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!