THE ALMOST TRUE STORY OF RYAN FISHER
by Rob Stennett
FROM THE BOOK JACKET:
Meet Ryan Fisher--a self-assured real estate agent who's looking for an edge in the market.
While watching a news special late one night, he sees evangelical Christians raising their hands in worship.
It's like they're begging for affordable but classy starter homes.
Ryan discovers the Christian business directory and places an ad complete with a Jesus fish. His business doubles in a week. But after visiting an actual church, Ryan realizes that with his business savvy, he could not only plant a church--he could create an empire.
THE AD WITH THE JESUS FISH
Even though Ryan Fisher didn't believe in God, he placed an ad in the Christian Business Directory. There were a number of reasons Ryan decided to market himself as a realtor to Christians, but the main reason was his desire to become the most successful real estate agent in Denver. Ryan was one of the best natural salesmen to ever work for Phillips and Sons Realty. He could sell ice to an Eskimo, not because he tricked the Eskimo into thinking he needed more ice-- the Eskimo was smarter than that. The Eskimo could look around and see there was plenty of ice to build igloos with and to keep sodas cold. But he would buy ice from Ryan because Ryan was so likeable.
The Eskimo would find every excuse to run out of ice just so Ryan would come by and they could
talk football and joke around. The Eskimo would even catch himself thinking that he and Ryan could build a lasting friendship--the type where they'd have each other's families over for barbecues, and they would watch the kids play croquet in the backyard as the sun set.
Unfortunately, there are very few Eskimos in Denver.
Which was really too bad, because Ryan Fisher was in a slump. His charm and personality didn't seem to be enough anymore. He hadn't closed on a house in a month. Despite his past successes, he was beginning to feel like a complete failure--as if he were a surgeon who'd lost ten straight appendicitis patients, or a guy who'd asked every girl in high school to the prom only to be rejected by them all, or New Coke.
This story begins after another day where promising real estate leads crumbled into disappointing failures for Ryan Fisher. It was his twenty-eighth birthday, but he didn't want to celebrate. He wanted to crawl into bed and disappear. He wouldn't get the chance.
Ryan walked through his front door and saw balloons, streamers, friends in pointy hats, cake, and roll-out paper whistles. It was time to party. He should have felt touched that his wife Katherine went to all this trouble. She'd probably spent weeks organizing this get-together. He needed to act grateful. He needed to push the bad day out of his mind so he could mingle with his friends. His successful friends. With their exciting careers and great stories.
He was turning twenty-eight, he'd been at the real estate game for five years, and he was average. He'd worked hard and was a great salesman, but things were about as good as they were going to get for Ryan. He never got the lucky break, the right connections; and now his life was destined to spiral into mediocrity. There'd be nothing but work and two weeks of vacation a year (and even then there wouldn't be money for Greek Isle cruises or a Bahamas beach house; he'd have to settle for road trips to Iowa and last-minute discount fares to Delaware). Then, in the end, there'd be nothing to look forward to except retirement and death.
After the party he tried to fall asleep next to his wife, but when he closed his eyes he kept seeing a picture of his friends cruising around on a yacht, sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas, while he and Katherine were in a tugboat. All of Ryan's friends were wearing white pants and laughing at Ryan. Then, thankfully, the yacht cruised out of sight leaving Ryan and Katherine to drift and stare at each other.
Ryan got out of bed, walked downstairs, flopped on the couch, limply aimed the remote at the cable box, and flipped through all late- night television had to offer. There wasn't much. One channel had cooking gadgets. The next had Chuck Norris pitching exercise equipment. Ryan decided that most people wanted two things late at night: to get fat or skinny.
He finally settled on a rerun of "Dateline" chronicling the journey of a megachurch in Nashville. As Ryan watched he couldn't help but notice that all of the Christians seemed so happy. They laughed at the pastor's jokes as if he were Jeff Foxworthy. They sang songs and smiled and thrust their hands high in the air. It was like they were begging for affordable but classy starter homes.
The segment closed with these magic words, "There are 80 million people in America who call themselves evangelical Christians."
Eighty million people, and every one of them needs a house.
This was it. This was the answer--Christians. These people wouldn't flake out, wouldn't walk out of a deal at the closing table; they would be kind and honest and naive; they would be extremely easy to sell small, big, and medium-sized houses to. He would be Ryan Fisher, realtor to Christians, and he would be rich and successful.
Christians were everywhere and they were going to put him back on the real estate map.
The next morning he was a new man. His coffee tasted richer, the sun looked brighter, his shower made him feel cleaner, and even the traffic jam seemed pleasant, as if it were a big party and all the other motorists were his close Christian friends.
But then Ryan realized he had no idea how to sell to Christians. So when he got to the office, he cracked open the phone book, flipped through the Yellow Pages, and learned how complicated Christianity is. He discovered that all of the churches had names that sounded spiritual, but Ryan had no clue what they meant. There were lists of churches that gathered in different parts of town with similar labels: Assembly of God, Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Episcopal, Evangelical Free, Foursquare Gospel, Lutheran, Open Bible, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pentecostal Holiness, Seventh Day Adventist, and United Methodist. Then, there were churches that had "church" (or some allusion to church and God) in the title but did not seem to belong to any specific group: Abundant Life Center, Fellowship Christian Church, Fruitful Believers Church, Mosaic, and the Pointing People to Jesus Place. When people converted, Ryan wondered how they decided what brand of Christianity they would join.
It seemed to Ryan that it would take a lifetime to understand all of these versions of Christianity. But he didn't have a lifetime, so he started calling churches. Most of them didn't understand exactly what Ryan was asking. Every conversation went something like this:
"I have an offer for Christians."
"Something to sell."
"You want to sell real estate--"
But Ryan was persistent, and he wouldn't give up easily. He had already spent twenty minutes calling churches. He could go for another five. His determination paid off when he got on the phone with the receptionist for Fellowship Christian Church.
"I want to sell real estate to Christians." Ryan's spiel had become considerably shorter.
"Oh, you're calling about the Christian Business Directory," the receptionist said.
Ryan could hear the angels singing. "Yes, the Christian Business Directory. That's exactly what I'm looking for."
"What sort of business are you in?"
"Would you like to place an ad?"
"I would love to."
"What would you like in it?"
"What normally goes in a Christian ad?"
"Well a lot of people put the Icthus on their ad."
"It's the fish that symbolizes Christians. You've probably seen it on the back of cars."
"The Jesus fish!"
"Yes, sir. The Jesus fish."
"Yeah, I'll take one ad with my face and the Jesus fish next to it."
The ad worked like hotcakes. His voice mail was flooded with Christians looking to buy and sell real estate.
Ryan quickly learned a couple of things: He learned Christians want to live in neighborhoods with other Christians. They want to move into homes where Christians have lived before so they can be assured their new home doesn't have a history of residents who struggled with "worldly" things like pornography and alcohol and crack.
He learned Christians are thrilled to do business with someone who has the same values as they do. So, being in the Christian Business Directory meant Ryan had to pretend to be a Christian and agree (or at least act as if he agreed) with Christian ideals and values.
Ryan knew he didn't really believe in a higher power, and a client would occasionally make frightening political statements, but those were small things.
What's important is I'm putting good people into good homes, he told himself.
And it was fun being a Christian--it was like being part of a club.
It wasn't an exclusive club like a country club or the Mickey Mouse Club; Christianity was a club that was always excited to find new members. When clients asked Ryan how long he'd been a Christian, he was as honest as he could be when he said he'd just recently become one. Ryan was scared they might lash out at him, tie him up to a post, and scream, "How dare you take out an ad with a Jesus fish when you've just recently become a Christian?"
But the opposite was true.
The newer the Christian he was, the better. When he told one client that he'd become a Christian in the last month, she broke into tears and gave him a hug on the spot. Ryan felt so warm inside, he thought his heart was smiling.
All it took was one ad with a Jesus fish and Ryan drummed up more business than he'd ever thought possible.
Just a few weeks ago, finding clients was a great mystery for Ryan.
He knew people were buying and selling homes, he just didn't know how they found each other. Ryan loitered around Starbucks and playgrounds and put his name on the sides of benches and bus stops.
Then he invested in a billboard; it seemed oddly powerful to have his face hovering over the freeway, smiling at people as they drove to work. But the ads hadn't worked and Ryan could no longer afford to pay for his freeway advertising lifestyle. Soon an ad for Coors covered his face. Other people might have been happy to see his billboard go, but every time Ryan passed those blonde girls in bikinis playing tackle football in the snow, he couldn't help but feel depressed.
But none of that mattered anymore. He was a Christian now. A Christian realtor.
Still, things weren't perfect. Ryan was scared someone would ask him something every Christian should know, and when he didn't know, they would call him a pagan, rip his name out of the Christian Business Directory, put feet on his Jesus fish, and he would have to sell to people who believed in Darwinism. But there was something else, something deeper that bothered him about selling affordably priced real estate to Christians. When he did business with them, it was as if they "expected" something. Christians expected the cheaper deal, they expected not to have to pay as high a realtor fee, they expected to know when the best house was on the market, and they expected Ryan to hook them up. Ryan wanted to confess that he was in this solely for business reasons, but he could never say something like that. If he did, people would know for sure that he wasn't a Christian.
The first question that threw Ryan off came from Stan, a Baptist.
Ryan had no idea what it meant to be a Baptist, but he thought the Sanders' house would be perfect for Stan and his family. The outside of the house was painted burgundy with beige trim and had a pond in the backyard where Stan's kids could breed giant goldfish. Inside there were shiny hardwood floors, three-and-a-half bathrooms, and two fireplaces.
Ryan was ready to answer any question about the Sanders' home when Stan asked, "Where do you go to church?"
"Fellowship Christian Church," Ryan blurted.
It was the first name that came to him. He remembered the ad in the phone book had a blue sky, clouds, and a picture of a dove holding an olive branch flying through a window. It was very serene.
"Who's the pastor there?"
"I forget his name."
"We've just started going."
"Where'd you go before?"
"What are you, some sort of interrogator for the Taliban? Isn't where I go or don't go to church between God and me?" This is what Ryan wanted to say. But he was learning being a Christian meant never saying what you really thought out loud. So instead he said, "I just became a Christian."
Stan wasn't impressed by Ryan's recent conversion. He simply asked, "How'd you get saved?"
Ryan wanted to think of a clever lie, but he couldn't because he had no idea what Stan was asking.
Ryan didn't know you had to get saved somewhere. He'd decided to become a Christian the way some people become Red Sox fans. He jumped on the bandwagon. He liked the people, the culture, and he wanted to be part of all the fun. He wanted to hang out with and sell real estate to all of the smiling, laughing people he saw on TV.
So Ryan was honest. "I don't know."
This is the end of this week's book preview....