Capt. Ben Marler.
You may not know his name, but if you drive on U.S. Hwy. 98 in Destin, you have most likely seen him.
He is known as “the man on the bridge.”
A year ago on Good Friday, March 29, 2013, Capt. Ben held his sign for the first time at the Marler Bridge, named for his grandfather.
The longtime Destin fisherman and “fisher of men” has held a sign twice a day at various locations in Destin and Fort Walton Beach for the last year.
But on that first Good Friday of his ministry, Capt. Ben was brought to tears. His first sign, “Jesus loves us and proved it,” got very little response from those passing by.
“So many drove by me like a flash, seemingly not caring at all,” Capt. Ben told The Log.
By Easter morning, he had a new sign — Jesus Is Alive For You — and the people responded. They would honk and wave, blink their lights, or put thumbs up as they drove by, and those walking would stop to talk.
“As an evangelist, if that’s what God made me, my sagging spirit was truly being lifted,” Capt. Ben said. “It didn’t take me long to realize the Lord was in this, for He’s hurt that few seem to care how much He truly loves them.”
Through rain, wind and ice, whether hot or freezing, Capt. Ben kept “signing” the love of Jesus — and nothing stopped him.
“Having shingles for about five months or more was a huge problem, but there was no way that was going to stop me from going,” Capt. Ben, 75 years young, said. “Many were praying hard for me, and the Lord heard them.”
Even when a torn rotator cuff slowed him down, Capt. Ben said nothing was going to stop him unless it was the Lord.
“I’ve watched folks change and sometimes it took a month or more, but the Lord finally won them over,” he said. “I think seeing me out in terrible weather helped to win them over.
“Sometimes a plow has to cross a field many times before the farmer can cast his seed.”
Over the last year, people of all nationalities and from all states, young and old, have stopped to talk to Capt. Ben. He has given them signs to take home and start a ministry of their own, like Mary Jane and Paul Rice of Branson, Mo.
Capt. Ben gives them books he has written, including “Going Fishing.” And he has hundreds of photos on his Facebook page of those he has met. Now, he is into making videos and posting those.
The best part of his bridge ministry, however, is the children. He loves to see them when they ride by in the cars and wave and smile at him.
And many have come from churches and schools to encourage and share signs with him.
“The children at Rocky Bayou Christian School Destin made me a sign with their footprints on it and also those of Leigh Ellen, their teacher,” Capt. Ben said. “Then their praying for me when I was allowed to speak to them at the school was an experience impossible to beat. So many children were laying hands on me.”
Capt. Ben has had disappointments during the last year while holding his signs high in the air for a couple of hours twice a day.
“The most disappointing is how so few pastors joined with me,” he said. “I’ve ticked them off, I guess, for the Lord isn’t pleased with ‘church’ services, in my opinion. We need to hit the streets and places where there are lost folks that we can love for Jesus.
“I am of the firm conviction it’s my duty and privilege to not only lift Him and His Holy Name up daily, but also to be an encourager to others who don’t do it.”