BALL AND GLOVE – HARVESTING TOOLS
By: Barry Copeland
The inmates watched intently as the visiting team walked through the gates into the ball yard. To see anyone from the outside was a novelty, but this group was different. These men gave the
impression they were not just another team; they looked like they knew how to play the game.
The red-and-white uniforms bore the title “Sports Outreach.” Several were former pro football players, but the majority were regular guys – electricians, plumbers, mechanics, office managers,
Today the inmates would not only be faced with line drives and good defense, but also the opportunity to meet Jesus.
It started 5 years ago when Dale Sies received an invitation: “Why don’t you bring your church softball team to Seoul, Korea, for the Olympics?” The plan was to have exhibition games and provide the players with opportunities to share their faith.
Sies is minister of recreation at Bethel Church (Assemblies of God) in San Jose, California. With eight teams playing softball in the summer, recruiting 10 or 11 men for a trip wouldn’t be
difficult. Sies prayed. God impressed him, Why do you want to go overseas and do this when you are not doing it at home? He realized he didn’t need to go far away to find a harvest field. A
bumper crop was ready in California.
“I talked with a friend, Paul Graham,” explained Sies. “Paul serves as chaplain for the Oakland Athletics, and I thought he would give insight to what God had laid upon me.”
As the two talked and prayed, a plan came together. “We invited certain players from different teams,” Sies said. “Of course we wanted good players, but we looked to the biblical books of
Timothy and Titus for specific leadership qualifications. We knew these men would be doing ministry and needed to meet the requirements. We decided to take the team into prisons and tell
inmates about Christ. We wanted players who were above reproach.”
A barbecue was held at Sies’ home. Prospective players/ministers and their families were invited. Graham said, “We told them about our idea of playing ball for God instead of ourselves. Our
invitation was to the whole family. These men needed the prayers and support of their wives and children.”
After the roster was set, the players went into training. In weekly meetings they discussed spiritual warfare and personal evangelism and memorized Scripture verses. Each learned how to
share his faith in 3 minutes, because some prison officials won’t allow much time after games for evangelism activity.
Sports Outreach goes into a prison one Saturday each month. Prison officials know before the team arrives that they are a ministry team and will play ball with inmates only if time is allowed
afterward to explain God and his love.
Introductions are made before the first game of the doubleheader. Everyone on both teams gives his name and the position he will play. Each Sports Outreach member concentrates on a particular
player during the game. He does everything he can to communicate that he cares for that inmate.
The team members are careful not to embarrass anyone. The prison world is filled with intimidation, but the Sports Outreach players show that real men live for Christ. To be a Christian in prison takes a toughness not found within the inmates themselves; it must come from God.
After the games are completed, an award is presented to the most valuable player on the prison team. Tracts resembling baseball cards are distributed. These cards feature Christian professional
athletes with their testimonies.
“By the time the games are over,” continued Sies, “we are friends with the guys. We break off one-on-one and share what God means to us personally. Then we give each an opportunity to ask questions and pray.”
The Sports Outreach team enters each institution expecting results because the way is prepared with prayer. Usually 8 to 10 inmates respond at these events.
Inmates are encouraged to write members of the outreach team at the church address. This provides continued ministry to them while they are in prison and possibly after they are released.
The team’s reputation is spreading. Invitations from prisons come regularly. The demand is greater than the team can meet.
“We have invited other churches to have men join us, and we train them,” Sies said. “They get a taste of what it is like to share Christ in the prison setting. They return to their churches and
start their own ministry programs.”
Many outreach team players have become soul winners outside prison as soul winning has become their lifestyle. The Sports Outreach team has learned a new way to win, even if they never score runs.
Churches are encouraged to contact prison, jail, and detention facilities about sending sports teams into those harvest fields. Bethel Church has found this to be a training tool and fruitful
ministry during the Decade of Harvest.
(The above material appeared in the October 11, 1992 issue of
Christian Information Network