Eleven members of the Saints Prison Ministry Basketball team set out from New Jersey on a mild March 2nd morning in 2017 by 15-passenger van to travel to Western Pennsylvania. The mission was to spread the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unsaved men incarcerated in 5 different correctional facilities in order that they might give up the life they know and follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The trip to our home base in Altoona, PA was smooth with no hiccups.  The Lord saw us safely to our hotel even in the midst of light flakes of snow falling from heaven.  We checked-in around the 3 o’clock hour and then began to prepare ourselves for our first prison visit.  We started off with FCI-Loretta which was an atypical prison visit.  Instead of our normal basketball game and half-time presentation of the Gospel, they asked us to do a chapel service.  There seemed to be some concern within the prison with us presenting the Gospel of Jesus to a religiously diverse crowd.  We stayed within their guidelines and conducted a wonderful service led by Coach Carl.  He gave the Word and asked for other members of the team to come up and present their talents to the glory of God.  Justin came up and sang a popular gospel song.  I came up and did some Christian spoken word.  Brian and Anthony came up and did a Christian rap.  The men really enjoyed our time with them in the prison chapel.  When we first started, there were only a handful of inmates in the room with us, but by the end the chapel was nearly full.  We then went on to play a hard-fought game in a very intimate gym.  It was standing room only and the court was smaller than usual so the men were on all sides nearly engulfing us.  There was a lot of opportunity to engage with the 250 men so that even though we were not allowed to give the Gospel presentation at half time we did have plenty of interaction with the men and were able to pass out the Gospel of John to many of the men.  Five men decided to give their lives to Jesus.  That was our lone win on the trip, but not for a lack of effort on defense or a lack of three pointers on offense.  Day 2 and Day 3 of our trip included 2 prison visits each.  We started each morning with devotions which I led from the Book of Isaiah.  We studied the beginning of Isaiah telling Judah of their impending judgment due to their sin with a special focus on Isaiah chapter 5 and contrasted that with the hope that is the Messiah which the prophet Isaiah predicted with amazing clarity in Isaiah 53.  We talked about subjects such as having an accountability partner, being bold in our presentation of the Gospel, remembering the need for a Savior, taking the Gospel personal and remembering all that Jesus has done for us, and more.  Between the van rides and the devotions and the dinners we engaged in numerous conversations on the Word of God that empowered all of us.  That strengthened us on day two as we went to SCI Houtzdale and Lamarr gave a stirring testimony and Sam presented an equaling compelling Gospel telling us how God gave His only Son and how he could not imagine giving up either of his sons.  Six men were saved on that visit. Later that evening we visited SCI Huntingdon where Anthony performed another Christian rap and gave his testimony about surviving a car crash which helped encourage him to get serious about Jesus and Carl gave the Word of God and talked about how Jesus was the Word and the Word became flesh.   On day three, we went to SCI Smithfield where Wayne gave a wonderful testimony which he elaborated on that even though it wasn’t remarkable because of any crazy event happening it was still equally amazing because of Jesus and I followed and gave the Gospel, challenging the men to trust in the Word of Jesus.  Three men were saved.  That afternoon we went to SCI Benner, playing a team that may have had two men that could have played professional basketball, where Brian performed another Christian rap and gave his testimony how he survived 3 car accidents and talked about how none of us humans truly “keep it real” but God is the only one who really did all He said he would do and Steve followed with a captivating Gospel message contrasting your choice of being with God in glory on streets of gold or with Satan in utter darkness and Hell fire.  Twelve men gave their life to Christ.  Leaving that last prison was tough because as we were leaving so were families that had come for visits.  They entered about the same time we did and finished a few hours later when we did.  On there way in they seemed excited and on their way out it was somber and quiet.  One of my teammates overheard a mother on the way in say to her child, “You know the drill.”  It was mostly women and children and it was just sad seeing them bundle up and prepare to walk out into the cold leaving their loved one behind.  We must continue to pray for all of the incarcerated.  Overall, the trip was very successful and we were winners despite what scores said because men’s lives were saved and the Kingdom of the Lord was increased.  We all enjoyed our time and God allowed for us to all make it safely back home to our families.

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