By Cat Edwards | SOUTHEAST ASIA
When Coach Ben attended an early Sports Friends Basic Training in Thailand, he hoped the experience would prepare him to run his own sports ministry model someday. However, the last place Ben probably envisioned himself serving was the very place his training proved to be most valuable: in prison.
Coach Ben was running a thriving youth soccer academy when some past ‘disagreements’ with the police disrupted his life. One morning, drugs were planted in Ben’s vegetables before he went to market to sell them. The police were tipped off, and, to the devastation of his family and community, the local coach was sentenced to six years imprisonment.
Stuck in a dilapidated cell alongside 200 other inmates, Ben could think of nothing to do but pray. After some time, the coach had an idea. Ben approached the prison management about starting up a soccer team for the inmates.
Discovering he was a qualified coach, they agreed, and 10 people signed up during the first week. The players were drawn to Ben’s style of discipline combined with humility and a genuine care for their lives. More and more inmates decided to join the group.
Eventually Coach Ben took his team to play in a prison league, where they became national champions. Following this he was appointed head coach of the prison’s sports club and was upgraded to a cell with 50 people, and then again to a ‘VIP’ cell of just 20 people. In three months he read the whole Bible from cover to cover so that he could share the Gospel with his team.
One of Ben’s team members wanted to see if the God whom Coach Ben talked about was real, so the man prayed that, if God existed, He would deliver him a Bible into the prison. The next morning, some missionaries arrived to ask if anybody needed a Bible. He raised his hand and believed.
Another man had given up hope because his wife had not been to visit him for two months. Coach Ben offered to pray with him, and the next day his wife showed up. She had been in the hospital for two months, unable to get a message out to her husband. He, too, believed.
Inmate after inmate began to accept Jesus Christ, people with devastating pasts and criminal records. More than 50 prisoners have come to faith because of Coach Ben’s ministry. One new believer wrote to him, “You have given me hope – I thought that the purpose of my life was just to wake up, eat, sleep, and die. But you have given me hope in Jesus Christ, and now I know why I was born.”
Another prisoner gave Ben a child-like drawing. It shows Ben pulling a line of struggling men up a rugged mountain towards a cross labeled ‘Jesus Christ.’ A speech bubble from his mouth says, “fight, fight!” Underneath, it simply says this:
“May you be our coach forever.”
Coach Ben is still in prison. But, when he does get released, he has promised to go back regularly and coach his new sports ministry model. Pray for his release. But more than that, pray that the name of our almighty God, whose plans are so much greater than man’s, would be glorified and amplified through Coach Ben’s extraordinary life and ministry.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55: 8-9