November 10, 2006

A Fish Story–Sort Of

2006 1531 page16 capOR SOME, RECREATION IS THE CHALLENGE of trying to place the ball on the green close to the pin. For others, it takes the form of tennis or watching professional sports. For me, it’s sitting on a pier, wading in a stream, or floating down a river in a boat with a fishing rod in my hand.
I have often justified this pleasurable pastime by citing biblical references that refer to fishing, and expounding on the comparisons between this “exercise of faith” and evangelism—although I’m sure I’ve never fooled anyone about the purity of my motives. A recent experience, however, showed me that the Lord can use simple means—even the sport of fishing—to provide opportunities to witness.

A Little Downtime

2006 1531 page16I was attending a 10-day stint of meetings in Houston, Texas, and on Sunday no committee meetings or other work obligations were vying for my attention. So I found a nearby flea market, bought a cheap fishing rod and reel, and headed for the Galveston coast. I soon settled in for a relaxing day of solitude, fishing on a rock jetty.

Just in case the fish weren’t biting, I had taken along a book of required reading for a doctoral course I was taking: Divine Guidance or Worldly Pressure: Youth Ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, by Malcolm Allen. I laid it down on the ground next to me. The fish were cooperating, however, and I began catching fish and throwing them back into the water—as I always do—as fast as I could throw out my line. I soon forgot about the book.
Before long a few people gathered around to watch and chat. One man, Michael, with a bottle of beer in his hand, sat down next to me. It obviously wasn’t his first drink of the day, but we began an interesting and lengthy conversation. Suddenly his face brightened, and he asked in a rather loud voice, “Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”
“Why, yes,” I replied, wondering how he knew. “Well, I see that name on your book,” he said. He told me he had attended an Adventist church for the first time just the day before.
“I really enjoyed the pastor’s sermon,” he offered. Then he explained in great detail what the sermon was about. I did my best to answer the many questions he asked about the Adventist Church and what we believe, and the conversation ended with Michael saying he was going to “check it out some more.”

Same Question

A few minutes after Michael left, I felt a small hand on my back. Turning, I saw a man and a little girl looking over my shoulder to see what I was catching. We were soon in conversation.

Nino was from Mexico; his daughter, Hope, was born in the United States. Hope was enthralled with the silvery fish dangling from my line. In short order she was seated next to me, helping to pull in the fish I was catching. Again I was surprised when Nino asked, “Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”
I now knew the reason for the inquiry and answered, “Yes.”

Questions for Reflection

1. What's the most unusual setting in which you've been asked to describe your beliefs?  Rate yourself on a scale of one to five:  How did you do?

2. What significant and useful points of Adventist faith would you bring up in casual conversation?  Why those?

Most people who ask about Seventh-day Adventists are on a spiritual journey.  How would you discover at which stage they are (beginning, middle, or end), and how would you modify your remarks accordingly?

When people ask about Seventh-day Adventists, what is the primary thing you want them to take away from the conversation?

Nino began telling me about a series of meetings he had attended in an Adventist church in Mexico in 1985, during which he had given his life to Christ. He said that even though he was now attending a church of a different denomination, the Adventist meetings had taught him that he was loved by God. He spoke of learning about grace and forgiveness, about the Bible and prophecy. His face shone with gratitude for what God had done and was continuing to do in his life. We then prayed together before he and his daughter left for home.

Same Answer
Again I returned to my fishing, but soon a new voice spoke from behind me. This person made no small talk but went straight to the point: “Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”
“Yes,” I answered, no longer surprised by the question. The young man explained that he had once attended Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas, but had gradually left the faith of his youth. He added that he had been thinking recently that maybe he needed to make some changes in his life. We spoke for only a few minutes, and after I shared some encouraging words with him, we said goodbye.
I am sure Malcolm Allen had not intended his book for evangelism, but God used it as such. It gave me the opportunity to share Christ with those who visited the jetty that day. At times Jesus keeps His promise: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt. 4:19, NRSV),* if we simply sit by the water with a fishing rod in hand.
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Larry Blackmer is an associate director of education for the North American Division.