There are moments that change the course of the rest of your life. Sometimes you aren’t even present when those moments come. Moments that change the DNA of your family. One such moment came with a fishing trip, an invitation, and Ted.
A gruff cement worker, wrinkled and ornery, with kind and mischievous eyes, Ted had a deep understanding that he had been saved from much. He came from a hard life, much of which he had created himself. He didn’t express his emotions; he didn’t hug; he didn’t have a problem telling you what was wrong with you. But he loved God, and showed it through many acts of service.
The Fishing Trip
When I was 9 years old, my father went on a fishing trip with a good friend. A group of men traveled to Canada, and set out each morning in boats, two by two. They were there to catch “the big one.” Little did my dad know that Ted had in mind a different kind of catch.
Elliot, my dad’s friend, said to him, “I’ve got to ask you a favor. Will you fish with my brother, Ted? None of the other guys will be in a boat with him.” Dad’s response, “What’s wrong with him?” “Well, he’s kind of a missionary. Talks about Jesus all the time.” Dad had been a Sunday School teacher since he was a teenager, so he thought, how bad could it be? “I’ll fish with him.”
So out in the boat they went. Dad and Ted hit it off right away. It turns out that Ted was a cowboy and a pilot, but not much of a fisherman. Dad still laughs, telling about Ted’s awkward attempts at casting. On the third day, Elliot said to my dad, “Come on, you’re my fishing partner today.” To Elliot’s dismay, Dad replied, “Gee, I’m sorry, but I promised Ted we would go back to this great spot we found yesterday.”
Every day for a week they went out. Each day Dad tried to get Ted to talk about Jesus or missions work. But he stayed silent on the subject, content to fish. And he dangled a different kind of bait in front of my dad by being evasive.
“Your brother tells me you do this missions work. What’s that about?” A little nibble…
A few hours later. “Well, where did you go on these missions trips?” Nibble, nibble…
Dad kept asking, and Ted kept giving him just enough to frustrate his curiosity. By the end of the trip, Ted had shared with my dad part of his history. After retiring from cement work, Ted needed something to do. He met a man who did missions work and traveled with him to places like South America and Mexico. His latest trips had been to Haiti, where they built a church and a clinic and planned to build an orphanage.
Dad left the fishing trip having made a good friend. Ted had not caught his prize yet. But he had a plan. Three weeks after the fishing trip, Ted called my dad. “I’ve got an opportunity for you from the Lord.”
“Ok. Tell me more,” Dad said suspiciously.
“I’m taking a group to Haiti to build that orphanage I was telling you about. These people don’t know which end of a hammer to hold. I could really use someone like you to help supervise. You wouldn’t have to do any work, just tell the others what to do.”
Dad took the bait. Ted set the hook and reeled him in!
The Pentecostals and the Orphans
And so a few months later, my father found himself on an airplane with Ted and 21 others headed to Haiti. He knew something was different about these people from the moment he arrived at the airport. All hugs and “praise the Lord”. “I swear they had ‘saved’ 6 people before we even got on the plane!” he said later.
“What did you get me into?!” Dad exclaimed to Ted.
“Oh, did I forget to tell you? They’re Pentecostals.”
They made it into Haiti and loaded on a truck to head to the small village of Rankit in the mountains. On the way up the mountain they got a flat tire. As Dad recounted to me later, “Did they change the tire? No! They got out and prayed!”
But for all his complaining about these strange people, my father returned from 10 days with them a changed man. They prayed and they sang and they hugged, but there was something refreshing, authentic, captivating about the short-term missionaries.
They made it up the mountain and began to build. Ted supervised the team as they put up the walls of the orphanage. At times, “supervised” meant that he took a nap under the shade of a nearby mango tree.
Orphan children ran around the construction site, playing games and watching the strange white people. The team was there to build them a home where they would be taken in and taken care of. But they had already banded together to take care of each other.
My dad recounted giving one child a Ritz cracker. Instead of shoving it in his mouth and devouring it, the child took it to a circle of other children nearby and broke it into tiny pieces, giving each child a few crumbs. This was a moment that helped to shape my dad, and in turn I was shaped from it, too, even though I was thousands of miles away at the time. Do we take the blessings we are given in our lives and devour them on our own selfish wishes, or do we share the pieces of ourselves with those around us?
From Ted and from the Haitian orphans, my dad learned to give, and give generously, especially to widows, orphans, and others in need. Ted and my father later started an organization called Craftsmen for Christ. Their mission was found in James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Now my husband has become president of that non-profit and continues to mobilize people in special projects to help those in need.
Dad came home from Haiti with lots of pictures, and even more stories. I did not know it at the time, but the course of our family had just been altered.
On a rooftop in Haiti, Ted had told my dad about being tricked by his wife into attending a meeting. There he heard about having a “personal relationship with Christ,” and he started to wonder how his life of drinking, gambling, and swearing would affect his two young daughters. As Dad listened to how Ted’s life was changed through knowing Jesus, he said, “But He’s not here! Jesus died on a cross. He was resurrected. Now He is in heaven with God.” This is what my dad thought was a good Sunday School answer.
“No, no,” Ted replied, “He’s right here, right now.” As Dad told me the story, “I did not realize that Christ is alive and lives within us.” It took time to wrap his mind and heart around that truth. Today Dad has formed his life around the experience of Jesus, right here, right now. Ted’s missionary efforts were not just to the Haitian orphans.
Soon after his return, Dad insisted that we go to Ted’s church. It was completely different from our quiet little Methodist church. Loud music, loud preaching, loud praying. The first time I went to a service, this lady in the front row fell over for no apparent reason! I had never heard of being “slain in the Spirit”, nor did I want to hear about it. But over time I began to see what my dad had seen on that trip to Haiti. Authentic, loving honesty flowing from hearts that truly wanted to love and honor God.
At that church, I found a love for worship. Through music, God captured my heart and whispered to me that He loves me. And I can sing back to Him with all that I have, “Thank You for loving me. I love You, too.”
At that church, my family discovered the blessing of hosting people from other countries. Through my youth pastor we were connected with a teenager from Germany who spent a year with us and changed my world forever (a subject for a future article). Because of her, we hosted many other foreigners, eventually connecting me with my husband.
At that church, I found my mentor and dear friend. Ted’s daughter took me under her wing when I was 14. I helped her in the church office with typing and filing, and she helped me learn to love others well. She still teaches me over 20 years later.
At that church, I found my calling. A desire was birthed inside of me that I am now living out. I work in a church. It seems like a small thing, but I have a sense inside that I am living out my purpose. I help people. I point people to Jesus. I use my gifts to serve Him and others as faithfully as I am able. And I fit there like a piece of a puzzle, completing my part of the picture. All because of Ted and a fishing trip.
You see, a single act, a single invitation – “Come to Haiti” – can cause ripples in the water of this life that bless generations. How many more have seen the ripples from Ted’s life affect their own?
Deep Love, Agonizing Tears
Ted passed away in his home at age 91. That day, I was privileged to experience a precious time with his family. We were in the porch of Ted’s house before the coroner arrived. Ted’s daughter knelt by his body, covered with a thin sheet, and her love overflowed over him as she wept. Deep love, agonizing tears. It reminded me of Mary Magdalene, washing Jesus feet with her tears. At that moment, Ted was not gruff or hard or demanding, he was Daddy. It was like she was crying tears for the whole world. Ted had died, and the world would not be the same.
Ted had given so much to so many. He came at it through faithfulness and service. He showed his love through actions. And in turn, he showed God’s love through actions. But there were times when it was necessary for him to use words. On a rooftop in Haiti, he told my dad about the most important thing in his life – Jesus is right here, right now, and wants us to know Him.
Ted became my dad’s best friend, and that friendship helped Dad understand what a relationship or friendship with Christ meant. To this day, Dad asks his Sunday School kids, “What’s the one thing?” I pray that you would know what the wrinkled old missionary fisherman taught my dad. “Have Jesus as your best friend.”
If you would like to know more about what it means to have Jesus as your best friend, I would love to talk to you. Send me a note and start the conversation.