, one of our long-time Saints Prison Ministry Board members not only wore that hat again in 2015, but also took on the responsibility of chairing our Annual Charity Auction in the fall.  And take it on he did!  Robert Bartosz immersed himself in learning the nuances of running an auction, choosing the perfect venue, pushing foray auction-specific website, launching our first foray into online auctions, and even ending the experience by convincing our auction attendees that Billy the Singing Bass was worth bidding on!  While many were involved in the execution of this event, our largest Saints fundraiser of the year was successful due in great part to Bob’s tireless efforts.

Our belated thanks to both of these very special members of the Saints Prison Ministry family!

Bartosz_VOY2015_2 Julie Flores Se Region VOY_2016

On left: Bob Bartosz accepting the award from Executive Director, Frank Zeidler, Jr.

On right: Julie Flores accepting her award from SE Regional Director, Jimmy Cochran

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!