In the Southern Baptist church, there once was an organization called Royal Ambassadors or “RAs” for short.
The name came from a verse in II Corinthians that said we should be ambassadors for Christ.
We had a RA group in our church. I’m not sure if we were ambassadors or just a bunch of rag-tag boys looking for something to do.
The head of the RAs was Ralph Cardell. If anybody was ever an ambassador for Christ, it was Mr. Ralph.
A family in our church had a piece of land with a spring-fed pond on it. They offered it to be used by the church. Cardell stepped forward and thought it would be a good thing to take boys fishing and swimming at the pond.
During the late winter and spring, we cut weeds and cleared a way into the pond, which was overgrown with every kind of weed and underbrush that could be found in Walton County.
All the boys went to the pond each Saturday riding on the back of Mr. Ralph’s pickup, a 1953 Chevrolet. A first it was half-dozen boys, then a few more heard about it and wanted to come. Before long, that pickup was loaded with boys. On a few Saturdays, we had to get a second pickup, sometimes ours.
Cardell was a truck driver who spoke with a bit of a speech impediment. We would pray before we left and pray again when we got home. Along the way, Mr. Ralph would dust off his Bible and teach us about Jesus. I don’t recall any kind of formal lesson. It was just Mr. Ralph and his well-worn and read Bible.
By summer, we had cleared the brush, and a load of sand was brought in to create a beach area.
Mr. Ralph acquired a large cable and welded a handle onto a pulley. It was the first zip line I ever saw and it took awhile for me to develop the nerve to ride it down into the water.
Once during that summer, the girls were invited to come out and swim. My recollection is that we thought our boys-only club was being invaded, but our protests went unheeded.
Ralph Cardell taught a bunch of boys, including some who didn’t have a father, how to fish. He had a tackle box with all kinds of hooks and gizmos and there was a moment of excitement when a boy caught his first fish. There was a large bass that eluded us most of the summer that was captured just before Labor Day.
Ralph Cardell was not a fisherman, he was what Jesus called, “A fisher of men,” or in this case, men of the future.
There is an old hymn called, “Let Others See Jesus in You.” It has a line that says, “Keep Telling the Story, Be Faithful and True, Let Others See Jesus in You.”
I saw more of Jesus in Ralph Cardell than most people I’ve ever seen.
In my mind, I can still see him in a work shirt and pants with a truckload of boys who bought his dream of fixing up a place to enjoy the summer.
More than 40 summers have come and gone, and a few weeks ago, Ralph Cardell’s time on this earth ended.
I’m a better man because of him.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.