(Note: Written on 7/14/17 and posted on 7/24/17)
Today was my day one of the Crusade however, it was day two for the team. I was in Chicago, IL as our team took the field at Richland CI in Mansfield, OH. They split the two games and saw 12 men make decisions to follow the Lord. That was a first for me to miss a day but in the grand scheme of things I am grateful that our team was able to play and minister while I was trying to figure out if I was going to fly to Pittsburgh, Akron, Columbus, or Dayton. I had two flights get cancelled due to the thunderstorm that came through Chicago as well as one other cancel because of a faulty air conditioner on the plane. Thankfully, I was able to finally get a late flight to Akron. To top off the lousy day of travel, the taxi I was riding in got stuck on the interstate due to an accident! Finally, I was able to arrive at the hotel and was able to get a solid night of sleep!
This morning, I woke up and got the Saints uniform on and headed to breakfast. It was exciting to see a bunch of friends I have made in the ministry over the years. It was also great to see a few Saints that I had never met. This team is primarily made up of Saints from the Pennsylvania team with a few from New Jersey, Georgia, and of course me from Illinois. Every Saints group is unique yet the common bond of having a relationship with Jesus makes us instant allies and brothers as we seek to minister in prison.
After breakfast we had a very good and insightful devotion time. After devotions were over, we loaded up the vans and headed to Conneaut, Ohio and Lake Erie CI for an afternoon double-header.
It had rained all night and the administration had contacted us to make sure that we were still going to arrive and play despite the rainy conditions. We never cancel for weather and let them know that we will play in any condition. The inmates did a great job of preparing the field. Almost every place that we go to has an inmate grounds crew that prepares the field for the games between us and the inmate teams. They always take a great deal of pride in making the field look great and professional.
We led the first game early and went back and forth with them before the Lake Erie team pulled away and defeated us. Butch Smith shared his testimony of how Jesus came into his life despite a rather rebellious childhood. Mark DiBendetto shared the Gospel with the men on the yard. While the sharing time was happening, I was able to get out on the yard and hand out Gospels of John with PA Missionary Athlete Ted Schnitzel. We handed several dozen Gospels and had a couple of good conversations first with a man who had come to know the Lord in prison. We talked with another man who said he was Muslim but he let us know how much he appreciated us being there. He told us that he liked that we were trying to do good, just like his religion. This is a tough thing to respond back on because the guy really likes good things and things that make for peace. He had found something that he felt made his life more peaceful, and it is hard to tell someone that being good isn’t good enough. God tells us in His Word that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to Father except by Him. I did answer back with that and he gave me the cliche’, “man, I’m totally cool with what you believe, because we both believe good things!” We had to get moving quickly because the next game was starting soon after that but I really regret not being able to share the Gospel with him in a much clearer fashion. It is sometimes hard to find the avenue to push back and interject thoughts into a conversation with someone who really is happy with where they are or set in their ways. Pray for me that I would find future boldness, wisdom, and answers on how to appropriately lead conversations like that back to the Gospel.
We lost game two when the prison team got a walk off base hit to score the winning run in the last inning. Losing stinks no matter what, but watching an inmate win a game on a walk off hit and get celebrated by his teammates is always an enjoyable thing to see.
Overall on the day at Lake Erie CI, we handed out several hundred Gospels and saw 11 men make a decision to repent and follow Jesus.
We loaded up the vans and headed to Trumbull CI for two games. We won the first game and had a solid ministry time. During the speaking time, I was able to hand out Gospels down the right field line. I had a good time talking with someone who had indicated on his response card that he had trusted Jesus. I talked with him and made sure that he understood the commitment that being a follower Jesus was. He let me know that he understood that he was a sinner and that he needed to repent and follow Jesus. This was very reassuring to hear. Sometimes guys will indicate that they want to be saved but still don’t understand what that means. I will often get things like, “Well, I just know that I needed a change in my life or “I really need this because I need to try and bet a better person” and while that may be true, sometimes guys won’t understand that Jesus is looking for repentance and for us to die to ourselves. I agree that these men need a change, but the real change is similar to what we see in Acts chapter 2 where people were cut to the heart when they heard the Gospel and they knew that their life had to take a 180 degree turn from where it was. I am thankful that this young man understood that a relationship with Jesus is an all-in decison.
We lost the 2nd game, and it wasn’t pretty. Our team was low on manpower and youth, and it didn’t take long for us to wear down and really struggle in the 2nd half of the day.
After the game was over, we went to Applebees for a late night meal (We actually went without eating from 8 am until 9 pm!). Eating with teammates is always fun as we will viciously make fun of one another while having some of the most genuine conversations and while eating chicken wings and cheeseburgers!
Tomorrow we are heading to Grafton, OH to visit the prison camp and main unit!