An Arab fisherman told me that the most important characteristic of a fisherman is a strong heart. They sail out in small boats into the ocean. There are often storms and strong winds which can sink the boat. Sometimes the boats take on water and it has to be pumped out to stop them sinking. Sometimes people get hurt out at sea. He told me that once their motor broke down while they were 10km out at sea in a storm. He said that without a strong heart people simply cannot do the job of a fisherman.
As fishers of people we need strong hearts. Hearts that are strong in the faith that comes from God. Hearts strong in love and gentleness. Hearts strong in forgiveness. Hearts strong in kindness and in boldness.
Our strength does not come from ourselves but from God. The bible teaches us that God wants to make our hearts strong. We love much because we have received much. God gives us faith and peace. His perfect love casts out all fear. He gives us the same self-sacrificial attitude of Christ. He works gentleness, kindness and boldness into us through the spirit.
Jesus called Peter a rock. Peter often struggled with fear but slowly God worked in him to give him a heart strong in love, faith and boldness.
If we lack any good thing, we can ask God to give us it as His children.
Go Out to Fish
Fishermen need to go out to sea. Arab fishermen wake up at 4am, go out to sea to collect their nets and return in the late morning. They unload the fish, check the nets and then go out again in the afternoon to lay them again. They go out when it's cold, or raining, or when there are storms. They need to persist in going out. At times, pushing out into situations that look hard. It's better to die at sea than starve on the shore.
Fishers of people persist in going out to where people are. We don't expect people to come to us. We go to the lost. We will learn the language and cultures of the people around us. We sit in their houses, stand at their shops, play in their teams, eat at their tables. We put ourselves into the community around us. We serve, love and meet them in and out of season. We are found among the seas of lost people. At times, we will need to push into what look to be hard or challenging situations. We will need to fight the waves of cultural difference which try to push us away from our community. We will often go out of our comfort zones to where the people are.
Peter learnt to love and serve others and to proclaim Jesus among the lost. Jesus taught him to serve his sheep. He learnt to associate with sinners and Gentiles.
Peter writes later in life that we are to live as servants of God, a people who proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Prepare Their Nets
Arab fishermen have to constantly maintain their nets. One Arab fisherman told me that throwing a broken net into the water is a total waste of time. They sew up the nets in the boat or on shore when they find tears. They clean their nets and check them carefully because they are vital to all they are doing.
Fishers of people prepare their nets. We want to learn to speak Arabic. Learn to relate to people, to participate in their lives and community. We want to learn to build friendships in Arabic. We want to make sure we are learning what will catch people and that we are updating and repairing problems we find with our nets. We want to prepare to provide answers and share stories. We work on going out with words, stories and prayer to the lost. We learn to speak clearly and lovingly. We pray into what to share and with whom. We work on memorizing bible stories.
'always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.'
1 Peter 3:16
Cast and Follow Up
Arab fishermen lay their nets in the afternoon and put markets around them. They go home, eat and go to sleep. The next morning they go out to bring in their nets. It's a different process to river fishing. They lay nets and follow them up.
As fishers of people we want to cast nets and to persist in following them up. When we meet people we want to have some kind of spiritual conversation with them. When we have conversations with people who seem open, we don't want to lose them. We need to think of ways to follow them up. It might mean always trying to take their phone number or give them ours. Or asking when we can visit them again, or marking where their home, shop or workshop is so we can come back again a few days later to see what has happened since. We want to keep following up the fish until they either come to faith or chose not to. If they are no open, we need to move on to fish in new places.
Growing up in the UK, I often thought of fishing as a solitary individual excercise. In contrast, Arab fishermen work in close-knit teams.
An Arab fisherman told me each family in his village have a boat and all the sons and cousins work on the boat. It is a family business. The grown men do the work but they start taking young men out to train them and the older men guide and encourage them when times are hard at sea. They all have their gifts. Young boys help unload the fish. Someone drives it to the market to sell. He said you have to trust every person in the boat with you because you might die together. They also spend so much time together helping one another that they become extremely close. When their engine broke down 10km out at sea in a storm, they called a friend who brought his own family out in a boat to save them. There is family, trust, love and friendship. It is a team task with many giftings and strengths.
As Fishers of people we need to understand we are a family enterprise. We all have different strengths and gifts and we are to work together lovingly as we fish for people. Some need to learn. Some need to train others on the go. Some need to encourage and settle hearts. Some need to unload the fish. Some need to come and rescue even in the storm.
In the Arab world people are very emotionally expressive. A common thing they do when asking a younger relative to do something for them, is to ask them, 'do you love me?' The child will say, 'yes of course grandma. You know I love you!' Then grandma says, 'Ok then sweetheart, quick go bring me my medicine.' It's not about manipulation but about friendship and love.
Jesus said to Peter, 'do you love me?' Peter said yes, and then Jesus told him, 'feed my sheep.' I think Peter got angry because Jesus asked him three times and he thought maybe Jesus didn't trust him to be faithful. Jesus did, and he was teaching Peter the importance of not being better than others, but of being a faithful friend, serving others in the family.