In the 1990s, an international art dealer befriended an African American homeless man named Denver Moore.
Their story, as told in the award-winning novel “Same Kind of Different as Me,” demonstrates the impact on lives of any stature when the world of privilege and virtue genuinely collides with that of misfortune and destruction.
The author, Ron Hall, originally journeyed into the poorest part of Fort Worth, Texas, out of sheer repentance. In several commentaries, he openly admits to being more of a “writing checks” kind of guy, than one who liked to get his hands dirty.
But he had been unfaithful in his marriage. His wife wanted him to come along on her volunteer expedition at the Union Gospel Mission. And he was willing to do whatever it took to repair her heart.
When his wife’s wishes became a request for him to reach out to Denver, the most unsociable, possibly dangerous soup kitchen visitor, he was well beyond his comfort zone. Ron’s first encounter with him, in fact, included a fight in the meal hall and a threat to kill everyone in the room.
Denver wouldn’t even speak to Ron and his wife, at first. But nonetheless, Mr. Ron gave it his best. He pursued Denver for five months, looking for ways to get to know him, learning his story and coming to know his name.
But their courtship reached a pivotal point one afternoon, when Ron had taken Denver for coffee. Until that point, their discussions had been vague and Denver had remained extremely guarded. If this whole “friendship” thing was going to continue, there was something he needed to clear up.
There was this “catch and release” thing that Denver had heard about. While his culture would catch a fish, show it off and serve up the meat for dinner, there were some he knew that would go to all the trouble to capture a fish only to turn around and release it back in the water. Denver was afraid that Ron, a wealthy man who was seemingly willing to do anything for him, was a “catch and release” kind of guy. He’d had plenty of those relationships in his troubled life already, and wasn’t about to be another person’s hobby.
“If you is fishin’ for a friend, you just gon’ catch and release, then I ain’t got no desire to be your friend,” Denver said to Ron. “But if you is lookin’ for a real friend, then I’ll be one. Forever.”
Ron Hall’s motivations for venturing into the life of Denver Moore, are not all that different than most in their infancy of service work. We volunteer because it makes us feel good; we want to help. We feel sorry for people. We hope perhaps we will lead someone to Jesus Christ. And good deeds, of course, seemingly make up for bad ones.
After all, in Matthew 4:19, Jesus calls people of faith to follow Him by becoming “fishers” of men. So, why not check the box with just a few hours of our precious time, rescuing the downtrodden, saving a few souls or blessing others with our presence?
Consider what it means to be a fisherman.
Sacrifice—Inserting a sharp spear through the bowels of a living being.
Skill—Casting a line way out in the middle of a watershed.
Patience—Waiting sometimes hours for even a simple nibble.
Presence—Paying just enough attention to respond to the bite at just the right moment.
Steadfast love—a willingness to do it all over again.
Fishing for people, much like the sport of fishing, is a job, an investment of time and a commitment. We can catch “fish” all day long, but if we don’t keep them it is not only our soul that goes unnourished.
Think about it.
You catch a fish, and release it. How many more times does that fish have to be caught before someone decides it is valuable enough to keep.
I like to think that Jesus was more interested in how we caught fish and what we did with them, than the sheer number of fish that we caught. As Ron Hall discovered, his willingness to enter a real relationship with Denver Moore had a healing power for both of them.
If we look at the ministry of Jesus, that’s what it was about. He truly cared for the people he healed. He was intentional with those he spoke. And he invested in relationships, even with those that no one else wanted. If we want to “follow him” and accomplish the goal of fishing for people, that’s what we have to do.