Mark Perko was searching for
a missing element in outreach ministry for Sabbath Home Baptist Church when he
was hooked by an idea that continues to reel in benefits.
A gregarious fisherman, Perko
was wetting a line from the Holden Beach pier when someone asked the typical
conversation opener, “Are you catching anything?”
“That clicked,” Perko says,
four years after formalizing an informal act in the fishing community —
building relationships by simply showing a natural, non-obtrusive interest.
Fishermen stand hours
shoulder to shoulder along the 700-foot pier in family oriented Holden Beach.
Perko realized that if
church members intentionally engaged those they fished with, and became regular
fixtures on the pier, they could create community and eventually win the
attention and maybe the hearts of their new friends.
And it is working.
Perko, pastor for six years
at Sabbath Home, just across the bridge from the pier, can count 32 people who
have come into the church through the pier ministry.
Six have been saved in the
past two years and he points privately to several fishing quietly one summer
Friday as “future converts.”
evangelism,” Perko said. People who take the time to “get acquainted” find a
receptive audience among others who have been looking for a relationship
without even knowing it.
Gay Lawrence, who retired at
age 40 then fished 14 hours a day for 20 years, started coming to Sabbath Home
because the member ministers at the pier were so genuine, she said.
Gay holds the record for
largest flounder caught off the pier — a fish she actually caught twice. The
first time it broke her line and her husband Clay gave her his pole and said,
“Catch it again.”
When she pulled the 28-inch,
8-pound flounder from the water about 10 minutes later, her original purple
line protruded from its mouth.
Betty and Larry Johnson were
coming to the pier “about every day” and say starting conversations about
important personal issues is easy. Sharing hours in the sun, conversation
naturally turns to life issues and when it does, they offer a Christian
In season after season the
fishermen become community. The Johnsons have hosted a fish fry at their house
for 60 people from the pier.
A season ending event on the
pier draws 100 regulars who share their catch, their stories, and their lives.
Gil Bass owns and runs the
pier and the bait shop and restaurant attached at the beach end.
His father-in-law Lonnie
Small, once a vice president at Campbell University, built the pier.
It originally was 1,100 feet
before Hurricane Hugo blew off 700 feet. Bass could only afford to build it
back to 700 feet.
“I’m glad (Mark) is
out there,” Bass said. “Anytime you have a person like Mark out there the
attitude is different. He’s certainly made a difference.”
Perko has become a chaplain
of sorts to Bass’s employees, visiting them in the hospital even when they are
not members of Sabbath Home.
Perko pulls a wagon onto the
pier with his equipment and some signage that mentions Jesus and Sabbath Home.
His gear attracts many positive comments.
He painted a big selling
“gotcha plug” with the yellow, green, red, blue and white stripes of the
popular witnessing bracelets and designed a corresponding tract for people who
ask him about the unique colors on the lure. The tract’s magnetic question is,
Member and pier patron Tony
DiFranco was baptized through the pier ministry and now he is on the pier three
days a week. His seafarer’s beard, rugged features and hat made him the perfect
subject for the May 2010 cover of Our State magazine.
“I could never get Tony to
go door to door, but he is in his element out here,” Perko said. “He talks
easily to people and invites them to church.”
And that’s the point of the
pier ministry … doing what comes naturally among people with whom you share a
common interest and consciously turning the naturally arising conversation to
It all leads to
community that Perko calls “something like I’ve not seen in a long, long time.”