Day 2 was spent at Ventress Correctional Facility in Bessemer, AL. The initial atmosphere was very stern. The correctional officer who led us around was very serious and made sure that we understood our boundaries while within the prison. Their jobs are very important and he made sure that we understood that we had to stay within the the confines of the softball field only and not wander about the yard. The seriousness of the day lightened up a little before we started our first game.
One of the programs that we have is called “The Glove Exchange”. We will get gloves from donors and exchange them for the inmate gloves that are beaten up and worn out. The gloves that are taken from prison are refurbished by a group of volunteers. The actual exchange is always fun to take part in. The correctional officer in charge of fielding the team and getting them equipment gave the inmates the worst gloves to practice with all week leading up to our visit. He knew that the inmates would get the new gloves and was in on setting up them up for the surprise! The men were discouraged that they had to use the old gloves and were obviously concerned that it would affect the outcome of the game on the field. Before the game we huddled up with the men around home plate and Rodney Stewart gave an excellent illustration about how it took someone to repair the glove and how God wants to have a part in repairing our lives as well. The men were thrilled to get the new gloves and it took a while to get the game started because of all the hugs and handshakes.
The first two games were very competitive which helped our ministry time. The inmates gathered around the softball area to hear us share the Gospel. Tom Carberry shared his life story of how came to know Jesus and Ed Mosely did a great job of communicating the Gospel.
I had some good conversations with some men named Matthew. Matthew told me he is a believer and he is close to getting out and needs some solid influence in his life once he gets out. The drug culture he came from is going to be tough to avoid once he is released. Please keep him in prayer as he gets ready to make this transition.
I also met a Cubs fan there who had a Cubs tattoo on his arm. We hugged and talked about the big win versus Pittsburgh the night before!
One young man named Ricky got into a deep conversation with several of our guys. He was really struggling with the hardships of being in prison and was struggling with what a relationship with God looks like and what the consequences of following Him might be. As a team we prayed for him. To the best of my knowledge he didn’t make a decision to follow Jesus. Please pray that God breaks his heart and removes the confusion that he is experiencing.
One other interesting conversation I got to participate in was between Kirk Smith and an inmate named “Crook”. His nose had broken at some point and it now points to the left thus earning the nickname! He told us several times that he really wanted to believe but is struggling with the concept of how God could be real. This was another tough conversation to have. Kirk and myself talked about how we believe in creation and how a relationship with Him is accepting his free gift of grace and salvation and following Him. Once again, I don’t think he made a decision that day but please keep him in prayer!
One of my responsibilities on the trip is to lead the team devotions. This is basically a time where we study the Bible as a team and challenge each other in our walk with God. The theme of my devotions was “All In”. I really liked this as a theme because athletes need to be completely dedicated to or “All In” on whatever they are playing or participating in. I will cover some of the details of each devotion in future posts but this night’s was focused on Luke 5:1-11 and Nehemiah 1. In Luke 5, Peter, John, and James walked away from the fishing business and were “All In” on following Jesus. In Nehemiah 1 he was “All In” on rebuilding despite the chance of being killed by King Artaxerxes. We used both of these passages to challenge each other on being “All In” on following Jesus as missionary athletes.
Once again, a great day to be a Saint as we handed out several hundred Gospels and saw 14 men make decisions to follow Jesus!