GATESVILLE, Texas (KWTX) Former football star Tim Tebow traveled 40 minutes out of his way Thursday from Waco, where he was scheduled to speak at the annual Care Net banquet, to pay a surprise visit to a high-security men’s prison unit in Gatesville.
“So grateful to spend time with my new brothers in Christ at Alfred Hughes Unit and encouraging them in the hope that Jesus brings!” Tebow later posted on Twitter.
The Heisman Trophy winner turned NFL commentator spent five hours at the prison unit after his foundation was contacted by an inmate's father who learned of Tebow's trip to Central Texas and reached out in hopes Tebow would drop in.
The inmate’s father and hundreds of inmates were surprised when Tebow showed up at around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, accompanied by Waco residents Suzanne and Terry McDonald and escorted by prison officials.
The McDonalds work with a prison ministry called Discipleship Unlimited and were contacted by Tebow's foundation about helping get Tebow inside the unit to visit with the offenders, something the inmate’s father wouldn't have been able to do on his own.
"Just as we were walking onto the sidewalks today, they were yelling out of their windows at him," Suzanne said. "It was like escorting a big ol' rock star."
Suzanne said Tebow first spent time one-on-one with offenders not allowed to be in group settings.
He then spent more than an hour in a commons area talking directly with five inmates.
Later the McDonalds were able to listen in as Tebow addressed 250 men and offered them a message of hope.
"He was just telling them that he was there because he loves them and they have a purpose and they can fulfill that purpose even where they are," Suzanne said.
"And he told them God loves them and there is nothing they could have done that would interfere with that love."
McDonald said that Tebow originally planned to spent just a couple of hours at the prison, but asked if the "spirit was moving could he stay longer."
Tebow didn't leave the property until 3:30pm.
"I was just so emotional, I started crying and was blown away. He was in such a rush when we left but just to spend the day doing this when he could have been doing whatever but this is his passion and it just showed. It meant so much to us and it meant so much to the guys. Just to know someone cared.,” Suzanne said.
Duck Dynasty star Jep Robertson also drove up from Austin to meet Tebow for the appearance.