Sometimes ministry takes strange turns. One wouldn’t necessarily consider fishing a ministry, but in the case of Mr. Charles it was.
Mr. Charles, a retired Presbyterian minister, was our neighbor in Omaha and about a year after his wife died, he was diagnosed with leukemia. It was not the virulent leukemia that kills so many young people, He had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, which is a slow progressing form of the blood cancer and is very treatable for several years.
I first met Mr. Charles when I was out walking my dogs and would go by his yard. He was one of the few neighbors who would be outside no matter what the weather was like, and we would often chat for a few minutes. He was thrilled to find out that my husband is a minister and that I am a chaplain, finding a common bond in shared ministry.
When I would stop to visit, some of our other conversations revolved around fishing and the great walleyes that could be found in lakes north of us, although Mr. Charles preferred the trout at a lake much closer. One day he told me how much he missed fishing, and I was surprised to find out he was no longer going out. He explained that his children, both of whom lived some distance away, were afraid for him to go out alone now that he was sick, and the friend he used to fish with was no longer able to.
He talked about this a couple more times when I stopped on my daily walk, and finally it hit me that maybe he was really grieving for this loss in his life. I asked if he would like to go fishing with me sometime.
“Oh, I thought you would never ask,” he said.
“But why didn’t you just ask me?”
“Because a black man cannot invite a white woman to go fishing,” he said. “That is the way I was raised. I could never be that forward. But there is nothing in that code of conduct that says I cannot accept your invitation.”
So, for the next year, Mr. Charles and I went fishing about once a week in prime fishing times, stopping only when winter snowed us in.
Sometimes we would talk about the beauty and bounty of God, and other time we would talk about social issues, or books, or whatever topic struck our fancy. That would always be on the drive to and from the lake, however. The time at the lake was spent in quiet contemplation of the warmth of the sun, the gentle splash of water against the dock, the screech of a gull, or the drone of a curious bee circling our can of soda.
Actually catching a fish was never a criterion for measuring the success of a fishing trip.