For more than three decades, Tom Amstutz spent his time on the football field teaching young men how to make tackles and touchdowns.
Since retiring as head football coach at the University of Toledo in 2008, Amstutz has been working with young men in a different setting – behind bars at the Toledo
“I’ve been spending a lot of hours in prison,” Amstutz said with a laugh Tuesday night (Aug. 13) during a Service of Healing and Wholeness at Epworth United Methodist Church in West Toledo.
“I was taken to a place I was not expecting to go after 33 years of coaching,” Amstutz said of volunteering in prison.
He went to the prison to observe a program by Kairos, an ecumenical Christian ministry (the word kairos is Greek for “the opportune time”) at the Toledo prison, which houses 1,289 inmates ranging from medium to maximum security.
Amstutz said he was sitting in the back of the prison gym, next to one of his former UT football players who was now a guard, and inmates recognized him and kept trying to talk to him.
His area was out of bounds for prisoners, so he went over to their section of the gym.
“I found myself sitting in the middle of about 100 inmates and having conversations with all of them,” Amstutz recalled, “and suddenly I said, ‘OK, God, I’m getting your message. You must want me to come here.’ It was a very comfortable feeling. I felt like I might have something to offer these men.”
He has since become a regular volunteer with the Kairos program, and also teaches a three-hour “Evangelism Explosion” class on Mondays at the Toledo prison.
Speaking at Epworth on the topic of “Forgiveness,” Amstutz said inmates typically “have forgiveness issues.”
“They’re told you have to be in this cage for this many years, you have to wear that uniform every day, you have to do this, you have to do that. So they’ll be reminded every day of what they’ve done,” he said.
“Take a look at the Lord’sPrayer,” Amstutz said. “It says, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ So we are to forgive those who trespass against us. So if we want to receive that forgiveness, we are also being required to forgive others.”
He recalled one inmate getting visibly upset by a lesson on forgiveness. The man had been attacked by another prisoner and had been plotting revenge for a year. He had just acquired a shiv, or knife, he planned to use on the other prisoner.
“He had a lot of pain — a lot of physical and emotional pain,” Amstutz said.
But the injured inmate took Amstutz’s lesson on forgiveness to heart and abandoned his plans for revenge, the coach said.
“He said, ‘It feels like I was drinking poison to try to hurt the other guy, but I was really only hurting me,’” Amstutz said.
The coach also spoke on grace, quoting the biblical book of Ephesians, Chapter 2, verse 8: “For you have been saved by grace and not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not a result of works that anyone should boast.”
“We don’t deserve it, yet God loves us so much that by turning and having our faith ih him, he will love us and forgive us and save us. And that is just an awesome, awesome understanding,” Amstutz said.
Epworth’s Service of Healing and Wholeness, held at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month, included songs, prayers for healing, the reading of scriptures, and Holy Communion.
“Healing is not magic, but underlying it is the great mystery of God’s love,” said Beth Irwin, Epworth’s director of health ministries.
The Rev. Keith Luke, citing scripture in James 5:8, was joined by Epworth members Dolli Darah, Penny McCartney and B.J. Brengartner in praying for and anointing with oil anyone who needed healing. Nine people stepped forward in turn, kneeling at the altar to receive prayer.
Afterward the service, Amstutz, 57, said he has been a Christian since he was a student at UT and now attends church at Westgate Chapel. After retiring, “I wanted to find out whatever God had in store for me.”
According to the Toledo Kairos website, more than 800 inmates have become Christians since the ministry began at TCI in 2003.
“Kairos has had a huge impact on lives,” Amstutz said. “God’s a very big God. I’ve seen many men repent and many lives changed.”
Saturday (Aug. 17) is Prison Awareness Day, with local events including a variety show and silent auction to benefit Kairos from 6 to 9 p.m. at Maumee High School (tickets are $5 in advance from Allen Drown, 419-351-7084, or $7 at the door) and a Prison Awareness program from 1-5 p.m. at Bethlehem Baptist New Life Center, sponsored by United Pastors for Social Empowerment and Toledoans for Prison Awareness (visit www.toledoprisonawareness.org for information).