He once told me that when he was around ten years
old, his father had decided to take Sam and his brother on a fishing trip. They were in northern California and Sam’s dad had to stop off at a ranger station to ask information or directions or something.
While their father was out of the car, Sam and his brother decided to walk around and explore the open
area. Soon, Sam’s brother came running around to Sam and said, “Quick! Grab the fishing poles! There are huge fish in this pond back here!” Sam and his brother geared up and went fishing.
When their dad came looking for them, he came around to where they were and broke into a run toward them shouting, “No-o-o-o! Throw them back! Throw them back!”
“Look, Dad!” Sam cheerfully called to his father. “This is a great fishing hole!”
The ranger came to where they were hearing their dad was in a panic. As it turned out, they had happened upon a fish hatchery. The fine for each fish was $10,000. They had to put back all the beautiful fish, much to their great disappointment. The ranger then said, “I will let the both of you cast once and only once. If you catch nothing on that cast, then you get nothing. If you catch something, you can keep it as long as you keep your mouths shut about it.”
They each made their cast and each pulled in a large fish. They were overjoyed. All their dad could say was, “Those fish nearly cost me $60,000… Those fish nearly cost me $60,000…”
Sam loved baseball. He had been drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres and played for their club in the Pacific Coast League. In his first and only season, Sam led the league in number of hits and batting average. I think those records stood well into the 1980’s.
Once, Sam and I were driving with a worship minister and she posed this question to us. “If you could do anything, achieve anything, in the world…what would you choose?”
Sam said, “Oh, I suppose it would be to make sure that I was always in the Lord’s will and that I lived according to His complete purpose.” “Wow,” she responded. “And you, Travis?”
“Easy answer.” I said. “Hit the series-winning walk-off homer in the American League Championship for my Orioles against the New York Yankees.” Her response: “What?? That’s
Sam’s response: “Oh, man! I want to change my answer!”
After a year in baseball, however, Sam gave it all up and decided to become a missionary. He was ordained and went into missionary work, primarily in the Marshall Islands. His exploits there are truly legendary.
Eyewitnesses told of Sam’s arrival at one of the Marshall Islands and being greeted with hostility by the local shaman. It is said that the shaman addressed Sam with the words, “I know why you are here. Can your God cause you to do THIS?” and the man began to levitate.
Sam’s answer was, “I know that He can bring you down.” And the shaman dropped 10 feet to the ground. In so doing, Sam had everyone’s attention.
Now, I should tell you that Sam never once told me that story. It was told by others and I don’t know if I believe it but it is a legend worth telling again because it speaks of his larger-than-life status in the Marshall Islands.
Also while serving in the Marshalls, Sam’s boat had wrecked and he was forced to reach the shore by walking along the coral reefs that he knew like the back of his hand. The coral cut through his shoes and tore up the soles of his feet. As a result, the coral actually ate away the bones in his feet and replaced them with coral. For the rest of his life, Sam had to wear what he called his “Frankenstein shoes” because of his need for the extra padding. He had suffered from coral poisoning and would eventually require dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life. He had also lost an eye and was required to wear a glass eye.
Years after he retired from missionary work, he accepted the pastorship of Fountain Gate Church in Plano, Texas. Not only did he become the pastor of the church but also the president of the associated Bible college and headmaster of the K-12 school.
One day, he was passing through the halls of the school and had to stop off at the restroom. The only restroom close enough was the boys’ room and, since classes were in session, he decided to duck into it quickly. However, as Sam sat in the stall, he heard the 1st grade boys coming in for their bathroom break. “Oh, great,” he thought.
One of the boys, named Tommy, recognized Sam’s “Frankenstein shoes” and called into the stall, “Dr. Sam? Is that you, Dr. Sam?” “Yes, Tommy,” Sam answered. “It’s me.”
The next thing Sam knew, Tommy was sliding under the stall door on his back. He had lain down on the bathroom floor, gripped the bottom of the stall door and pulled himself so as to slide right between Sam’s shoes, while looking up at the astonished Sam.
“Tommy?!?!” Sam exclaimed. “Hi, Dr. Sam!” was Tommy’s cheerful greeting. “Hey, Dr. Sam! Can I see your glass eye?” Tommy asked unabashedly.
“Tommy,” Sam replied, “let me get out and wash my hands first.” “Sure, Dr. Sam!” Tommy said.
Sam finished up and washed his hands at the boys’ room sink. Tommy waited patiently until finally Sam was finished. Tommy asked for the eye again.
“Brave kid,” thought Sam, and he took out the glass eye and handed it to the expectant 1st grader. When the boy got the glass eye in his hand, he bolted from the restroom and Sam could hear the girls shrieking as Tommy chased them down the hall waving Sam’s glass eye at them. Sam pursued as fast as he could, calling “Tommy! Give me my eyeball!”
With the girls sufficiently horrified, Tommy gratefully returned the eye to Sam’s outstretched hand. As Sam turned to go wash off the eye, one of the teachers was standing in the hall. She was shaking her head in amazement.
“Of all the strange things I have heard in this hallway,” she stated, “the strangest has to be: ‘Tommy! Give me my eyeball!’”
When Sam was still a missionary, he had flown into Papua-New Guinea on a small plane that landed him on a mountaintop airstrip where he was greeted by three tribesmen who were going to serve as guides and help him with his baggage.
As they wound down the mountain trails, Sam remembered hearing stories about cannibal tribes in New Guinea. He tired to sound bold and curious instead of sheepish and frightened when he asked the leader, “I heard that this country had cannibals even until recently.” The leader said that this was correct and that, in fact, the man directly behind Sam had come from a tribe of cannibals.
Sam turned to look at the man who was smiling broadly. Sam smiled but then heard the second man say, “Yes. Missionary was our favorite meal.” Sam got very quiet and remained so until all three of the accompanying men burst into raucous laughter.
Sam told me, “Sure, I felt like a fool but I was a relieved fool!”
I had actually taught a seminar for Sam at Fountain Gate College in Plano, TX. Sam was in Luzon when I arrived there and so my accommodations were handled by someone else. Instead of being booked into a hotel, I was housed with a family with three daughters. I was given the middle (probably 12-13 years old) daughter’s room to sleep in and was surrounded by dolls and teddy bears and slept in a frilly canopied bed.
The family turned in early so I decided to watch a little television downstairs. I think I was watching a M*A*S*H rerun when the father (probably my age) came downstairs and asked me to turn the volume down. I apologized profusely and turned the volume way-y-y-y down to where I had to sit on the floor about four feet from the screen.
Sure enough, the father returned about three minutes later. “Look,” he said, “You’re keeping us awake. Can you please turn it down?” More apologies and I turned the volume down so low—I’m not kidding—that I had to sit directly in front of the television to hear it.
Again the father returned as said, “It is just way too loud.” After round three of the apologies, I turned off the television and went upstairs to bed. However, being a late night person, I was not at all ready for sleep and so I pulled out Henry Kissinger’s book Diplomacy (ironic, isn’t it?).
Within five minutes the father rapped on my door then opened it with a jerk and said—wait for it!—“The light from under the door is keeping everyone up. Can you just go to sleep?! Sheesh! Next time I’m only going to house guys over 60!” Off to his room he stormed.
As quietly as humanly possible, I got dressed, packed up, and crept downstairs and out the front door where I used a pay phone (there were payphones in those days) to call a taxi who would take me to a nearby hotel. The next morning, I called Sam’s assistant to report where I was. She was mortified and, when Sam got back later that day, Sam was furious.
At least I got a good story from it…
A year later, Sam had resigned from there to accept the Chancellor’s position at Beacon College in Columbus, GA. He wanted me to come along to fill the chair of Church History and Theology. I accepted and moved to Columbus, GA where Sam served for only eight months.
Sam’s health began to suffer and his doctor told him to quit the position. Sam left in March of that year and I was gone by August. I never got to see Sam again. He died, still waiting for a kidney transplant, only a short time later.
So many things I still had left to tell him. So many questions that were still unasked.
Sam was a joker and probably still is. About two weeks after Sam had died, my friend Don
James had a dream about Sam. In the dream, Sam was dressed in a jogging suit with regular sneakers. He looked young and very healthy, Don said. However, Sam had a worried look on his face when he walked close to Don and said sadly, “Don, I had a look at the Book of Life… and your name is not there.” Sam turned to walk away, then quickly turned back to Don and pointed at him with a grin and said, “Gotcha!”
I don’t know about such things, but if anyone could reach from beyond and make a friend laugh, it was Sam Sasser.
When Sam Sasser died in 1995, the Legislature of the Marshall Islands proclaimed a resolution establishing Sam Sasser Day. His wife, Flo Sasser, sent me a copy of the two-page Resolution. It is something I cherish as I do the memory of Sam.
© copyright 2011. Travis Rogers, Jr. All rights reserved.