Saturday’s visit to Taylorville will be remembered for an incredible day of fellowship, great conversations about the Gospel, and 18 men that made the decision to follow Jesus, however the day got off to what could have been a disastrous start!
We purchased a bus a few months ago and have had some struggles getting the bus road ready. (I will write about the adventures of getting the air conditioning of the bus repaired in a future blog post!) Dan Johnson and Jeff Wagnaar who are members of my home church, Calvary Baptist Bible Church, cleared out their Wednesdays to help get the bus inspections ready. We passed our state inspection and we were all systems go for our maiden voyage in our bus. We left Peoria at 5:30 to travel to Morton to stop for breakfast and pick up our East Peoria/Morton teammates. As we got closer to Morton, we began to smell the terrible smell of antifreeze! When we got to our stop in Morton, we noticed that our serpentine belt was red from not turning either the water pump or the AC compressor and we had a mechanical issue that would obviously end this phase of the journey.
The team leadership and I were scrambling to figure out the details of how we repair (or tow!) the bus and arrange for new transportation. At the same time we were trying to figure out our unexpected plan B, our driver, Benjamin Watt, was on the phone with his church (El Vista Baptist, Peoria, IL) and arranged for us to use one of their buses for the day. Joe Isbell, took Ben back to Peoria to get the bus. We got the bus moved from the Morton McDonald’s to a nearby church parking lot and when they got back, we were back on the road and only about 15 minutes behind schedule!
This was a moment that could have totally derailed our day, but our team was blessed with guys who acknowledged the problem, reorganized their priorities, and executed the new objective! I am very proud of our group, and we were extremely blessed to have Ben Watt who went above and beyond volunteering to drive a bunch of guys to prison!
The trip to Taylorville was a fun trip. We usually have to carpool to each visit but it was an awesome experience to have our entire team in one vehicle as we had a great time of fellowship (and making fun of each other) on the way there! Our original plan was to play last Saturday (September 24th) but Taylorville had to reschedule due to administrative issues. We had a few players who had already made other plans for this weekend and would have to miss and we had to go a little shorthanded yesterday but we were blessed to have Dustin Fitzpatrick on the trip as well! Dustin has played with us over the last several years but took this year off from playing full time. Since we had him on the roster, we were able to “call him up” to join us on this trip.
We arrived at Taylorville and made it out to the field. We started going over some of the logistics of the day with the LTS (Leisure Time Specialist) and he let us know that they planned on setting up an actual softball tournament with us and three other inmate teams for the morning session! This was something we really hadn’t done before but we set up the parameters and got ready for our “Must Win” game to open the tournament. After falling behind 6-2 early in the game, we fought back and won 10-6. After we advanced on to what would be the championship game of the tournament however, they called chow time (lunch) early and the tournament setup was abandoned. We had twenty minutes between the end of our first game and the start of chow so we did our ministry presentation. Drew Aberle, who is in his first year with the ministry, shared his testimony of how he came to know Jesus as his Savior. Robert Cook followed by preaching a solid message and let the men know that when we follow Jesus, that God no longer sees us sinners but sees Jesus instead.
We broke for lunch afterwards and enjoyed some prison Mexican food! We had bean burritos and rice which were actually pretty good. We got to eat lunch with the inmates which was special as well!
Afterwards, the LTS set up the rest of the day so that we played the other two teams that didn’t get to play in the first session. We won both of those games to finish 3-0 on the day! Our team played pretty well on the day but one guy who “Had a Day!” was veteran Darrell Pine! Darrell is one of our elder statesmen and usually focuses more on interacting with the inmates instead of playing but since we were only traveling with 11 players, Darrell played all day and had ten hits in twelve at-bats including a triple!
In between the last two games we did our ministry time. Sam Isbell who is in his second season shared his testimony and I shared the Gospel. I have done this message several times but I talked about Romans 3:23 and Romans 5:8. Those two passages talk about how we all have fallen short of God but God loved us so much, that He sent His Son to take our punishment for our sin.
After the second game was over, we wrapped up our day, hugged some of our new friends, and headed home in the bus we hadn’t planned on taking but were so blessed to have! We stopped at Freddy’s in Springfield and had a solid team meal before heading home. After doing some research, ironically we found out that Freddy’s is the place former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had his last meal before before going to prison in 2012 (FCI Englewood, Colorodo).
This day turned out really well after the loss of our main mode of transportation! I am so thankful to everyone who stepped up this week! Having guys like Dan Johnson, Jeff Wagoner, Dustin Fitzpatrick, Joe Isbell, and Ben Watt go way above and beyond to help this ministry is such a blessing! Thank you to everyone who prayed for this visit! This made an impact in the lives of 18 men and potentially more who heard or received a Gospel of John yesterday!