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'WEEKEND OF CHAMPIONS'

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by Jon Hann

On a seasonably warm Georgia weekend in April, 342 volunteers from all across America converged onto 12 prisons, jails and juvenile institutions for the purpose of sharing some good news.

This scene is played out more than 20 times each year throughout America and is the result of 27 years of ministry by former all-pro defensive end, Bill Glass.

Glass retired from the Cleveland Brown’s in 1969 and in 1972 he began his prison ministry when he visited a prison in Marion, Ohio. "A friend in Akron, Ohio, Gordon Heffern, challenged me to go into prisons", said Glass. "I decided to try one." Thousands of prisons later, Glass is still going strong.

"It’s probably one of the best prison evangelistic ministries today," said Ron Dooley, Field Director for Campus Crusade Prison Ministry.

Joining the team of volunteers are platform speakers including star athletes and reformed criminals such as Harold Thompson, an ex-bank robber who once made the FBI’s ‘Top 10 Most Wanted’ list. A Federal Judge in Cleveland eventually sentenced him to 99 years in prison without parole. In 1975 President Richard M. Nixon, paroled Thompson, who later decided to go back to prison as a team member of the Bill Glass prison ministry.

Generally, anyone can be a part of these major prison crusades. You just have to have a heart for sharing the gospel with prisoners and be willing to stick to the program. Glass calls his heavy hitting ministry, ‘Weekend Of Champions’.

A highly effective tool used by the Glass crusade is a pamphlet entitled ‘Four Spiritual Laws’, written by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade. Volunteers are trained to share the booklet, explaining the salvation message in 4 easy steps. Volunteers are also encouraged to share personal testimonies as they visit the inmates in their general living areas and even at their cells. Visits to death row are allowed and often prove to be very effective as the condemned men and women hear that Jesus still loves them. "By the time we left ‘death row’, they were singing and dancing," said one volunteer.

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Approaching the Lee Arrendale prison in Northern Georgia, you’re greeted by razor wire, fences and gun towers with guards at the ready. However, on this weekend, first impressions were not lasting.

Grateful to be there was Bob Horn, on this, his third prison visit. "It’s great," said Horn. In June of 1998, Horn went back to the San Quentin prison where he and Glass visited his old cell.

This visit to Lee Arrendale was not the first for the Bill Glass Ministry. The friendly and helpful guards made it obvious that a strong relationship had been established over the years.

After entering the prison, volunteers were escorted to a large fenced area where they waited to greet the inmates for the first phase of the program. As the very orderly prisoners were marched in, their looks of apprehension and curiosity soon gave way to smiles as they made their way through a long corridor of warm, accepting volunteers, eager to shake the hand of each prisoner.

As the weekend progressed, the prisoners at Lee Arrendale were entertained by author and magician, Rick Nielson, heard the music of Nashville studio musician, Zach Reynolds, and saw Tino Wallenda walk forwards, backwards and do a headstand on a wire 30 feet in the air. They heard the testimonies of former pro-athletes, ex cons, and Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Ron Kuntz, who is also a staff photographer for the Cleveland Indians. In addition, they had an opportunity for a personal visit with a volunteer. By the end of the weekend, of the 1,200 prisoners at Lee Arrendale, 206 prisoners had made the decision to accept Jesus. "I know that God sent the Bill Glass Ministry team to this prison," said an unidentified inmate.

Overall, of the 12 institutions visited during this ‘Weekend Of Champions’, 1,118 of the 6,589 inmates made the decision to receive forgiveness for their sins, by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

In a successful attempt to make the weekend crusade what it was, several of the guards happily volunteered their services. Staff Sergeant, Wade Dixon was one of those volunteers. ‘I told my Lieutenant that I would work," said Dixon. I knew my men were gonna’ be here so I had to be here. Besides that, I’m a Christian. Three months ago I gave my life to Jesus." With conviction in his voice he added, "You know those hard people that nobody thinks are ever gonna be saved? God’s gonna get ‘em." Bill Glass must certainly agree as his ministry is scheduled to visit 350 prisons in 1999.

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Editors Note: In my eleven years as a prison evangelist, I have never seen volunteers treated so kind by prison officials. A special thanks to the officers and guards at the Lee Arrendale Prison. To be a part of the Bill Glass, Weekend Of Champions, call 972.291.7895. There will be a ‘Weekend Of Champions’ prison crusade in Ohio, July 8-11. Sign up now!