I used to accompany my husband on fishing trips to Delaware.
On the boat we went out on was a young woman they called the “boat girl” or “captain’s mate.” She was so energetic. When someone called out “Fish on!” or “My line is tangled,” she was always there.
She was often too busy to talk to me, but I did learn that she was 16 years old and that she had quit school.
I gradually began to see a change in her each time we went fishing. She seemed distracted and tired. When we got back to land, I’d see her leave with several men. Sometimes she showed up late for work, and her clothes and hair were untidy.
The years went by, and I asked the captain why Carla* wasn’t on the boat anymore. He replied that she was too unsteady on her feet to be on the boat. Instead she collected tickets, cleaned fish, picked up after people, and did other menial tasks such as clean up the galley.
The following summer I asked about Carla, but no one wanted to talk about her, or about where she was.
After fishing one night, I was sitting out, enjoying the lovely evening. I watched Carla walk down the street and enter the back door of a house where there was a red light. I knew what that meant.
The next day Carla seemed tired and quiet. When I approached her, she said she hadn’t had much sleep the night before. We didn’t have time to talk.
Later at the office I asked where Carla lived. They gave me directions to the house where she lived with her mother. When I approached the house I couldn’t believe that anyone lived there. It was a battered building resting on stilts that extended over the water.
I climbed the rickety steps and knocked on the door. No one answered. Through the window I could see that someone lived there, but no one was there at the moment. We left the next morning. I didn’t see Carla again that season.
At home I couldn’t get Carla off my mind. I made it a matter of prayer, and the Holy Spirit convicted me to write her a letter.
“God loves you very much, and so do I. Your body is a temple, and God wants to live in you. Jesus died on the cross to save you, to forgive your sins, and for you to live in heaven with Him. Just ask Jesus into your heart and life.”
I didn’t know her address, or even her last name. But I mailed the letter in care of the boat club.
The following summer we went back to Delaware to fish. I asked about Carla, but no one seemed to want to talk about her, or about where she was.
One day coming off the boat I noticed someone sitting in a wheelchair near the beach. Fixated, I walked nearer and realized that it was Carla. I dropped my fishing gear, ran to where she was sitting, and hugged her.
“Don’t touch me,” she said. “I have AIDS. Why would you want to hug me?”
“I love you,” I told her, “and so does Jesus.”
“I know,” she said. “You told me in your letter.”
My husband reminded me that I had to pick up my gear. “I’ll be right back,” I told Carla.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” she said. She was there, she said, because she was hoping she would see me. “I wanted to thank you for the letter,” she said. “It changed my life.” Then she hurried away.
As she turned to go she pointed up. “I’ll meet you there,” she said.
Carla passed away three weeks later. She was 23 years old. She said my letter changed her life. Her life was changed by Jesus; I just delivered His message. More than anything I’m grateful that I listened to the Holy Spirit.
*Not her real name.
Lenora Stackhouse writes from Williamsport, Pennsylvania.