A message in a bottle.
It's something people romanticize and sing about. They can hold treasure maps and love letters and sometimes, they can change a person's life. That's exactly what one Destin native's mission was 30 years ago.
The grandson of one of Destin’s founding members, William T. Marler, Capt. Ben Marler spent his life on the water, becoming a captain after his father's death in 1970.
Now retired, Marler has spent the last six years working on a street ministry. You might have seen him standing on the side of the road in Destin, holding up a sign that says “Jesus loves you” and wearing a contagious smile. But Marler’s ministry began a long time ago.
As captain of Her Majesty II in the ‘80s and of Emmanuel in the ‘90s, Marler decided to start putting small Bible tracts with his contact information inside glass Gatorade bottles and throw them out to sea during his fishing trips.
"I drank over four quarts of Gatorade a day, it was so hot and I had all these bottles … and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know people often find notes in bottles,” Marler said.
The now 80-year-old said he would get all of the children on the boat together and tell them to throw the bottles in the water.
There was just one catch.
“I want you to pray over it first,” he would tell them.
"You see these kids, maybe 5, 8, 9-years-old and they run out there holding that bottle and their eyes are closed and they’re looking up to God and I said ‘Now what you wanna do is pray the right person finds it.’ And then I’d watch them toss it and they’d come in and say ‘We did it’ and I’d say ‘You did a good job.’”
Marler said only the Lord knows where all the bottles went but he remembers three stories in particular.
A man who was about to attempt suicide on Dolphin Isle told Capt. Marler the message in the bottle saved his life.
A couple walking on the beach discussing their divorce found a bottle and credit that discovery to saving their marriage.
Perry Ann Cromer was visiting family in Niceville when she went for a walk on the beach in the summer of 1980. In a letter to Capt. Marler, she said the message helped her during one of the most trying times of her life.
But Marler doesn’t take any of the credit.
“I’m just promoting Jesus,” he said. “He can use me to do whatever he wants me to do. That’s why I live.”
Marler also spent two years working in a jail ministry before retiring in 1998 and has written several books about his faith and about what Destin used to be like, such as his book “OLD DESTIN: Through the Eyes of a Child.”
“When I graduated college, I hated writing but I’ve written over a million words for Jesus,” Marler said.
Now, he spends his days ministering to others through his street ministry and talks about his faith in live videos on his Facebook page.
“God made me an evangelist 47 years ago,” Marler said. “I want everybody in heaven with me.”