Fisher of men

Published 11:59 pm Monday, March 2, 2009

One could say it was a love of fishing that led Donal “Don” Ammons to serve the Lord, eventually as a teacher of children in China.

The 1967 graduate of Red Level High School worked for General Motors before being called to preach in 1981. A mission trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, and an afternoon trip to the beach set in motion a path that has allowed him to touch countless lives through the Lord.

“I went and spoke at this home for wayward kids,” Ammons said. “I thought that was what the Lord wanted me to do. So, from there, I did a little outreach at a local jail. In exchange, the prison people said I could fish afterwards since the jail was on an island. I caught several 100 ocean bass. I had never caught so many fish in all my life. I fished until I was so tired that I couldn’t sleep.

“So, I just sat there,” he said. “I thought of the verse, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ Then I got to thinking, I was a pretty good fisherman, and I heard His voice.

“He said, ‘Become fishers of men.’ Then China popped in my head,” he said. “Then I knew what I was meant to do.”

Ammons said he was hesitant but quickly changed his mind after being inundated with all things Chinese.

“Every time I saw the news, the newspaper, a magazine — whatever,” he said. “It always had something to do with China.”

Soon Ammons began his educational journey that eventually landed him as the founder of a boarding school for Chinese children called Country Flower Kindergarten.

“My wife and I made our way to China as a missionary in 1992,” he said. “I had the opportunity to study the Chinese language at the university, and in turn, I taught them in English.

“It just goes to show how bad they wanted to learn English if they let a Southerner from Red Level, Ala., teach them English,” he said.

Ammons said it wasn’t long before he was “baptizing people in our bathtub” because open ceremonies weren’t allowed.

“The thing that is amazing is the Bible is an awesome book,” he said. “It has a lot of power, and when they began to hear these words for the first time, it was amazing.

“There are striking similarities between the written word of God and Chinese characters,” he said. “For example the word ‘ship’ as a written Chinese character is a boat, or an ark, with eight people in it.

“When you point out things like that, let’s just say I was able to lead a number of Chinese people to Lord by using those characters,” he said.

In 1995, Ammons and his wife divorced. In 1997, he remarried a native of Ashan, China, who was also an opera singer.

He said it was his divorce that opened the door to teaching fulltime.

“Baptists don’t believe that a man who is divorced, according to the word of God, can be a pastor,” he said. “That man can be a missionary. I’m not being flippant. We’re all commanded. I think that He had a different path for me. I now train young men to be pastors.”

Ammons’ school houses anywhere between 40-50 students year around. They learn all the traditional Chinese subjects and have Bible study. They attend classes five days a week and return home on the weekends.

“My wife said it was so hard for parents to give their children a quality education there,” he said. “Each of the disciplines were scattered all over town and parents had to shuttle their children all over town. We centralized it all in one location and we have to turn students away each year.”

The students call him “grandfather,” he said.

When asked why he chose this path, Ammons said, “I go back to Balaam and his mule. Balaam was going to curse the Israelites and he came to this pass. The mule balked and would not move, so Balaam beat the mule. It still wouldn’t move forward.

“Then God allowed the mule to speak, and it told him, ‘Balaam, open your eyes and look in the pass,’” he said. “There stood an angel with a sword to keep him from going through.

“My moral is that God used a jackass. Why not me?” he said. “You’ve just got to be willing.”