A ticket to a “wayward pastor” by a game warden opened doors and hearts.
Joseph J. Fricke
Learning how to witness in the classroom can’t prepare you for everything. Sometimes lessons are best learned by messing things up. Boy, did I ever get my chance on a sunny Saturday in late February.
“Hey, Blacky! Let’s go fishin’.” I had no idea of the impact that invitation would have on my life and the lives of two people I was going to meet.
“Yeah! Let’s go!” said Blacky, my brother-in-law.
We gathered our gear and left. Our only fishing option that day was the Snake River.
I called Bill Blatt, a gentleman from our congregation. He managed a restaurant and took care of some cabins for a sportsman’s club that had exclusive rights to fish a short stretch of the Snake River. He assured me that we were welcome to come down and go fishing. He said he’d leave a permission card since he wouldn’t be around, letting others know we had permission to go fishing as his guests. As we pulled out of the driveway, evangelism was the last thing on my mind.
We arrived at the river and started fishing. After a few hours we had caught three trout and were ready to head home for supper. On the way back to our car, a gentleman stopped us and asked to see our “membership cards.” A little curious at the request, I said, “We’re here fishing as guests of Mr. Blatt.”
“Then I need to see your driver’s license,” the stranger replied. I obliged, and he wrote down my information. We headed home, and I didn’t give it a second thought until the next day.
The following morning, I was out in the garage, when a tall, young man in a uniform approached me and asked for Joe Fricke. I replied, “I’m Pastor Fricke. How can I help you?”
Frank, the game warden, said, “I understand you were fishing without permission at Snake Falls yesterday . . . and you caught a few fish.”
You can imagine what Frank was thinking: “This guy’s a pastor. He ought to be doing the right thing.” After all, it is important for people in positions of trust, especially pastors, to obey the laws of the land.
I explained that I had permission from the caretaker to fish as his guest. It had never been a problem before.
Frank replied, “The caretaker does not have authority to give you permission. You have to get permission from the sportsman’s club. However, in my business one learns quickly how to spot a liar, and I can tell you aren’t. I won’t ticket you for taking the fish, but the sportsman’s club does want to press charges, so I have to give you and your brother-in-law a ticket.”
I was embarrassed, frustrated, and angry. The ticket was $75! Worse yet, “Pastor Caught Fishing Without Permission!” is not the kind of headline you want to see in the local paper. Blacky had to pay the fine right then or go to jail. We chatted awhile as my sister-in-law went fishing in her purse for the cash to pay the ticket.
When Blacky’s ticket was paid, Frank left. My gut was telling me, “Always be prepared . . .”. Did I just miss a chance to witness and share? Yes, I missed a chance! “Lord, please give me a second chance!”
I called the caretaker right away and left a panicked message. He wasn’t due home until later that night, so I did my best to forget about it and went about preparing for our Friendship Sunday the next day.
Later that night, as I was trying to relax in the living room, the doorbell rang. It was Frank! We invited him in. He told us he had called the president of the sportsman’s club and explained what happened. They were dropping the charges. Phew! Ticket forgiveness is awesome!
Two prayers answered! No fine, and I got my second chance! The voice in my head was shouting, “Always be prepared to give an answer . . . ”. Frank was not leaving my house without an invitation this time.
We chatted awhile, laughing about the situation. As Frank was about to leave, I invited him to our Friendship Sunday service the next morning. He thanked me and left.
Sunday came and church started, but no Frank. The invitation had been extended. However, more regret. “Always be prepared to give an answer . . . and don’t forget to get their contact information.” I didn’t want to have to go fishing without permission to get the chance to talk to Frank again.
Fast forward to Easter Sunday. God gave me a third chance. As I was greeting people at the door, who shows up? It was Frank and his fiancée Dana. An invitation extended and accepted weeks later! God is good. After church, I arranged a time to meet them. This time, I got their contact information and went to visit.
At that visit I learned that Frank and Dana had some church background but had strayed from church. When I asked how they were getting to heaven, they replied, “We’re not sure. We were just raised to believe we were going.”
God has an answer for that, and I was prepared! This time I got to offer forgiveness—total unconditional forgiveness with the Lord. I shared the gospel, and I invited them to begin a Bible information class. On the Sunday after Christmas, Frank and Dana were confirmed.
Frank and Dana are still laughing about the day we met. “The chance encounter with the ‘wayward’ pastor from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church brought us closer to God,” says Dana. “We were looking for a place to start our new lives together and a church that was focused on the truths of the Bible. Pastor Fricke’s invitation was the beginning of that journey. The forgiveness brought to Frank and I through Christ’s death on the cross has been such a gift, and having a church to reinforce those truths is wonderful. Having that steady rock to turn to in times of personal and professional challenges has made it feasible to continue to grow in our relationship with the Lord and together. We often reminisce about our chance encounter and how one simple act can impact your lives—and the lives of children who weren’t even born yet—for a lifetime.”
Total fish caught that February day? Five! Three trout, plus Frank and Dana. A few lessons were learned as well. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). You never know when the chance to tell someone about Jesus will present itself. If you blow it, pray for a second chance. God may give you one or three or more.
Finally, if you are ever in north central Nebraska, meet Frank and Dana in church. If you meet them while they are at work, they won’t hesitate to give you a ticket.
Joseph Fricke is pastor at St. Paul, Mauston/St. Paul, Adams, Wisconsin.
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Author: Joseph J. Fricke
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016
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