As a Bible college student I worked a swing shift in a local plastics factory to support my new wife, as well as pay for my tuition. Cathy (my wife) worked at the school, and with the help of my G.I. Bill, we were able to make ends meet. The foreman at the local plastics factory was a young man named Ray. Ray did not like Christians, but the owner of the company hired them from the nearby college, regardless.
I don’t know why Ray disliked Christians. Maybe he’d had bad encounters with them at work or while growing up. Sadly, we Christians often don’t let our lights shine as we ought. On my very first night of work Ray made it clear that he didn’t like me, and made derogatory remarks about my Christian faith. He treated me gruffly, snarling at me for little or no reason. This went on night after night.
A note of confession: I am not normally one who turns the other cheek easily—I turn what’s inside the cheek much better. When someone insults me my natural inclination is to insult back, or at least stand up to the insult in some way. However, in Ray’s situation, God gave me supernatural grace to endure his insults. I say supernatural because each time he insulted me I felt an amazing calm and peace. The more he insulted me the more I prayed for him. Cathy and I made Ray a regular prayer item in our nightly devotions.
I asked God how I could reach this guy. God answered my prayer through His Word. Loosely paraphrased, Paul said that he became all things to all men that he might win a few for Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23). I needed to find out what made Ray “tick,” so that I could somehow reach out to him.
I needed to build a bridge into Ray’s life.
I found out that he loved tropical fish. It was actually his passion. At the time I didn’t know a guppy from Moby Dick, let alone a Jack Dempsey, black ghost, or kissing gourami. All I knew was that if I was going to become all things to Ray, I had better learn about tropical fish.
One night I expressed my interest to Ray, and asked his advice on how to get started. He mocked me for my ignorance (which I expected), and made me feel like a fool. I took it. God’s grace. I asked again. Same. I asked again and again. In time I wore him down, and he told me what I needed to know. I asked if I could come over to his house to see his aquarium, get a sense of what might be involved. To my surprise he said yes.
Ray had a monster tank, at least 100 gallons. His tank was amazing. Breathtaking! The number and variety of fish, the various colors, the obvious care with which he placed rocks and sand and artificial plants was the work of an artist. Clearly Ray loved fish. I could feel his eyes on me as I oohed and awed over his fish; I suppose, gauging the sincerity of my reaction. I wasn’t faking. I was truly inspired.
Upon Ray’s advice, Cathy and I bought a 55 gallon tank with all the trimmings. It was way more than we could afford, but we took the plunge anyway. We set it up behind our sofa and it was beautiful, the focal point of our apartment. Ray helped us with fish selections, and even came over to see that everything was working as it should.
“Don’t ever put tetras in with cichlids,” he warned. “The cichlids will eat them.”
“Oh, I was wondering what happened to them,” I thought to myself.
Never did that again.
I continued working at the plastics factory, and over the weeks I noticed a change in Ray’s attitude toward me. There was a bridge of growing friendship between us now. The mocking had ceased, fish talk replaced it. I had become all things to Ray. I had become a tropical fish enthusiast.
Then one night as I arrived at work, Ray told me that he wanted to talk with me about something. He’d obviously been waiting for me. I figured he wanted to tell me about a new fish or gadget he’d bought. We went into the back of the factory where we were alone. He told me that he wanted to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I was shocked. The man who hated Christians wanted to become one. I coached him in the “sinner’s prayer” that night, holding back tears as Ray prayed and became a child of the King!
That night God taught me a valuable lesson. I need to love people where they are, regardless of their response to me, or to the Good News I bring. I’m to pray for them, even if they’re my enemies. I’m to model Christ before them, become a bridge builder. I’m to become all things to them, a selfless act that takes supernatural grace.
Jesus said that he would make us fishers of men. In Ray’s case He used fish to catch a man.