As I write this on Thanksgiving morning, it has been a month since our last prison visit of the year and it will be around 4 months until the first Crusade starts in March. Since we packed up and left Pontiac last month (click here for the Saints visit Pontiac Correctional and Farm and Fleet Update!) , I have thought about and reflected on how our 2016 season went. There is so much to be thankful for and there is so much I have taken for granted. This year, one of the passages in the Bible that has really convicted me the most is Luke 9:57-62 where Jesus lays out His expectations for being a follower of His. He doesn’t want a half-hearted approach to serving Him, He wants your undivided attention. He doesn’t want excuses, He wants you to follow without any reservations. I still have not arrived in being the follower that I need to be. My spirit is sometimes willing but my flesh is weak and stubborn. One of the places that God calls us, is to share the Gospel and to minister in prison. I am very thankful for this opportunity to follow Him there and to share Jesus with the men we see. We handed out 848 Gospels of John and saw 160 men make decisions to follow Jesus! 2016 was our best season in our humble five year existence as a Saints Prison Ministry team. Here are five of the things I am thankful for while serving with the Saints Prison Ministry in 2016.
For numerous reasons, our Illinois team has had a difficult time getting prison visits scheduled over the years. Early in 2016 God blessed us with a full season of 6 dates and 7 prisons to visit. Five of those prisons were facilities that we have never visited before. Going to new places is really special because it is fun to see the inmates enjoy a day playing softball with an outside team. It is fun seeing them band together and compete and it is powerful to see them react to hearing the Gospel. It is also very special to leave at the end of the day and have them say things like, “This is the most fun I’ve had in 15 years” or “for the last two hours, I forgot I was in prison!”
It was also nice having the continuity to our season. In years past we would go two months between games. This year we were meeting every four weeks and had some very good team chemistry built up by the end of the year.
- The Bus
Our bus has been an adventure to say the least (see blog post from Taylorville and Pontiac) but God blessed us with some much needed transportation. Until this year, we have had to car pool in order to get to a prison. This put several hundred miles on missionary athletes personal vehicles. Earlier this summer, one of our missionary athletes found a bus for sale and we purchased it and we were able to use it for our visit to Pontiac Correctional Center in October. It was a blessing having the team under one roof and being able to travel down the road as a team.
We still need to make some repairs to the air conditioning and floorboard. We would also like to repaint the outside of the bus at some point as well but we are looking forward to using it in 2017 and beyond!
If you wish to give towards our bus repairs, please click here and choose “IL Bus Fund” in the ‘My Gift For:’ drop down menu.
- The Crusades
We had six missionary athletes from our Illinois team participate in three different Crusades this year (Florida, Wisconsin, South Carolina). I had the opportunity to go to Florida and Wisconsin. These trips are some of the highlights of my year as I get to serve alongside Saints from other teams and get 4-6 concentrated days of prison ministry in a row.
The Florida trip with the Southeast Region was great. My teammates from the Georgia team are a very close knit group and they have become some of my best teammates and friends. It is always great to serve alongside of them. Overall on the trip we handed out 1,189 Gospels of John and saw 31 men indicate that they made a decision to follow Jesus. (Click here for the recap of the Florida Crusade)
The Wisconsin trip with the New Jersey team was a great trip as well. I had the opportunity to serve alongside several guys who were on my first Saints trip in 2011. It was awesome to share the Gospel with them and meet several guys that I haven’t met before. On the Wisconsin trip we handed out 1,095 Gospels and saw 108 men make decisions! (Click here for the recap of the Wisconsin Crusade)
I am very thankful to the people who have supported me financially, with encouragement, and with prayer. I have an awesome support team that has been very gracious over the last five years. I am also very thankful for the support team the rest of my Illinois team has as well. The blessing and generosity of our supporters of our Illinois Saints team made it possible for us to purchase a bus this summer.
- Growing as a Team
Each year our Illinois team dynamic gets further away from being just another softball team and gets closer to being a band of brothers on a mission to tell as many people as we can about Jesus. I am very thankful for all of the relationships I have on this team. The men I serve alongside are some of my best friends and I have seen growth in them along the way as we serve and obey Jesus Christ. I am even thankful for the hiccups and struggles that sometimes come up. Those times that we have had to struggle have been some of the greatest times of growth and growing closer to God that I and our team have experienced. I enjoyed all of the times we got to laugh on a softball field or to hug a teammate we know is going through a rough stretch in their personal life. This is a solid group of men and I can’t wait to get on the bus in May with these guys and head back to prison!
2016 was a great year for this ministry and I’m really looking forward to how God is going to follow that up! I am very thankful for the relationship that I have with God and how each year has drawn me closer to Him. God used this ministry to not only draw inmates back to Him but me as well!
Happy Thanksgiving and Go Saints in 2017!