When my wife, Tina, and I were commissioned as officers, our first appointment was to the beautiful community of Deadman’s Bay, N.L., where Salvationists eagerly shared their faith and Christian love with everyone they met. The community of 250 people relied heavily on the fishing industry for commerce, with the majority of the men fishing for a living and the balance working at the fish plant in nearby Wesleyville, N.L.
Even in my earliest days of ministry, I believed that to have an impact on the kingdom of heaven and people’s lives, I had to die to self and make God’s priority—the lost—my priority. With that in mind, I took it upon myself to know everyone who lived Deadman’s Bay, and to know them well. The only problem was that they didn’t all come to church. We had a congregation of about 55 vibrant Salvationists who loved the Lord, but there were still many in the community who were outside the grace of God.
I realized that if I was to influence the lives of people, in particular the men of the community, I had to go where they were. I needed to engage them on their turf and in their surroundings if I was ever to share the love of Christ. So I joined the volunteer fire brigade and trained and fellowshipped there, building relationships and earning trust. It was on the back of a fire truck during training one night that one of the other firefighters asked about God and religion. I think it was my best sermon!
I also volunteered to work on each fishing boat so that I could get to know the people God had called me to serve. The only problem was that I do not have sea legs. In fact, I don’t have anything sea-related in my body, especially my stomach. So, there I was at 4 a.m. boarding a boat, getting ready to fish for crab, lobster, cod or whatever, depending on the season, praying for calm seas and the strength not to embarrass myself by throwing up.
As it happened, neither prayer was answered. Don Stokes, one of the fishermen, said it seemed that every time I was on the water, it was rough. And every time I got sick. The guys thought this was hilarious, and more than once a “barf bucket” was left hanging on the door of our house. I actually think there were times when they “encouraged” me to be sick, like when Melvin and Curtis Goodyear had me cleaning fish, with my head down, while we still fished. The boat rocked, I got sick and they laughed. If I wasn’t a help to them, I was definitely entertainment.
It was at the end of lobster season when it was time to pull the traps out of the water and stack them away for the next year that God gave me a great blessing. All hands were on the wharf, and there was a lot of laugher at my expense. One of the fishermen simply asked, “Captain, why do you bother coming in the boats with us knowing you are going to get sick?”
“Because your soul matters,” was my response. Nothing more was said.
I spent a lot time doing things that I had little knowledge about, such as baiting traps and mending nets, and rolling up fire hoses and testing equipment, so that I could spend a lot of time with people God was crazy about. One or two of those men came to faith, some came to church, but I pray they all got a glimpse of the love and grace that God freely offers.
I’ve learned a lot of good lessons over the years as I have ministered as a Salvation Army officer. The biggest, by far, is realizing that my main responsibility is to scatter seeds of faith by sharing the good news of Jesus, and then to pray that the message finds good soil and takes root.
Major Chris Rideout is area commander for corps in the central region of the Ontario Central-East Division.