“The Gospel message? What is that?”
That’s the question a man named Patrick asked Jay Dess – the founder and chairman of 9th Inning Ministry in Omaha, Neb. Dess approached the hard-nosed man seven years ago about using his property across from Rosenblatt Stadium to hand out free, ice cold water with the Gospel message to College World Series patrons.
Dess knew that residents around the stadium often fetched a hefty fee for the use of their property and he was prepared to pay for the premium spot, within reason. So, he made his pitch, handed Patrick a bottle of water and Patrick told him to come back because he wanted to think about it.
“Here’s the terms,” Patrick said after giving it some consideration. “Take ‘em or leave ‘em.”
“Okay,” Dess said. “I may have to leave it, but give it to me.”
“Here’s the deal,” Patrick said. “You can use my property, and you can use it free. Just clean it up when you’re done.”
God was already at work in the man who was known in his neighborhood for having a hard edge. Patrick allowed 9th Inning Ministry to hand out their water – a campaign called “Thirst No More,” that contains John 6:35, “Jesus said, ‘and he who believes in me shall never thirst’” along with an explanation of the Gospel and a toll free number people can call to find out more.
By the second year, Patrick came out of his house and brought his wife and 10-year-old son with him. They piled a wheelbarrow full of what has become affectionately known as “Jesus water” and took it down the street to a spot in front of an ice cream shop named Zesto where his family began handing out the water to CWS patrons.
“Before long, we were running trucks in there,” Dess said. “It ended up being one of our largest sites.”
Patrick was still a work in progress though. He was diagnosed with cancer and his wife eventually left him because his personality was so hard to deal with. With his world crumbling around him, he dug Dess’ card out of the trash one day and called him.
“I went over and presented Christ to him, and he turned his life over to Christ,” Dess said. At first, Patrick objected because he’d done so many bad things, but the Holy Spirit was at work and Patrick became a new creation that day.
“From that day on, he was just a really nice guy,” Dess said. “He came to our church – driving [all the way across the city] and he even sang in the choir.”
Patrick also developed a deep concern for his neighbors. One day he called Dess and asked him to come over to tell one of his neighbors about Jesus.
Over a two-year period, Patrick became sicker and sicker. One day, Dess’ phone rang. It was his senior pastor telling him Patrick had died.
“The last thing Patrick said was, ‘I know where I’m going because of 9th Inning Ministry,’” Dess recalls now, choking up.
“That’s just one story,” Dess said.
He has plenty more, including stories of teens becoming Christians at various 9th Inning Ministry outreach events during the weeks leading up to the CWS.
This year will be the twelfth year 9th Inning Ministry has handed out water during the event that will begin June 18 and run for 11 or 12 days. Dess says they will distribute some 50,000 bottles.
The process will look a little different at the new stadium, T.D. Ameritrade Park, and Dess is still working out the details, but they are expanding their venues all over the city. Some of the water has already ended up in Joplin, Mo., to help with the relief effort there.
The ministry also facilitates free baseball clinics for youth, a baseball breakfast, Bible studies for players who are interested and hospital visitations.