I am so tempted to start this post talking about one of the softball games we played this weekend.
I mean, REALLY TEMPTED.
Instead, I am reminded about how we use softball as a tool to go to prison and share the Gospel with men that live there. It is such a unique tool because we reach quite a few men that normally wouldn’t have anything to do with a “church” or “chapel service”. A model Saints day consists of us interacting with the men while playing a competitive softball game (did I mention that I REALLY want to talk about that game this weekend!?!?!) before breaking into a ministry time where a couple of guys share their testimony and the Gospel with the men that came out to play and watch the game. While that is going on, the rest of our team will head out to other parts of the prison yard and hand out Gospels of John and have discussions with the men. Saturday, we were blessed with a day just like that, and our men executed it beautifully.
God has been so good to our team over the years. We have been blessed with so many men who are excited to share the Gospel on prison softball fields throughout the Midwest. Yesterday’s visit to Pittsfield and Jacksonville was a reminder of how blessed I was to be surrounded by such men. We woke up early, loaded up, and headed for Pittsfield before 6 am. We had some dynamite conversations during the trip on topics such as angels, creation, and spiritual gifts (there will be a future blog post/”Inside the Mind of Gibby” article on conversations that happen while traveling so please stay tuned!). Once we arrived at Pittsfield, we played and won a good solid competitive game. A really good team victory. During our ministry time, Joe Isbell told the men in attendance how God got a hold of his heart as a young man and how it changed his marriage. Robert Cook shared the Gospel and preached from John 11:40-44. We won another good solid game afterwards. Once again, softball is just a tool, but I am really proud of how hard our team has worked to get to a point that we are a very good softball team that doesn’t quit!
Neither of those games are the game I am wanting to tell you about!
After the games were over we loaded back up and headed down the road to Jacksonville Correctional Center. Overall on the day at Pittsfield we saw 9 men indicate that they wanted to follow Jesus and we handed out 84 Gospels of John.
Upon arriving in Jacksonville, we left our gloves and bats in the vehicles, because, just like the two previous years, we would be playing 16″ Chicago style softball. No gloves, just bare hands!
We lost the first game 6-4 but played much more competitively than the previous year. In between games, Jesse Miller shared how he came to know Jesus as his Savior as a young adult and the impact that following Jesus has had on his family. I shared the Gospel from Matthew 26 and John 3. I was really excited to share the Gospel with the men there. While I was speaking, a long freight train was going through town just beyond the fences. If only Johnny Cash had been there to sing a song!
On to the final game-the game I can’t wait to talk about! Finally, the final game of the day. The inmates wanted us to be the home team and we took the field and promptly made several errors trying to catch the oversized ball. By the time the dust settled, we were down 10-0 in the first inning! The inmates were having fun, but our team had the opportunity to choose to roll over or not quit. Our defense stepped up, and we slowly chipped away until it was 10-8. They had one more big inning and made it 14-8. We battled back to make it 14-12 going into the last inning. We made two quick outs and it appeared that the game was over. Robert Cook walked. I hit a single to left. Ben Morrow hit a single to left that scored Cookie making it 14-13. Derek Leith hit another single that scored me making it 14-14, then Ben got stuck between 3rd and home. They ran at him throwing the ball back and forth before Ben saw that no one was covering home. Ben sprinted home (Ben is one of the few guys who can sprint!) winning the game on a walk off run down! We all high fived and hugged the men as we lined up after game.
After our closing time, we had the opportunity to hang out with them for about 30 minutes while count cleared. This was one of my favorite times in the last few years of ministry. We all sat around at the picnic tables in the prison yard pavilion. I talked to a man about what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus and he told me about what life was like in prison and how he was looking forward to going home in the next few months. The rest of our team had really good conversations with men at those picnic tables as well. Our last few prison visits have seen us have only a limited time to spend with the inmates before they are sent back to their dorms or houses. It was so refreshing to have that time to spend with them and just hang out.
Overall on the day at Jacksonville we had 14 men indicate that they trusted Jesus as their Savior and we handed out another 176 Gospels to the prison yard.
Our next visit as the Illinois team will be August 5 at Illinois River CC (Canton). We are looking forward to hitting the field and sharing the Gospel in Canton for the first time in a long time!
I will be heading to Ohio this Wednesday to go on a Crusade with the Pennsylvania team. I will be posting about that soon as well!
Thank you for all of the prayer support so far in 2017! I am looking forward to the 2nd half of our ministry season!