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After retiring from the sea, he found an anchor in faith

DAPHNE, Ala. (BP)–The old man and the sea have spent a lifetime together, but it was just 15 years ago when he met the Keeper of the sea.

James E. Hanson, a fisherman who has spent about half a lifetime casting his nets into the waters of the Gulf Coast, has much in common with another James and the other disciples of Jesus who fished similarly in the Galilee more than 2,000 years ago.

“We used nets and seines, just like the old fellas did long ago when the Lord was here — not exactly that same way, but similar,” said Hanson, 89, of Daphne, Ala. “Each man had 650 feet of net. My daddy and his brother-in-law owned a boat that we fished from.”

Hanson also noted, “I’ve been through lots of storms.” He was about 4 when the great hurricane of 1916 hit the Gulf Coast. He’s ridden out many other storms, including the benchmark Hurricane Frederic in 1979.

Hanson left his nets to become a tugboat captain around 1940, towing barges from New Orleans sometimes all the way to Miami but most often to Panama City and Tampa.

With a strong voice and relatively good health, though he has some hearing loss, Hanson loves to talk about his days on the water and his faith.

“A friend of mine was a cook on a tugboat and he told me, ‘James, you’ve been on the water all your life, and you ought to come over here and learn how to tugboat.’ So I did and learned it,” he said, adding, “I loved it! I loved it!

“It was something different every minute and no time to think,” Hanson said. “You had to watch your Ps and Qs, not for yourself, but for men down there on the deck who could get hurt or killed, and you had to watch out for them. It was strenuous, but I loved it,” he said.

Hanson retired from the tugboat company at age 65 after transferring to office work due to eyesight problems.

Despite a legacy of involvement at Daphne Baptist Church, it was not until Hanson was in his 70s that he met Jesus Christ, the Keeper of the sea, and embraced him as his Savior.

“It didn’t hit me just like that, it just came on me the way it should have the first time. I just went to church and said, ‘Lord, help me,’ and he still helps me,” Hanson said.

“I know I am saved. If people don’t know it, I’ll tell them,” he said. “When the Lord does something for somebody like he did for me, you’ve got to tell somebody about it.”

Hanson’s daughter, Martha Taylor, said he tells “doctors, anybody he comes in contact with, he asks them if they know the Lord.”

“In the last 15 years, the Lord saved me, and I depend on him fully; there’s nothing that I do or don’t do that I don’t ask him about,” Hanson said.

“My daddy and mother used to carry me to church in a one-horse wagon,” he recounted. “Every Sunday morning we got into the wagon and went to Daphne Baptist,” which was then at its second location along Sixth Street.

In the late 1800s, the church was known as Mission Baptist, with its original location just off Old County Road. When the church was at its former location and known as Bay Shore Baptist, Hanson’s great-great-grandfather, Hans Peter Hanson, was the first pastor there.

At that time, preaching was held once a month, and in 1892 the pastor’s salary was $7 a year. The total annual budget for the church was $10.25, and there were three members, according to a book on the church history.

Later, Hanson’s parents and other families mortgaged their homes to erect the church building at its location on Sixth Street, he said.

Hanson is the oldest of eight children and has three surviving siblings – a sister, Marie Cole, and brothers Marion (Bubba) and Austin Hanson. Hanson and his wife, the late Helen Deaux Hanson, have six children.

Hanson was elected deacon at Daphne Baptist in 1989. He was named deacon emeritus in 1997.

Though talkative and informative, Hanson is quick to diminish his own importance and point out great men who have been so vital to the life of the church.

Bob Crawford, the pastor from 1946-49, is one who Hanson remembers as important in the life of his family. The current pastor, David L. Hudson, is another important person. “He preaches his heart out,” Hanson said.

“God is going to do great things here,” Hudson said about the church and Hanson’s part in it. “We have a really positive spirit and God is blessing the folks. We’re getting new people almost weekly. The church has a new vision and outlook about serving the Lord, and brother James is right in on that.

“He’s a very dear man who is there every Sunday morning,” the pastor continued. “As far as being really active, he can’t be, but is faithful in attendance, gives faithfully to the church and loves it very much. He’s a joy to have around. If he’s not there, he is sick; he wouldn’t miss church for anything.”
Wade is a correspondent with The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.

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  • Anthony Wade