Through wind, rain or heat, shingles and pain, Capt. Ben Marler continues to stand on his “grandpa’s bridge” in Destin — the Marler Bridge.
Almost every day, sometimes twice a day, since Good Friday, Marler has been there with his signs held high proclaiming the love of Jesus. As cars pass by, locals and tourists honk their horns, blink their lights, whistle or give a thumbs up.
In his latest book, “Going Fishing,” Marler gives a day by day account of his time at the bridge as he shares his faith with those who pass by. Many have come to stand beside him, including children from Rocky Bayou School in Destin and teens from Destin United Methodist Church, tourists from many states and locals, young and old.
This is God’s Bridge Ministry, catching souls, and Marler is His “fisher of men.”
“He’s shown me the Bridge Ministry is all about Jesus and the restoration of Destin to being Holy Ground,” Marler told The Log. “For a long time I didn’t understand why I was being led to go back up there day after day until it dawned on me, lots of folks love Jesus, they just don’t express it often.”
“Going Fishing” also gives readers glimpses of early Destin, thought-provoking meditations, first hand tips, true stories of live encounters when "fishing is good," and even when it isn't.
During the last couple of months, Marler has taken his Bridge Ministry to Fort Walton Beach’s Brooks Bridge, named for his great-grandfather, and moved it slightly in Destin, this week showing up on Danny Wuerffel at U.S. 98.
“I've learned to move a short distance from the bridge to the traffic light which gives me face to face access with folks who respond,” Marler said. “By moving to the Honey Spot I've met so many who accepted my ‘business card’ and promised to pray for me as they wait on the light to change.
“Now, it's a bit more difficult at my great-grandfather's Brook's Bridge, where a fellow could be run over in a heart beat. One young lady recently was leaving Okaloosa Island too fast, cell phone in hand, and was skidding toward me. Thank the Lord she got control of her car or we would have ‘met’ in an embarrassing way.”
Marler writes about these encounters with the people he meets during his “fishing trips” and of the warriors Jesus sends to give him spiritual reinforcement.
“There are many families, and people visiting the area who take a sign back to their communities in other states to start their own Bridge Ministry,” Marler said. “The first one was in Branson, Mo., and continues to grow daily.”
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The 75-year-old sea captain/evangelist was known for many years for his soul-winning “fishing lessons” aboard his boats, Emmanuel and Her Majesty II. As a natural born fishing expert, Marler taught his customers how to fish and they caught thousands of pounds of fish.
Retired in 1999 from party fishing, Marler now teaches Christians how he fishes for the souls of men. He has had time to write four books, folksy and down to earth about Destin of the old days and a topic closer to his heart — serious personal evangelism.
“I believe fishing is spiritual,” Marler said. “Hopefully I can express it in a way that readers who find themselves snagged by Jesus can also be fishers of men, women and children.”
This book treats readers with glimpses of early Destin, thought-provoking meditations, first hand tips, true stories of live encounters when "fishing is good," and even when it isn't.
“This is a ministry anyone can do, elderly, children, teens and adults, and it brings joy to those doing it and those who see them,” Marler said. “It costs nothing, but a piece of poster board and something to write with. If you are looking for a ‘concrete’ outreach, Bridge Fishing may be for you.”
Proceeds from the book go to Marler’s Old Destin Fund to help the hurting and those in need. It may be purchased at amazon.com, Christian Lifeway Center, Destin History & Fishing Museum, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I'm hoping this last book will go nationwide, at least in the sense it will provide an historical account as to how all this sign business for Jesus came into being,” said Capt. Ben.
“Any of you want to go fishing?”