When I was a kid growing up in California I lived in the Silicon Valley before there was much silicon. Our street had only six houses on it, all on one side of the road, and in front of our home lay the great adventure land of Mr. Dardanelli's orchard. Behind our back fence was another orchard that belonged to Mr. Ashlock. I recently visited this street and today it is surrounded by a hospital and medical businesses. Things have changed.
In those days most of our shopping was done in San Jose, so we would drive home on Winchester Boulevard. Along the road, and behind a chain link fence, were several percolation ponds that belonged to the local water district. To a little boy's reasoning and imagination, something really special must have been in those ponds to have a fence put around them.
When I was about eight years old, my dad, a man who was a child at heart, enlisted my little brother Dwain and me to join him in an adventure. Dad said he was sure that because it was now late summer, and the water was being drained out of the ponds, that the fish in the shallow water would be easy pickings. Little did my brother and I know what Dad had planned.
The day of the adventure arrived and instead of fishing poles dad brought only gunny sacks that he threw in the bed of his Chevy pick up truck and said, “Hop in boys.” We asked about the gunny sacks and dad simply said, “I will show you.”
You would have to know my dad to fully understand what was about to take place. I am sure the “No Trespassing” signs that hung on the six foot high chain link fence were meant for other people, not the Elkins boys. Dad parked his truck out of sight near some bushes and we made our way to the ponds still not knowing what he had planned. As dad held up the bottom of the chain link fence, my brother and I scooted underneath and then stepped into the world of the percolation ponds.
The water was almost completely drained away and now only about six inches remained. There before our eyes were hundreds of the dorsal fins belonging to blue gill, crappie and bass – all swimming frantically around looking for deeper water. The surface of the water was alive. It looked the movie “Jaws” except with smaller fins and without the terrifying theme music.
My brother and I looked up at our dad and he said, “Go get em' boys!” That was all we needed to hear. Into the shallow water and mud we launched. Fish fins were going in all directions. Some were jumping out of the water. Others were swimming away from us like some Alaskan salmon fighting its way upstream. My brother and I were laughing and shouting as we tried to scoop fish into our gunny sacks. Frantic fish are slippery.
Since grabbing fish with our hands wasn't working out very well, we tried a new tactic - punting. We began to kick fish up onto the banks where we could trap them with our hands and feet. This went on for about an hour until several big gunny sacks were filled. It was an amazing discovery to find out that you could fish without fishing poles.
My mom was a very patient woman. She knew that when dad took her boys on an adventure that they would usually return home in various forms of disarray. We left for this fishing adventure wearing a typical boy's uniform of the 1950's – a white tee shirt, 501 Levis jeans with six inch turned up cuffs, and either P.F. Flyers or U.S. Keds high top tennis shoes. Upon our return home, from head to toe, we were adorned in varying shades of drying brown-colored mud with a little green moss tossed in for color.
After “wrastling” a few hundred fish into our gunny sacks, we also smelled to high heaven. Mom greeted her male offspring and her wayward husband with the command, “Hose off in the back yard and take em' off before you boys come in my house.” Mom said this with a smile on her face.
For the next few hours dad cleaned loads of fish. We ate the blue gill, crappie and bass until they came out of our ears. Our neighbors ate a lot of fish as did dad's construction crew and anyone he met in casual conversation for the next few days. The overall cholesterol level of Campbell, California went down that week because of our fishing expedition.
It was easy to get the fish when the water was low because they had fewer options. Fish have a lot of options when the water is high. They can swim at different levels and in various temperatures zones. They can swim away from danger that appears at the surface or underneath the waterline. But when the water in those percolation ponds was drained away, so were their options.
This reminds me of what is taking place today in our world. The financial markets, declining home prices, and the lack of available credit has drained the water out of the pond. The previous options are gone. People are swimming on the bottom with their dorsal fins exposed at the surface. When circumstances like these develop the church needs to find ways to get in among the fish and harvest them.
In John 4: 34 – 36 Jesus speaks about a time of harvest. “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!”
Most Christians can see the opportunity that is before them in this time. We have been looking and we see a field ready to harvest. God wants His people to think outside the evangelistic box we have worked in for the last twenty years. The water has never been this low in our life time and the opportunity has never been so great.
The percolation pond episode taught me something about the harvest.
If the fish aren't harvested they will die.
Most people think these times are desperate because the money is drying up and their options are evaporating. But the real reason these times are desperate is because eternity is at stake and time is running out. Up and down turns in cultures have taken place for thousands of years. This is nothing new. It is new to the fish who are now in a shallow pond.
The Kingdom of God is about harvesting people to eternal life instead of letting them die in their sin and become locked in a state of perpetual death for all eternity. It is never about having cultural redemption as our primary goal – it is about human redemption. Unless a life is redeemed it will not live. Redeemed lives bring change to dying cultures.
There will always be a fence.
God is asking His people to not allow any barrier to stand in their way. Life, hell, religion and culture will put up the “No Trespassing” signs to keep us away from the fish. Harvesters don't see fences with signs, they see fish. Whatever barrier stands in the way we must move past it to get to the fish. To become a harvester you will have to violate someone's “No Trespassing” sign.
You will get muddy.
The day my brother and I stepped into the muddy water the last thing we cared about was what would happened to our cloths. The fish were all we were thinking about.
I want to be that little boy again in how I go after the lost. Many times we look at our personal image and try to stay clean and invite the fish into the church services that we have designed especially for them. Fish really don't leave the pond. The fishermen must go to the pond. If you end up in the pond, everything you own will be touched. Muddy is OK. Muddy water is where dying fish are trying to survive.
We didn't use fishing poles.
Fishing in the percolation ponds required a method of harvesting different than we would normally use in deep clear water. The fish in the draining percolation pond would never hit a lure or bite a worm. They were dying and the past and predictable methods of fishing would not work in these circumstances. This harvest required a new and unusual methodology – feet, hands and gunny sacks.
The harvest will be filled with joy.
The day my brother and I harvested all those fish I wish we could have video taped the event. We yelled and shouted with joy. The expression on our faces said, “Christmas morning!!!” Dad was on the bank laughing and encouraging his sons. The pond that was a place of death was now turned into a place of joy. The harvest made us happy. Even our anticipated return home to mom's smiling directives was filled with joy. Fishing when the water is low promises great joy for those willing to climb under the fence and get muddy.
Years later after I grew up, I came home and drove by those percolation ponds. I stopped and peered through the fence and the memories of that day began to flood back into my mind. I saw a proud father on the shoreline encouraging his two sons. I saw white tee shirts caked in mud. I heard little boys laughing.
That day, as a man looking through the chain link fence, my return home was during the same time of year that we had made our great harvest. There in the mud I saw hundreds of unharvested fish laying at the bottom of the pond rotting in the mud. I was glad my father showed me many years before how to harvest fish when the water gets low.