Prison ministry competes with inmates, then prays with them


 COLLEYVILLE, TX — A week ago, Steve Butler stood on a practice field near Colleyville Heritage High School and ripped softball after softball far into the sky, beyond the outfield and into home run heaven.

In September, Butler and his softball bat will be on the grounds of Folsom State Prison in California, where Charles Manson and Timothy Leary once strolled around the cells.

Butler will be there to compete with inmates in a home run derby, in which batters compete to hit the most home runs from pitched balls.

Butler, 48, of Southlake, will be in California with five other members of the sports ministry squad Messengers Prison Ministry. For more than 10 years, the group has traveled to 68 prisons nationwide and played slow-pitch teams of inmates.

Most weekends, the Messengers — men from cities including Keller, Bedford and Houston — pit their skills against all-star teams of thieves, burglars, drug dealers and other felons.

After every game, the Messengers huddle to read Scripture, preach and pray with the inmates.

The home run derbies are a new phase of the Messengers’ ministry.

"We were playing six to eight games a day at the prisons, and many times it was in the middle of summer," Butler said. "It was just wearing us down and pretty soon we were not having enough guys show up. With the home run derbies, we just need about four to five guys."

The Messengers plan to compete at San Quentin State Prison and Folsom State Prison in California in September. The other members on the trip will be Tim Dawson of Bedford, Nate Pike of Keller, Steven Razo of Grapevine, Mike Eustace of Houston and Ozzie Windham of Canton.

The ministry: The Messengers are a branch of Sports Reach, a nationwide sports motivational organization based in Campbellsville, Ky., that fields softball and basketball teams to promote Christianity. The squads also visit colleges, hospitals, churches and homeless shelters.

The local Messengers will spend about $5,000 from their own pockets; other individuals and business contributions help pay for equipment, uniforms, gasoline and motel rooms.

They have played more than 1,000 softball games with inmates and signed up more than 1,500 inmates for Bible studies.

Messengers member: Dawson has been on the prison ministry circuit about 10 years. He’s a flight simulator technician for American Airlines.

Dawson said that he was initially apprehensive about walking into a prison and playing softball with inmates.

"Sharing the Gospel was our main emphasis, and that calmed me down," Dawson said. "I realized that someday those guys would be getting out and maybe telling them about the Lord would make them a different person when they got out."

Former inmate: In 1997, Eustace was in the Eastham Unit of the Texas prison system for shoplifting Guess jeans from a Foley’s in Harris County.

Butler and the team showed up to play softball against the inmates. Eustace was one of those inmates.

"Wow, they just creamed us," said Eustace, a locksmith in Houston. "I think I scored the only run with a home run, but that was it."

After playing the Messengers, Eustace told Butler that he was going to play with the Messengers when he got out.

When he was released in 2000, Eustace called Butler. He wanted to be a Messengers player, and he also brought along his skills as a magician.

Warden: David Stacks believes in the Messengers. He’s known about them for eight years, since he was warden at the Eastham Unit in 2000.

Stacks is now the deputy director of management operations for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville.

"I’ve seen what a relationship with Christ will do for an inmate," Butler said. "I know we’re not changing every one of them, but we’re there to give them a chance."

Online Players interested in the sports ministry should go to these Web sites.

Messengers Prison Ministry:

Sports Reach:

Source: Messengers Prison Ministry

I’ve seen what a relationship with Christ will do for an inmate."

Steve Butler
of Messengers Prison Ministry