Tom Papania's Blog

Tom's Blog on Prison Ministry, Gods Saving Grace and Mafia redemption

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


After Tom Papania surrendered his life to Christ May 23, 1984, Tom Papania had no idea what God had planned for him.Tom Papania says he was content with being forgiven of all his sins and becoming a "new creation" in Christ. Tom Papania was hungry to know as much as he possibly could about the Bible and enrolled in many Bible studies and seminars. Tom Papania felt he was growing at a steady pace andthe more he knew, the more he wanted to find out about living a Christian life according to God's Word.In May of 1986 Tom Papania's studies were interrupted by his arrest as Tom Papania's past had caught up with him. Tom Papania's involvement with the owner of the restaurant he was working for, Carl Coppola, was the cause of his arrest. Tom Papania had not seen or heard from him for more than 2 ½ years after Tom Papania's salvation experience. Tom Papania was arrested along with six other people. The charges were many: drug trafficking, R.I.C.O.; (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization), C.C.E.; (Continual Criminal Enterprise), attempts and conspiracy to murder, and a few more that cant be remembered right now. The strange thing was for the first time in Tom Papania'slife he was innocent! Tom Papania had committed none of the crimes he was charged with. Tom Papania was arrested and locked up in the maximum security cells of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for a total of 11 ½ months awaiting trial. To say the least, Tom Papania wondered why God would allow this to happen to him now that he had become a Christian. But as the saying goes, "God works in mysterious ways."
Being locked down 23 hours a day gave Tom Papania ample time to study God's Word with little or no distractions other than his court date. From morning til night Tom Papania immersed himself in God's Word. But to Tom Papania it seemed as if he could be learning even more. Tom Papania found out about a Bible College in Tennessee that offered accredited correspondence courses through the mail. Tom Papania enrolled and received the Bible studies weekly. Tom Papania would have to complete a test on those studies before another test would be mailed to him.
It was intended to be a 2 year Bible course and was spaced out accordingly. But, being Tom Papania was locked down for 23 hours a day, Tom Papania finished the entire course in a few months! The Bible College sent Tom Papania a letter asking him how he managed to complete the studies so soon as they were not aware that Tom Papania was in prison. When Tom Papania wrote back telling them his situation, they wrote back saying they were sorry he could not attend the graduation ceremonies as Tom Papania completed in the top 3 of that class. God used that time to further Tom Papania's knowledge of His Word.During the 11 ½ months of incarceration Tom Papania was able to lead Carl Coppola and others to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. One of the charges against Carl Coppola was a murder conspiracy against Tom! Instead the old man in Carl was killed and a new creation in Christ came forth. Praise God! The trial itself lasted a few months and Tom Papania was found innocent of all the charges lodged against him and set free April 1987. When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.
Upon Tom Papania's release he began to work at different jobs but was never fully satisfied. Tom Papania had felt the call of God on his life but had no idea what exactly it was God wanted him to do. While Tom Papania was awaiting trial in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary he was being held in inhuman conditions. Another inmate, Joe Hale, who Tom Papania had never met, saw the conditions that Tom Papania was being held in and wrote a letter to the Judge presiding over Tom Papania's case in the hopes of having Tom Papania transferred from the cell house Tom was presently being held. That cell house was the same cell house that the Cubans from the Mariella boat lift were being housed. These were men Fidel Castro released from Cuban prisons and mental institutions and sent them to the United States. Although the housing conditions were imploring, they were substantiated because the Cuban inmates were not American citizens. But, Tom Papania was an American citizen!! A year after Tom Papania's release there was a riot by these Cuban inmates protesting the conditions and treatment they had received. They actually burned down a large portion of the prison and were eventually transferred to other Federal Prisons where they received better housing and treatment.
Joe Hale had sent Tom Papania a copy of the letter he sent to the Judge to both Tom Papania and his attorney. Joe Hale said he was being released soon and would try to keep himself updated with Tom Papania's situation.Almost 2 years had gone by and it was now 1989 and Tom Papania had no doubt God was calling him to ministry but was still uncertain as to what type of ministry. Then God came through in a very unexpected way: Joe Hale had seen on television and in the local newspaper that Tom Papania was found innocent and released and called the church Tom Papania attended to find out how to contact him. When Joe Hale called Tom Papania he informed him that he had started a local prison ministry and invited Tom Papania to join him.
Joe Hale went to a local prison every Friday evening and Tom Papania now accompanied him. The first few months that Tom Papania had joined with Joe Hale in the prison, all he did was help carry the Bibles and Christian tracts Joe Hale brought for the inmates. Tom Papania was just an observer and servant and was blessed. After Tom Papania had been involved with Joe Hale's ministry for several months, Joe told Tom that he had an old court case in Florida which he was sure would be dismissed. Joe explained the situation to the Assistant Warden of that jail and was told if Joe was found guilty, whether he went to jail or not, he would not be allowed to continue his Friday night services. Joe was confident the case would just be dismissed and asked Tom Papania to take over while he went to Florida to attend his court hearing. Tom Papania quickly agreed, but then wondered what he was going to do. Up until that time all Tom Papania ever did was be a servant in that ministry and other than praying with some of the inmates had never spoken a word. Tom Papania was wondering just what he was going to do that coming Friday evening. Even intense Bible studies during that week brought Tom Papania no revelation as to what he would do or say.
Finally Friday had arrived and Tom Papania had arrived at the prison with the Bibles and Christian tracts and the room they always met in was about two thirds full. Tom Papania started the group off in prayer and asked for prayer requests and praise reports as Joe Hale had always done. A man who Tom Papania had never seen in those Friday night meetings before, just stood up and said "Hey man, I know who you are. You're that guy they said was in the Mafia whose criminal case was all over the newspapers and television a few years ago. "You're Tom Papania." When Tom Papania told him he was correct, the rest of the men asked Tom Papania to share his testimony with them. Tom Papania shared and then gave an invitation for anyone who never confessed Jesus in to their life to come forward. More than half the men responded to Tom Papania's invitation to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!! Tom Papania was in total shock to see this many men come forward at one meeting, most crying and in total humbleness at the cross of Jesus. God had planned all along what He wanted Tom Papania to do and used a group of prison inmates to let Tom Papania know.Tom Papania continued a few more weeks preaching and teaching and says he was blessed each and every week. Joe Hale had called Tom Papania to let him know that he was found guilty of the charge in Florida but did not have to serve any jail time and asked Tom Papania to continue the Friday night services in the prison. Tom Papania spoke to the Assistant Warden, John Barrows and asked him not to cancel the Friday night services but instead allow Tom Papania to head it up. John Barrows was a devout Christian man and agreed for Tom Papania to continue the Friday night services. Within a few months, Asst. Warden John Barrows and Tom Papania became good friends and called upon one another for assistance. John Barrows realized that Tom Papania reached beyond the inmates and also reached out to their family. Tom Papania said that when a man goes to prison, his family becomes a victim of his crime. The wife has to be both Mother and Father and has no choice but to assume all the families financial responsibilities. Tom Papania began using part of his earnings from his employment to help a few of the families keep the wolves away from their doorsteps. Tom Papania also began to supply clothing to the men who had no family to return to and only had the clothes on their back when arrested.
Tom Papania was spending more on these men then himself and wondered how he was going to manage to make ends meet trying to keep this up.Tom Papania had been working for a Christian owned electrical cable company for over a year and had received both increases in pay and bonuses for a job well done as well as receiving a plaque for being the "employee of the year." Tom Papania felt a sense of long term security in his position with this company. At least that was what Tom thought. But, one day right around lunch time the owner of the company beckoned Tom Papania to his office. The owner had tears in his eyes and Tom Papania could sense some very strong emotions. He told Tom Papania that he had been praying for him ever since he was arrested and awaiting trial. He told Tom Papania he had given him those increases in pay and bonuses to influence Tom Papania to stay with his company as he felt Tom was an asset. But, he said, during his prayer time God had revealed to him that all he wasdoing was giving Tom Papania a good excuse not to pursue a full time ministry, and fired Tom on the spot asking him to clear out his desk and personal belongings and leave immediately. Tom Papania was completely stunned and taken back. Tom Papania said, "you can't be serious", only to be told once again to clear out his desk and leave. Tom Papania cleared out his deak and boxed up all his personal belongings and left woundedand feeling deeply rejected.
Tom Papania went home and told his wife Margaret that he had just been fired from his job. Before Tom Papania could go into the details, Margaret informed him that she had filed for a divorce a few days earlier. Talk about a bad news day! Here Tom Papania was unemployed, going through a divorce, and would probably lose his home and automobile, and was devasted and heartbroken.Tom Papania's wife Margaret, moved out a few days later and Tom filed for unemployment benefits. The unemployment benefits were barely enough to pay Tom Papania's monthly expenses and he struggled both financially and emotionally. His best friend and Pastor, Fred Kelly stood behind Tom Papania and kept encouraging him. When Tom Papania could not make ends meet, Pastor Kelly would have the church benevolence fund to assist him for that month.Tom Papania was out pounding the pavement for work every day, but coming up with nothing and was slowly losing any hopes of securing employment. But, things were about to change. Tom Papania received a phone call from the Warden of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary asking Tom to come speak there. Naturally, Tom Papania accepted the Wardens invitation, shared his testimony and the response to the invitation was phenomenal. After that day, Tom Papania began receiving requests to speak in various prisons, jails, penitentiaries, and juvenile detention facilities taking up most of Toms time both day and night.
Shortly after, Tom Papania's divorce was final and he had to give up his house and his unemployment checks ran out. Tom Papania moved into a small apartment and began taking jobs cutting peoples lawns, delivering newspapers, and loading moving vans. Tom Papania was making enough to survive, but not really enough to live on. Something had to give.Tom Papania had a very good friend, Chuck Murch (who is now home with our Lord) who asked to meet Tom for lunch. Chuck knew Tom Papania's car had broken down beyond repair and was also struggling to make ends meet. Chuck had always been an encouragement to Tom and accepted Tom Papania for who he was. He became like the father Tom Papania never had and took Tom into his family as if he were one of his own. Chuck was forced to retire from the Ford Motor Company as a top executive because he was diagnosed with leukemia. In spite of Chuck's illness he continued to play a few rounds of golf each and every day. You could always see the joy of the Lord on Chucks face. Chuck was involved with the Hospital ministry his church had started and asked Tom Papania to join him. Chuck would visit various Hospitals every Thursday but would only go to the intensive care patients rooms. The first time Tom Papania accompanied him, Tom began to cry as they prayed for people with needles andtubes sticking out of them in every place possible. Chuck asked Tom Papania if this was too much for him to see and Tom said no, I'm crying because I feel so guilty of complaining to God about my situation and now I see people who are much worse off than me. Tom Papania washumbled beyond words.In the next few months Tom Papania began to see some people receive their healing that Chuck and Tom prayed for. It was just what Tom Papania needed to lift his spirits.Chuck did more than just invite Tom Papania to be a part of the Hospital ministry. Chuck had a car he was about to trade in for a new one, butsaid God told him to give that car to Tom Papania instead. Chuck also started giving Tom Papania $50 a week to help out with his bills and told Tom to go into full time ministry and stop delaying it, that God would provide all of Tom Papania's needs. Tom got more involved in the prison ministrybut continued to do odd jobs to make ends meet.Some of the men who were released from prison and jails told their Pastors or Youth Pastors about Tom. Soon, Tom Papania was receiving calls from churches of all denominations to come and speak. Tom Papania was asked how much he charged to speak and Tom told them he could never charge for what God gave him freely: his salvation!! They offered Tom Papania free will and love offerings in place of a speaking fee, which Tom still accepts to this day. Tom Papania had no idea what a free will or love offering was at that time. After Tom Papania shared his testimony with their congregation and invited the unsaved to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, the Pastor would then take up the "love offering" for Tom.
Tom Papania was amazed how generous the people were in helping him further the ministry God blessed him with. This was going to be one of God's ways of helping support the ministry as He began to open more doors for Tom Papania.Tom Papania told Chuck what was happening and Chuck suggested Tom get a name for this ministry and incorporate it as a non-profit religious organization as soon as possible. Tom Papania sought out the attorney who had defended him in his criminal case in 1986, Alan Begnar. Mr. Begnar set up the non-profit organization for Tom and God spoke to Tom Papania's heart and gave him the name"God's Saving Grace Ministries." After the application had been accepted by the State, Tom Papania began full time ministry.Tom Papania had already completed Bible studies from Bible College years earlier and his Pastor and the Elders of the church decided it was timefor him to be ordained with all the work Tom had been putting into the prison ministry and the lifestyle Tom was leading. Tom Papania states that was a very exciting day and a tremendous blessing for him to have the ordination ceremony performed by the same Pastor, Fred Kelly, who led Tom Papania to the Lord in 1984.Tom Papania was now going to jails, prisons,and youth detention centers almost 6 days and nights a week with Sunday being his day of getting his battery recharged at the church he attended.
Some of the inmates who had given their lives to Christ had written home to tell their family of the good news. The families inquired as to who was leading these services and was given Tom Papania's name and address. Some of the families wrote to Tom Papania and asked him how his ministry was funded. Tom Papania told them only by free will or love offerings that were taken in churches wherever Tom spoke. Some said they wanted to support Tom Papania financially on a monthly basis to help further the ministry!!! God had once again supplied even another means of income for God's Saving Grace Ministries. By now, Tom Papania had enough coming in not only to support the ministry but also to help more of the families with their monthly expenses. In 1991, a Christian woman Tom had met in a church service where Tom was the guest speaker, Donna McGown, mailed Tom a complete paid in full 16 day trip to Israel, which she herself and one of her friends were also planning on going. Tom Papania was excited, but had no passport at that time. So, Tom Papania obtained all the necessary forms for a passport, and saw that he had to list all his arrests, and got discouraged. But one of Tom Papania's Board of Directors, Bob Wilkerson, suggested the passport application be prayed over before mailing it in. Bob Wilkerson and Tom Papania prayed over it and then Tom mailed it. In a few weeks, Tom Papania's passport arrived! Praise God for answered prayer!
Tom Papania went to Israel not knowing it was Benny Hinn's ministry that had arranged the tour to Israel. Up until then, Tom Papania never knew who Benny Hinn was. There were over 1600 people on this tour from various countries around the world and Tom Papania quickly made many new friends. Tom Papania was so blessed and intrigued by seeing all the sites where Jesus walked and was crucified and His empty tomb and so many other wonderful sites.Part of the tour was a long bus ride to Jaffa where Benny Hinn was born. One of Benny Hinn's Pastors, David Palmquist, who was on the same bus as Tom Papania, asked him to share his testimony. David Palmquist had never heard of Tom Papania before and knew nothing about him but God spoke to David's heart and told him to ask Tom. Tom Papania then shared his testimony with the other 54 people on that bus. When Tom Papania was finished sharing his testimony a man came running from the rear of the bus and hugged Tom and asked if Tom would come to his country and share what God had done in his life. Being this man, Fernando Marchitelli, had a very thick Italian accent, Tom Papania got very excited about the thought of going to his native country, Italy. When Tom Papania asked Fernando when he wanted Tom to come to Italy, Fernando said "Italy?I live in Hong Kong." Needless to say, Tom Papania accepted the invitation and months later Tom was off to Hong Kong. Fernando Marchitelli was a prominent Asian business man with offices throughout Asia. He was very influential with other business owners in that part of the world. Fernando arranged for Tom Papania to speak before a crowd of over 1000 business people from all over Asia, as well as in some of the Board rooms of some of the businesses. Many, many people gave their lives to Christ during that trip and Fernando brought Tom Papania back a few more times in the coming years. Hong Kong was God's stepping stone for Tom to speak in more Asian countries. Tom Papania was invited to Singapore and Malaysia shortly after and returned many times year after year as their guest speaker. One Singaporean man, a Doctor, paid for 2 hours in a professional recording studio so Tom Papania could have his testimony on a cassette tape so it could be spread around a lot more than Tom just traveling from place to place. When Tom Papania would return home from these ministry trips, he would find many more requests from different parts of the country to come and speak. Tom Papania was on the road more than 20 days a month seeing people getting saved on each trip. Tom Papania was booked more than a year in advance and had his faithful volunteers keeping the local prison ministry going while Tom traveled.
In December of 1996, Focus on The Family played a very old tape of Tom Papania's testimony over a period of 3 nights. The response according to Focus was overwhelming. Over 300,000 people had called in and more than 10,000 people requested salvation booklets and Focus could not keep their tape machines working long enough to keep up with all the requests for that tape. Tom Papania states that to this day he has no idea where that tape came from. Tom Papania states it must have been within the first few times he shared his testimony as he was very nervous and emotional and made many errors in words and dates that he used. Tom Papania believes someone must have brought a personal tape recorder to a church where he had once spoken and recorded it. It was of very poor quality and Tom Papania asked Focus not to use it but to use the tape that was made in Singapore instead, but Focus insisted on using the old tape. From that 3 day broadcast Tom Papania was now booked 3 years in advance!! Doors began opening by God that were never opened before and the ministry had skyrocketed. There was hardly a Christian television or radio show or Christian magazine that wasn't asking for Tom Papania. Tom Papania states that was a very uncomfortable period in time for him as he did not want any attention but for all the attention to go to God.Tom Papania never intended to have that kind of publicity but instead tried to keep a low profile just sharing the Gospel with the lost and hurting of this world.Instead of Tom Papania getting an inflated ego, it had the opposite effect on him and humbled him into realizing just how far God had brought Tom Papania from his old life to his new life in Christ. Worshipping and praising God was all Tom Papania lived for.This sudden publicity brought many blessings but also a few unpleasant experiences. But the blessings so outweighed the negative responses that Tom just kept on going and looking forward instead of dwelling on it. It was a very difficult time for Tom, but God was in control and that was allthat mattered. Tom Papania's once local jail ministry had now become an International ministry and Tom visited jails and prisons all around the globe and it blessed Tom to see so many in jails and prisons surrendering their lives to Christ as well as in the churches Tom Papania spoke worldwide.Tom Papania said that one day when he went to pick up the ministry mail, a booklet was sent to him titled "The Prayer of Jabez." Tom Papania took the book home and began reading it. It was the prayer of Jabez asking God to expand his territories. Tom Papania decided to pray that prayer for himself the next few weeks. A few weeks later, Tom Papania received invitations to speak in Canada and Australia!!! Two countries Tom Papania had never been to before. Again, God answered Tom Papania's prayers.
Zoran Paunovich, a Youth Pastor in Geelong, Australia originally asked Tom Papania to come to Australia in 1996, and Tom has been going there ever since!! Tom Papania says he cannot express in words alone how blessed he is every time he visits Australia. Tom Papania was told by the Pastors that every attendance record and salvation record was broken by Tom Papania's first few visits there. The Holy Spirit was moving in Tom Papania's life in an extraordinary way and gave Tom Papania favor with the Country of Australia. It was nothing that Tom Papania did or said, but only the move of the Holy Spirit that made all those things possible. Tom Papania acknowledges that he takes absolutely none of the credit for what God has done. Tom says he has much to be grateful for and how God is using him as long as Tom remains obedient to His Word and calling. God is not done with Tom Papania yet. There are yet more foreign countries inviting Tom Papania to come and share the love of God. Tom Papania actually has a video ministry in India. Tom Papania bought a video monitor and sound equipment for a Pastor in India. This Pastor was originally renting equipment before Tom Papania bought him his own equipment. Tom Papania is also partners with a ministry in Kenya, Africa. Both these ministries occasionally send Tom photos of the fruits of their ministries.Just think: from a local jail to a worldwide ministry.