Central Baptist Church, Bald Knob
It is truly amazing how your perspective changes when Jesus comes into your life and you experience the miracle of salvation. About nine years ago I was invited by my employer to go on a guided fishing trip to the Norfork River, all expenses paid! It was everything a fisherman could ask for; a beautiful setting on the river, wonderful food to eat and door prizes ranging from fishing poles to guns to $500 gift cards. I was very excited and grateful to be included in all the activities since I had been with this company for only a short time. Naturally, with this being an outdoor-centered men’s weekend, there was plenty of adult beverages. I made sure my cooler was full and, as usual, I over indulged. The next day, I hardly enjoyed the fishing due to a pounding hangover. While I should have been having the time of my life hauling in those trout, I was worried about my behavior the prior evening…did I make a fool of myself in front of my bosses? Thank goodness, no one was upset about it except me!
A little less than a year after the trip, I started going to church at Central Baptist in Bald Knob, the church my wife had grown up attending. When my mother-in-law asked if she could start taking my 3-year-old daughter to church (because we weren’t), I became convicted that this was my responsibility. I won’t get into my full testimony here, but I went through some serious and awesome changes in my life. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and thank God, I have been saved.
A couple months after my salvation, it was time to go on the annual company trip again. I was excited to return and looked forward to all the freebies that accompanied the trip. When I arrived I realized that this year was different for me. I hadn’t had a drink since the day I accepted Christ. I was very thankful to be included on the trip but I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle the temptation of my old ways. I was still literally a babe in Christ. I felt somewhat alone and found myself more and more in prayer. I kept wishing I had one of my new Christian brothers with me to keep me accountable. This was the spark of a conviction. This spark continued to grow throughout the weekend, I kept thinking, “How cool would it be to be in this beautiful, God-created setting with guys that shared my faith, God-fearing men that wanted to draw nearer to Christ?”
I went to our Men’s Fellowship meeting the following Thursday and told the group about the previous weekend. I soon realized that these were the men that I wanted to experience a trip like this with, these were the brothers in Christ that I wanted to develop a deeper relation with. After sharing with them, the chair deacon in the group said, “Why don’t you put a trip together for us?” My reaction was a jaw drop with a resounding, “Whaaat?” I had never tried to put together or organize anything like this. After researching it a while, it seemed that it would probably be too expensive for our group. I approached the guys with the price per person and all they said was “OK!” My response was simple, “Really? You’re just going to trust me to make this happen?” I hoped that if we got at least eight to go on the trip, we could get a cabin to ourselves. Funny thing is that God had something else in mind. We showed up at the resort with a group of 23! Well in excess of my expectations. Matt Mosler of Beautiful Feet Ministries was our guest speaker on that first trip. We occupied three cabins and had three different church services in the common picnic area that weekend. It was so much more than I had ever imagined it could be. But the best was yet to come! When we returned to church that Sunday night, we gathered for a testimonial service. Funny that no one ever mentioned that it rained while we were fishing that Saturday. Actually, hardly anyone talked about the fishing at all; we were too caught up telling of the fellowship and the worship. The setting allowed us to relax and have fun while also letting down our guards and addressing issues that we struggle with daily. The cherry on top of this crazy, God blessed weekend was when, during the testimonials, a friend from the trip made that walk down the aisle and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. That was almost more than my heart could stand! I can still see all the men in the church that night circling our new brother in Christ, how overwhelmed I became with God’s boundless joy in my soul. I literally wilted to the ground in tears. Because of the conviction God gave me on a company trip, we had just witnessed another name written in the Book of Life. I sat amazed.
There have been six more annual “Fishers of Men” retreats since that first year. Each year has seen us grow in numbers and excitement. I have seen men changed, convicted and sometimes saved on these trips. It is really hard for me to find words to express how important and instrumental this weekend of fellowship and sharing has become to all of us that attend. I have witnessed honesty, love, compassion, self-sacrifice, competition, servant hood, worship, conviction and just plain enjoyment. It’s one of those “God” things that you can’t understand unless you experience it.
Although this fishing trip started as a Central Baptist Church retreat, it has always been open to anyone wanting to come along. On the second year’s trip, a visitor from Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado came with us. He now brings a full group from his area. Guys come from Bald Knob, Batesville, Searcy and El Dorado. As some of our past guest speakers have shared their experiences of the trip with other churches, we have been able to draw participants from out of state. One group from Louisiana joins us annually, and one guy drove from Florida!
It’s crazy when I think that this has all started with a conviction to share a weekend with my new Christian brothers. Over the years, the trip has really shaped itself. It has truly become a Proverbs 27:17 “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” weekend. God has truly blessed this event each year and I have been blessed just to be a part of it.
Jamie McAnelly is a member of Central Baptist Church, Bald Knob. ‘Fishers of Men’ originally ran in Searcy Living Magazine.
Click here to view a photo gallery from the Fishers of Men retreat.