The last prison visit of the year is always bittersweet. The great 2016 season was going to end after this visit. This had been a full and busy season. We had never been to this many facilities (7) in our modest 5 year existence as a Saints Prison Ministry team but I can say with a high degree of confidence that no one on our bus was ready for the season to end!
Visiting Pontiac was a really great experience. Pontiac opened in 1871, and the outside looks like something out of a classic prison movie. We arrived on time and our contact met us just outside of the prison and she took us to where we needed to park and sign in. A common question that we will ask is “How many other groups like ours have visited your facility?” She let us know that church groups will frequently visit but that they have never, ever had an outside team visit. It is special knowing that God opened a door in Pontiac for us to be the first to come in and share the Gospel with the men there.
Once we got in and got settled in on the field, we played two short games against the inmate teams. We won the first game and Darrell Pine shared the Gospel after the game. Darrell wasn’t originally on the schedule to preach that day but he is our elder statesman and I wanted to make sure he got a chance to preach at one of the oldest prisons in the country. After our ministry time, we played and won the 2nd game of the day before breaking for lunch.
When we came back from lunch, we played another two quick games. We won the third game of the day before Robert Cook shared the Gospel with the inmates. Cookie did a solid job during his preaching time, and our team did a great job of making sure everyone on the yard received a Gospel of John. We lost our last game; it was a 2 ½ inning game that was called because yard time was over. We had fun playing ball and more importantly, telling the men there about Jesus. Overall on the day we handed out 178 Gospels of John and saw 16 men make decisions to follow Jesus.
Our season was now over and we loaded up and began our trek home. Our team collectively enjoyed the moment as a team. We were on the bus, the season was by far our best season ever, and we were going to get some pizza as a team. There was collective sigh that our season was over and we were just going to enjoy the moment as were cruising past Lexington, IL but then POP!!!!!!!
That POP would be the sound of one of the rear passenger side tires losing its tread! We pulled off to the side of I-55 and saw the damage. We determined that we could still drive it and make it 14 miles to the Sam’s Club in Normal, IL. So we headed down I-55 for a long 14 mile ride going about 30 mph. We arrived at Sam’s Club. They let us know that they had the tire size but not the equipment to change it for a vehicle our size. We called the local Farm and Fleet in Bloomington. They had the tire size and were able to change it. We limped back on the interstate and traveled another 10 miles to Farm and Fleet. They were able to replace the tire while we enjoyed our team meal at the local Bob Evans.
I enjoyed the day and relished the fact that I got to proclaim the Gospel with my teammates in Pontiac, but one of my favorite moments in the ministry came during the time we were alongside I-55 to determine how bad of shape the tire was in. As I was on the ground inspecting our damaged tire I looked up to my right, and to my left and saw a group of guys that I was glad to be with in that moment. God has blessed our team with exceptional men and I am very proud of their obedience to share the Gospel in prison. I am blessed to have them as friends!