By Hugh Dwyer, Crusade Leader, Indiana softball crusade
In my 21 seasons of participating with the Saints on various trips throughout the country, I have been taught flexibility is an essential quality – a fellow Saint and long-time prison chaplain described it is as “the key to prison ministry”. Our most recent Crusade to Indiana has reinforced this belief. In speaking with Frank Zeidler on Saturday – which was three days before the Crusade was set to begin – he described for me how two days of the trip had been unexpectedly canceled early in the week and then God worked to quickly fill those days with other prisons. For those unfamiliar with prison ministry the idea of a visit by 16 guys into a state institution with only six or seven days lead time is virtually unheard of, even more so when working with a state that we do not visit often. Frank and I have seen God do amazing things before so were grateful for him opening the door for us to visit Westville and Putnamville Correctional Facilities!
However, Frank informed me that we were still waiting on confirmation from the prison scheduled for Sunday, the last day of the Crusade. Little did either one of us know that God had other plans.
Fast forward to Thursday, Day 3 of the Crusade at Putnamville CF. It rained throughout much of the night and there was threat of additional rain during the day. We planned to spend the morning and afternoon at this facility speaking with multiple units during each session. As we approached the ballfield, the recreation director asked if we were still willing to play, as the field was pretty wet. I reassured him we look forwarded to the opportunity to get a little dirty. The skies were cloudy but not one drop of rain came during the morning event! We played very well and shared the Gospel with approximately 100 inmates.
Rather than leave the prison between games, the recreation director invited us to lunch within the facility. This is always an anxious moment, as prisons are not known for the high caliber cuisine. However, if we know we will have the opportunity to interact with the inmates during the meal then we will accept the offer, so I naturally said, “Yes, of course we would love to eat lunch here, thank you.”
We walked into a room with several tables at each table there were six place settings. Linen table clothes and linen napkins awaited us as we pulled up to the table. In the front of the room was a menu informing us what was to be served: rib eye steak sandwiches with fresh peppers, cheese, and au jus accompanied by French fries. For dessert, apple or peach crisp. We waited for the food to arrive, not really expecting much. The warden shared those men who were in the culinary education program at the facility prepared the food. Three men came in to the room pushing carts of food, clearly proud of what they had created. The food was AMAZING! A couple of my teammates had two servings – unheard of when we eat inside the walls – and I believe one teammate even had three servings. Dessert was even better! It was a special time for us as a team to interact with the men who had skillfully prepared the meal for us.
We headed back to the field to play against the same team we had beaten soundly in the morning, but there was a new group of inmates in the stands. This group was much more vocal than the morning crowd, making for a fun atmosphere. The rowdy crowd of close to 200 never let up while we were playing [read – winning!] the game, but as we picked up the microphone they drew quiet and listened to the Gospel proclaimed passionately. I was sitting on a bleacher near the top row, looking to the left and right, and every man around me was fixed intently. It is an awesome image that I wish everyone could witness first hand!
This visit to Putnamville CF was one of those that the Lord added to the schedule seven days prior, and it was an amazing day. However, God still had more!
Fast forward to Friday midday, Frank contacted with disappointing information nothing worked out for Sunday morning. For an MA on a Crusade, this is the most disappointing news we can receive. We want to visit prisons, and end on a high note, but we all understood that there was nothing to be done. I did some research and found a church nearby our hotel that I thought would be a good fit for our team.
Sunday morning most of us are wearing our black Crusade shirt, creating quite a visual impact as 16 men file into the worship center at Plainfield Christian Church in matching attire. It was a great service; however, I admit I found myself thinking that I would rather be in prison or home with my family.
As the service concluded, the Senior Pastor came over to us and introduced himself to us. He questioned who we were and what we were doing. Several of us shared with him and as we spoke, his eyes lit up. It was clear that he was extremely excited to hear about our ministry. He asked what prisons we had visited while we were in Indiana. We listed each prison, but then his eyes filled with tears as we went through the list. He said to us that what we do is such an amazing blessing, and then continued to share about his son who had grown up in the church and was working in the church but was exposed to opioids. His son was arrested and convicted and was now serving a five year sentence in … Putnamville CF! The Pastor asked if he could pray with us. We gathered in a circle and this Pastor – from a church that we did not originally intend to visit – prayed over us in tears as he praised God for sixteen men who visited his son – in a prison that we did not originally intend to visit.
What an amazing God we serve!