I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for my dentist. With very few exceptions, I will get to the day of an appointment, and cancel it, because I chicken out or because I find something more fun than getting a filling. Unless you are Peyton Manning, changing plans at the last minute isn’t a good practice. Danville didn’t wait until the last minute but they did change our date a few weeks ago. Date changes always seems to land on a wedding, vacation, or major kids event. We ended up going with eleven guys, leaving four of our Missionary Athletes at home with prior commitments. Having all hands on deck during the game, meant that we would have some difficulty covering the yard and we wouldn’t have any subs during a long day of softball against a competitive prison softball team in Danville. Often times when we are short handed, we will discuss how God used Gideon’s army in Judges 7 to defeat the Midianites. It is interesting to see how God uses what we think is a total mismatch to accomplish His will.
We had yet another early morning as we sluggishly met outside of the bus in the Morton McDonalds parking lot. We prayed for the day, the men we would be seeing, the guys who would be speaking, and the families that we were leaving behind for the day. This was a rather quiet bus ride as several of our guys were asleep before we got on the eastbound ramp of I-74. A few of us in the front of the bus talked about some work details and parenting. Parenting is a rather common topic that will come up with our team as we have several guys in different stages of parenting. Some are empty nesters (they were some of the ones that were asleep on the bus), some have newborns and really young kids (they were also asleep!), and some of us have teens (we never ever sleep!). It is interesting hearing the philosophies from the different guys on the team.
We arrived at the prison on time and made it out to the softball field. This softball field contained many happy memories over the years, and, since we didn’t make a visit in 2016, we were really looking forward to getting back in. Danville was the first Illinois state facility that we had ever visited as a team in 2012. When we arrived out on the field, we were greeted by a PA announcer who announced our names as we ran out to the baseline just like in a World Series game. One of the inmates also played the national anthem on his electric guitar and has continued to do so for every visit that we have been on. Our now Southeast Director, Jimmy Cochran, played so well during that day that he earned the nickname “Gold Glove Jimmy”. A year later, NJ Saints LEGEND, Butch Smith, flew in to minister with us, too. Butch took a wicked line drive off of his stomach but he still managed to make the game so much fun that day as he teased and ministered to the inmates. Finally in 2015, we got our first win versus Danville and we also played a highly competitive, yet hysterical game of dodgeball with the men there.
Once the other team arrived through the gate, we were done reminiscing and were ready to play some softball! We won game one and handed out over 100 Gospels despite being short handed. Kurt Hand shared his testimony while Darrell Pine shared the Gospel. After the ministry time, we came back and won game two! Before we broke for lunch, we huddled up with the inmates and prayed with them.
During lunch we were treated to some fried chicken patties in the staff dining room. We ate by ourselves and had some time to continue some parenting conversations that we had started on the bus.
After lunch, we got back out to the field to play one more game against another group of men. We actually won that game as well, going 3-0 on the day, making that the best we had ever done on the field at Danville. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on us going 1-2 on the day because of how short-handed we were but I was thrilled with how wrong I was! Josh Frederick shared his testimony about how Jesus Christ changed his life while Drew Aberle shared the Gospel with the men. During the preaching time, I had an opportunity to talk with an older gentleman who had been locked up most of his life for murder. He said he knew Jesus as his Savior, but I got called away to talk to the officer in charge before he could finish his story. During the day, I also got to talk with several guys who are enrolled in a Seminary program that another outside group volunteers their time to run. We actually met with several guys who had made a decision to follow Jesus during our first few visits. They are now being discipled and really digging into God’s Word. Despite only going in with such a small group, God really blessed the day and our team. It was great to hug some old friends and play some ball in Danville.
We stopped at a Portillo’s in Champaign, IL for some Chicago style hot dogs and Italian beef. We also had a few moments to talk about the day and enjoy some iron sharpening iron time.
Overall on the day we saw 27 men make decisions to follow Jesus and we handed out 201 Gospels of John. The bus (which is on a personal 3 game hitting streak without an incident!) made it and from Danville.
Next month we wrap up our season at Robinson Correctional Center. The last visit of the year is always bittersweet but we are looking forward to seeing the men there and sharing the Good News of Jesus!