An Eight-Eyed Saint?

by Robert Hellyer, Board President

“Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.” Revelations 4:6

If only as a parent I had those same characteristics! I got a glimpse of what it might be like for the four living creatures John describes in Gloryland, as I had the privilege of being involved the Saints “Old Dominion Crusade” to Virginia and West Virginia on October 7-11, 2004. Our two teams, one to the east, the other to the west, shared in eleven prisons and played twenty-one games. Although I’ve been on crusades with the Saints for the past fifteen years, I had the unique opportunity to look at this one from four different perspectives.

My first perspective was through the eyes of a short-term missionary athlete. Where else in the world could I combine two things I love in life, playing softball and sharing my faith, with the potential of sharing the Gospel with over 2,500 men over a long weekend. The thought that God would use a simple game to draw lost men to a recreation yard, and in that yard offer them an opportunity to obtain peace with Him and contentment amidst their circumstances, is almost beyond comprehension. I was part of the “West Team” that visited four institutions in Virginia and a federal prison in West Virginia. During each visit I had opportunities to impact men’s lives for the cause of Christ. I was out of my comfort zone, but the enabler, the Holy Spirit, was right at home.

The second perspective I gained was through the eyes of a member of our church team. Our church has two softball teams and last year I brought up the idea of our church putting together a team for a short-term trip through the Saints. Men were excited as we started to plan this season for our trip. Despite work conflicts and age restrictions, we were able to get eight committed men. They raised their support and prayer partners as they eagerly awaited the date. The Saints helped fill the roster with athletes from their GCCC and PA teams. Our men stepped to the plate by sharing testimonies, Gospel messages, devotions, and yes, even laundry duty. We were together, as one man, reaching the lost with a message of hope. And each man will tell you, he will be forever changed as a result of going. Maybe for the first time, they had opportunities to interact with other men, one on one, to encourage, to challenge, to impact for eternity. They grew as a result and so did I.

The third perspective was through the eyes of a team leader. It was my first experience in this capacity. I organized the team, Dale set the schedule and I figured that was it. There is so much more that goes into a crusade. There are the applications, clean checks, orientation, uniforms, positioning, playing time, speaking schedule, PA maintenance, van cleaning, devotions leader, literature preparation, water/Gatorade jugs, MVP awards, ground rules, equipment upkeep, Ministry Evaluation Report Forms (MERFs), eating arrangements, sleeping arrangements and last but not least, laundry duty. It was pure joy to see each man willingly take on his responsibilities and in doing so, make this crusade a blessing to manage. I appreciate more than ever the work done by staff to make our trips run smoothly and at the same time see how real our need is for a full-time Director of Evangelism.

My fourth perspective is through the eyes of the President of the Board of Trustees. As President, I oversee the group of men that mold and shape the vision of the ministry. These men have a real heart for this work of God and what He has in store for it. The Old Dominion Crusade saw twenty-five men, over five days, share the Gospel in eleven prisons to over 1,400 men, with 233 trusting Christ as Savior. As we reflect on this trip, we see more than ever that the crusade model is the vehicle to meet the overwhelming opportunities presented to us. Prison invitations is not the problem, lack of missionary athletes are. We have ten crusades scheduled for next year and are trusting God to fill each of them. Does your church have a softball or basketball team? Are they ready for a life changing experience? This four-day trip will impact eternity. We take care of all the details, including lifetime follow-up on every inmate that responds. God will grow you if you let Him. You may never have eight eyes, but after experiencing how God can use ordinary men to accomplish extra-ordinary things, you’ll need those eyes in eternity to see the impact you had.

Contact the Saints office for more details on our Short Term Missions opportunities.

Have I Got A Story For You!

by Stephen Schoch, Missionary Athlete

I wish I knew his name… I truly do… but I can’t really be sure. One of the things I’ve learned in my rookie season with The Saints is that though the time behind bars is all-too-abundant for them… it is likewise all-to-precious for us. It goes by so fast, there’s so much to do, and there are so many faces… that specific names often get separated from those faces in the blur of activity. This was especially so on the evening of June 5th in the swarming, cold, dimly-lit yard of Atlanta City Detention Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Maybe next year, a bit more experienced, I’ll be better at remembering… but for now I’m left only with the moment – surprisingly preserved by the camera lens of a Newsday photographer – and the story that goes with it.

Yes, I wish I knew his name… but his story is one of those ‘snapshots’ of the 2004 Saints softball season that I’ll never forget. You see, I wasn’t supposed to be there that day. My two sons, born 5 years apart, share June 5th as their birthday, and it was one of those days on the long season schedule that I looked at and decided from the outset that I needed to spend at home with my family, not in a prison in GA. But the Lord had something else in mind. As the day approached, and I assured them that I would be home for their birthday, my 10 year old asked a simple question: ” Dad, if you don’t go to the prison on Saturday… who will?” Good question. And although I responded that the team would have enough players, he returned a short time later and insisted: “You should go. They need to hear about Jesus. We can have our birthday another time.” And so we all agreed – I would go.

Now, exactly how much of that conversation was Spirit-inspired, and how much was a child’s desire to celebrate his birthday a day earlier, I’ll let you decide. What I do know is that I was there at Eastern that night to collect a blue response card from a man who, having just heard the Gospel message, had checked off the box that read: “Today I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord & Savior”. As I typically do when collecting a card with that response, I paused to talk a while one-on-one… to reinforce that decision and work through any initial questions. Time was short… we needed to take the field for the second game… so we paused on the infield to pray, two men embracing and thanking God for His Grace and for His Son. I didn’t notice that a photo was being taken.

As we parted, the man beamed in the evening light and noted: “And to think that I finally found God on my birthday! ” I stopped in my tracks and looked down at his card, which confirmed the fact. Looking up, I remember saying: “Have I got a story for you¨” So I told him of my sons, and of our conversations, and how I came to be there that night. When I finished the story, there were tears running down his face as he replied: “You mean a 10 year old boy… sent his dad… to me… on his birthday?” He knew, we both did, the Lord truly does work in mysterious ways.

I wish I knew his name… but perhaps that’s the way the Lord intends it to be for me. After all, He knows his name, and that’s the important thing, isn’t it? He truly does know his name… after all, on the evening of the 5th day of June, in the year 2004, His hand moved in heaven and wrote it down in His Book of Life – never to be erased. Praise God for what He has done! And Praise Him for allowing us to be there to witness His harvest!