by: Andy Macy – Farm team disciple and extremely mediocre softball player
This year Pastor Justin finally convinced me to take part in the prison softball ministry. As someone who spends as much time as possible planted firmly inside his comfort zone, this was a huge leap beyond those boundaries for me. I am a worrier to the core, and in the days leading up to our first game I certainly did plenty of worrying. I worried that I would be awful at softball and embarrass myself… I worried that I’d injure myself… I worried that someone in the prison might try to hurt me… I worried that I was being irresponsible, putting myself in a dangerous situation when I have a wife and two young daughters to take care of. Before we even started I had already convinced myself that this was a terrible idea.
When the day of the first game arrived, I walked in already completely terrified. Things did not improve as we went through orientation, security, and then finally out into the yard. All I could focus on was the fear, so everything I heard and saw only served to feed that fear. After a few innings I had only relaxed the tiniest bit, and by the end of that first day I still wasn’t sure I could come back and do it again.
On the walk back to security I was talking with one of the veterans of the ministry, going over all the things that had freaked me out during our first walk to the yard. When I finished listing everything off, he said “Really? All I noticed was how beautiful the flowerbeds looked and how straight the rows were planted”.
I thought about what he said a lot that night, trying to figure out if he really could have only seen beauty in what was a terrifying experience for me. What I finally realized was that he was trying to tell me I was focusing on the wrong things. I was letting fear control my experience, and because of that I could not relax. Had I instead focused on the flowers, or the prisoners training puppies to one day become service animals, or even the basketball game going on in the distance, things could have been much different. All it required was a change of perspective.
I wish I could say that the next week went great and I was able to easily change my focus, but a fundamental change like that doesn’t come easy. What I can say is that each week got a little better, and I started to see and hear things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I spent some time looking at the flowerbeds and the puppies. I started noticing the smiles on the prisoners’ faces as we arrived at the field. One day I listened to an inmate talk about how he volunteers his time to work with suicidal prisoners. You could see the genuine compassion on his face as he explained how he had helped save someone’s life the night before. It was amazing to hear how he tries to encourage his fellow prisoners, assuring them that they have worth despite their circumstances. And isn’t that one of the reasons why we were there? To show these men that they have worth despite the crimes they have committed?
We communicated worth to these men in a few ways. First, we showed them Christ’s love in action. We took the time to come out, shake their hands, and play softball with them. But more importantly, we took the time to talk to them about God. Pastor Justin would start each game with a message and a prayer, and once the game was finished we would break off into small groups and pray with the prisoners. During these times the men got to hear about our God: the God who conquered sin and death, whose Son gave his life so that we could live forever in Him, the God who does not keep a record of our wrongdoings. At first, I wondered if the inmates listened to the messages just to get to the softball game, but over time I saw and heard things that led me to believe that the Holy Spirit was definitely bearing fruit from the seeds we planted during our visits.
If I could pass along just one thing, it would be to encourage you to test the limits of your comfort zone, especially when it comes to spreading the love of Jesus and his message of forgiveness. Try saying yes to a ministry opportunity that you wouldn’t normally get involved with. My prayer is that you’ll gain some valuable insight, change lives for the better, bring people to Jesus, and hopefully discover something about yourself along the way.