one more letter

I've been working on a short letter to give a feel for the second half of our walk, to send to our church back at Plow Creek farm. Here's the beginning of it:

We were just about to lay down for the night, on the concrete under a church's picnic shelter, a dry and quiet place to sleep before the long stretch tomorrow. There was twenty-six miles of road ahead with no towns, further than we could walk in a day. I was a little nervous about it. That's when the police car pulled up, its headlights trained on us.

We approached the car as the officer got out. Initial pleasantries were exchanged. As I began to explain about our walk, the officer asked Heather to take her hand out of her pocket—he was keeping an eye on our hands—and then asked if we had any identification. But his questions became less suspicious the more he heard. And after a few minutes he was trying to think of how to help us. He couldn't leave us at the church since someone had called to have us removed, but he saw that we were no threat. So he offered to drive us to a sheltered place twelve miles down the road.

We climbed into the caged back seat, where the door handles don't work, and set off into the night. The officer asked us more questions and we talked about our visits with people and how God had taken care of us and the retreat work we were planning to do when we finished the walk. The police radio squawked. A cheerleader had apparently fainted at the high school football game. "Cheerleader down," we joked, "repeat, we have a cheerleader down!"...

The whole letter is available here. The letter I wrote for the first half of the walk is available here.



morning songs

Lady Lake, FL

From Psalm 59, the psalm I prayed this morning...

I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.

O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.

I also just found some online audio files of singing by the Burundi refugees at Jubilee Partners, who we visited and sang with on our walk. (To hear them, click here.)


the finish line

Jennings, FL

We happened upon another revival last night, and were invited to come in. Good music and energetic preaching (with a bit of dancing thrown in). The pastor that organized it even asked us to come up at the end and be prayed over, and he anointed us with oil on the forehead and hands. I'll always remember him for his unusual praise exclamation—Halelu-yeaaah!

Then this morning a woman arriving at the church we slept at found us just finishing our breakfast, and recognized us as the walkers she'd seen on the road. "You seemed to be having a great time," she remarked. She left to take her son to school and returned with a friend who wanted to meet us, and we talked enthusiastically for about an hour. A good, encouraging conversation to send us off this morning.

Then one more seven mile stretch and we arrived at the sign that marked the finish line of my first pilgrimage. For the past week I'd been remembering experiences along this road, and now we arrived in this small town where my parents had come to get me at the end of my first walk seven years ago. It seemed right to end this walk here as well. Mom and Dad were glad to come get us; they walked into the library just as I was typing this.

We've heard that housing space has opened up at Plow Creek now, so we're thinking about the possibility of going back there soon, to start preparing for the retreat work that we've been telling everyone about. Maybe after a few weeks of rest. It's been a long road—more than 1400 miles over three and a half months—and a very good one.



"it growled at us!"

Lake Park, GA

Something awakened me outside the church early this morning. Heather stirred. Then informed me, "It's a dog—it growled at us!"

I looked up and it was a big, black dog, very close. But my first instinct was to say, in the pleasantest voice I could muster, "It's okay, boy, it's okay." And that did the trick. He seemed to recognize us and started to wag and even acted like he wanted to come over for a pet. But then he and his buddy dog wandered off, continuing their morning romp. I've often noticed that dogs wandering free seem to be the happiest and least aggressive.

That was our excitement this morning. Tomorrow's excitement (God willing) will be walking across the state line into Florida.


just another Red Sea

Valdosta, GA

We were invited to a church yesterday that happened to be having a celebration meal afterwards, so our first hot meal in a week was all-you-can-eat barbecue chicken. We were also surprised by a big gift at that church. Rain held us up that afternoon, but we did find another church just as its evening service was starting. A revival in a small charismatic church. With good, southern gospel music. I liked this one, called "It's Just Another Red Sea":

Well let me tell you 'bout a story, the prophet Daniel told
How three Hebrew boys wouldn't bow to the Kings image of gold
Well he threw them in the fire, but the Lord was there too
And he delivered them the same way He'll deliver you

It's just another Red Sea
That the Lord will walk you through
It's just another giant
Like the one that David slew
Well it's just another battle
An opportunity, for you to claim the victory
Don't worry when the water looks deep
It's just another red sea

So you say you've got a problem, feelin' helpless and afraid
Another dead-end situation, with no hope for your escape
Just remember when it looks like you have faced your final hour
God sees it as another chance to move and prove His power

We got to sleep inside there, but no chance for a shower or clothes washing. So I'm dragging a little today. I don't like being dirty. And I may be getting a little tired, after three and a half months. My parents have been asking about coming up to get us once we make it into Florida, and we're thinking of taking them up on that.


"y'all can go out to the cotton fields, too"

Hahira, GA

We're getting near the end of the deep south, and I wanted to remember the cotton fields we've been walking by. (I've also been reading the southern classic To Kill a Mockingbird.) Here's a passage from Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch version of the bible to go with it:

"The God Movement is like a farmer who went out early in the morning to hire some field workers. Having settled on a wage of ten dollars a day, he sent them into the cotton field. Then about nine he went to town and saw others standing around idle. So he said to them, ‘Y’all go on out to the fields, and I'll pay you what’s right.’ And they went. He did the same thing about noon, and again around three. Then about an hour before quitting time, he saw some others just hanging around. ‘Why have y’all been knocking around here all day doing nothing?’ he asked. ‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they answered. ‘Okay, then y’all can go out to the cotton fields too,’ he said.

"At the end of the day the farmer said to his field boss, ‘Call the workers and pay them off, starting with those who came last and continuing to the first ones.’ Well, those who came an hour before quitting time were called up and were each paid ten dollars. Now those who got there first thing in the morning supposed that they would get much more, but when they were paid off, they too got ten dollars. At that, they raised a squawk against the farmer. ‘These latecomers didn’t put in but one hour, and you’ve done the same by them as you did by us who stood in the hot sun and the scorching wind.’

"But the farmer said to one of them, ‘Listen, buddy, I haven’t mistreated you. Didn’t you and I settle on ten dollars a day? Now pick up your pay and run along. I’m determined to give this last fellow exactly the same as you. Isn’t it okay for me to do as I please with what’s mine? Or are you bellyaching simply because I’ve been generous?’ That’s the way it is: Those on the bottom will be on top, and those on top will be on the bottom." (Mt 20.1-16)


rainy reminiscence

Adel, GA

Lots of rain. Last night, hard, and then five straight hours of it this morning. We stayed dry, though, under a church's picnic shelter. And a short ride yesterday and again today allowed us to make good progress anyway.

The long rain reminded me of my first walk, passing along this same road seven years ago. Here's a passage from that journal, written along this stretch:

I was a little ashamed of the church last night. I arrived at a church in the late afternoon, tired from walking all day. Just as I sat down, a church van pulled up, bringing members back from some function. I was sitting on the front steps. Of course everyone could see me, a few walked right by me, saying nothing, until I asked one woman when Sunday services were held. After they left, a woman wandered over from next door, looking for her cat. We talked a little; then when she left, her son came over and I talked to him. He was impressed that I wanted to be poor, that I'd "rather be doing this than driving a Cadillac," like other preachers. He asked how much money I had ($1), and promptly pulled out his wallet and gave me a ten. Then he invited me to his house. We had real Southern fried chicken, talked for over an hour, and they gave me something for breakfast (though they were by no means wealthy). Then the mother called the pastor of the church, to see if he'd let me stay inside. Nope. They'd had problems, so it wasn't their policy anymore. I couldn't stay with my hosts because they had cats [I'm allergic], but they gave me a blanket and I slept just fine outside the church. "I'd rather sleep on the threshold of the house of God..."(Ps 84.10) Those people were great; I'm just sorry the church looked so empty-hearted in front of them.

The members of the church turned out to be much more impressive than the pastor. The Sunday school was good (a rare find!), much better than the preaching; and the music was excellent. At the end of the service the pastor did mention my pilgrimage, apparently forgetting that the pilgrim that he was now commending was the same pilgrim he turned away the night before. Two people also gave me gifts: $30. And I met a big guy, "Bane," who hung around me all morning and even stayed and ate lunch with me. He was huge and somewhat limited mentally, but very gentle. Happy and interested, too. He gave me a pack of gum as a gift. After lunch, the guy from last night ("Big John" West) pulled up and offered me a ride to the next town. I got some food there and walked to the outskirts, finding a place to stop just as the rain started. Now it's been raining for a couple hours. I'm on the covered porch of a "Jaycees" meeting hall, with my poncho hung up to shield me from the splashing drops. Looks like I'll be here all night.

...That night turned out to be a wet one. A tropical storm had moved inland from the Gulf, triggering 18 hours of rain where I was. I managed to stay dry until about 6am, then had to flee to a warehouse across the street. Talked to a couple of truckers there about my pilgrimage. I couldn't proceed in the rain, so I walked back towards town, where I had seen a laundromat not too far back.

There I met old Samuel. We talked probably an hour about politics and money in the church, and how he felt his church often seemed to be more about entertainment than worship. He also didn't think much of seminaries: "That's not where you learn to preach; that's where you learn to manipulate people." He was something of a preacher himself—a prophetic type, true to his name.

And yesterday, for the first time, I stopped in a homeless shelter. I was worried about the cold and the rain that wouldn't stop. The place was funded solely by donations, and had 20 or so occupants. Not a real uplifting place, though. There were Bible verses tacked up everywhere, but I didn't find them comforting at all. They came across as a stern voice spewing propaganda. I ate lunch there (not bad), then left. It rained a little more on me as I got started, but the sky was clear by evening and I had covered almost 20 miles (surprising myself). Big monster mosquitoes as I walked. They were gone, though, when I found a church for the night.

I hope the mosquitoes are smaller this time...


playing cards with popcorn

Lenox, GA

We were approaching a church last night, wondering whether to go into the service late, when an older man called out to us from across the street. He had seen us walking around and wondered if we needed a place to stay for the night. We talked with him a bit, then accepted. It was funny, though, no matter what we said, Gaye held onto his assumption that we were simply homeless (which I guess is literally true at the moment) and kept giving us advice from times when he had been homeless. "I been there," he kept saying.

We got to take a much needed shower, then his neighbor brought over some sandwiches and pillows for us to use. And another neighbor, a black woman named Popcorn, came over and taught us how to play Deuces. None of them seemed far from poverty, but they were very hospitable to us. "It's what Jesus would do, right?" Gaye said. We slept safely and well on the floor of his one-room apartment, thanking him as he sent us off with a couple packs of crackers, which he was sure we would need. "I been there," he said.


his name is Van

Tifton, GA

Yesterday a man approached us while we were waiting for the library to open. He asked whether we knew of anywhere to get help; he had been on a bus home to his wife and child in Florida and got robbed during a layover in Atlanta. So he was without a ticket or money or identification. He'd gotten a ride this far with a trucker, but then couldn't get another ride or any work (or even shelter, since he had no ID). He'd been stranded here two days. Harassed by the police and turned away by churches. With little sleep and running out of hope, he was a bit frantic.

It reminded us of our days at the Catholic Worker. We listened to him, and also told him our story, and offered food. But he didn't want to take any (since he saw us as little better off than himself). He said the Lord would help him. So we went with him into the library to get phone numbers of places that might help, as well as the number for the bus station so we could see exactly how much the ticket would be. We were willing to offer some money for his ticket, but I doubted we could pay the full fare. The library wouldn't let us use their phone, so he walked to find the nearest pay phone.

When he returned, he was smiling. He had run into someone who let him use their cell phone, and who then offered to pay for his ticket. He had just come back to tell us, and thank us. And give us hug (Heather even got a kiss on the cheek).

We hadn't done much, though, to deserve such gratitude. Just listened, and helped him calm down and keep trying. Acted as a friend to him when everyone else seemed to be turning him away or calling the police.

Afterwards, I thought that this is the way I hope we can help others in the future. By being with them and encouraging their faith, not above them as benefactors but alongside. Rejoicing together when God comes to their aid as he comes to ours.

As we were walking out of town that evening, a young man offered us a ride, and even took us farther than he was going, a two day walk. When we mentioned our plans for a retreat ministry for people coming out of homelessness and addiction, he was very encouraging. That's when he told us he is a recovering drug user himself. "We can't do it without God," he said.


a reminder for spiritual directors

Acree, GA

I saw this line by Simone Weil in a library recently (written in a farewell letter to her spiritual director) and I wanted to remember it:

As to the spiritual direction of my soul, I think that God himself has taken it in hand from the start and still looks after it.

I also wanted to remember seeing the razorwire along the top of a fence, with a fine ivy (perhaps a variety of Morning Glory?) climbing up to it. In places, the ivy had wrapped around the razorwire so completely that the leaves and small purple flowers were all that could be seen.


"like so many soft rootlets"

Albany, GA

We walked away from Koinonia farm yesterday, fallen pecans crunching underfoot. Our visit there worked out very well. Ann, who had visited Reba Place in January, offered us her house since she was away, so we had a little place of our own for the week. And we were able to be inside during an unexpectedly early appearance of some cold nights. All the folks there welcomed us as family, too.

For some reason, I'm reminded of this quote by William James. I'm not sure if it was read at a devotion time at Koinonia, or if it just came to mind in connection with my recent thoughts on Clarence Jordan. I very much agree with it:

I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of man’s pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top.

The walk yesterday was quiet, through woods on a red dirt road, no traffic. We scared a deer off the road at one point. And Heather discovered some small, ripe persimmons.

We stopped in the first town and found a church with an evening service, and ended up at the pastor's house soon after. Then followed the youth group out to play flag football. Pizza followed. And we found out that, Tina, the pastor's wife, was driving to Albany this morning for work (a two day walk for us). We're almost getting used to being carried along.


"Let brotherly love continue..."

Just got this surprising (and encouraging) e-mail from the pastor of a church we visited several weeks ago...

Brother Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me with the overview of your pilgrimage. I shared a message from Hebrews 13:1-3 about God's Call in the life of a Believer ["Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body."]. This message really hit home to a lot of people as I explained to them the reasoning behind the message.

You see, I am the pastor of the church that you and your wife visited back in September in Lake Wylie, SC. It was my wife that would not give permission for you two to stay there. I did not find out about the situation till the next day as no one called to inform me of the request.

I had not thought anything else about this till someone showed me where you had blogged about the situation. God used this to really burden me about the missed opportunities Christians have to do ministry and also how some people give up everything, just to reach certain people groups. I admire and praise God for you and your new bride for living the life of those you seek to reach.

I would like to ask if you are ever coming through this area again, I would love for you and your wife to share with our church family. If I can ever be of assistance feel free to call. [His phone number was included.]

In His Service,

Brother Jerry


various endings

We've been enjoying work in the bakery here, packing pecans—including hickory smoked and cinnamon spiced—and also chocolate (with pecans, of course). A tasty and aromatic place to work.

I believe the mail-order pecan business here was started back in the 50s when Koinonia was under a local boycott (because black and white people were living and working together here when tensions over racial issues were coming to a head). We saw a film about those times. I was impressed about Clarence Jordan's faithfulness under such intense pressure. And how he died without much notice or honor in this area (his renown mostly came after his death).

In contrast, Millard Fuller, who came up with the idea for Habitat for Humanity with Jordan, developed that organization into a huge, successful institution, and was highly acclaimed. Now I hear he has been forced out of leadership of that organization by the board of directors. He's 70 years old.

And I'm also reminded of Mother Teresa's story. Another widely acclaimed ministry, though it seems she suffered almost lifelong spiritual emptiness.

I have to say, I find Clarence Jordan's story much more like the example Jesus' left for us.


without even sticking out a thumb

Americus, GA

We arrived at Koinonia Farm yesterday evening, just as the sun was setting over the fields. Someone came out and welcomed us joyfully, though we were several days early. It was hard to believe we had started the day over 45 miles away.

We had traveled so quickly, it's hard to keep track of it all. After Darlene dropped us off, we'd only walked a few miles out of that town and found a quiet church with shelter for the night. But it turned out to be an eventful evening. An old truck pulled up with two big guys in it, asking us a bunch of suspicious questions, but our answers seemed to satisfy them and they left. Just as we were about to lay down, though, a police car pulled up. Someone had seen us and called him. When he heard our story he was sympathetic, but couldn't let us stay there because of the complaint, so he offered to drive us thirteen miles further down the road to another sheltered place there. So we got a ride in the back of a police car (where the door handles don't work). We talked with him more on the way, and when he dropped us off he gave us the last three dollars in his wallet, apologizing that he didn't have more.

That long ride allowed us to reach the next town by evening, after a nice walk through the rolling Georgia countryside, and we found grocery store and a church to sleep at. We attended there the next morning. And met the pastor, Eddie, who invited us home with him for Sunday dinner and a much needed clothes washing. Then back to the church while he prepared for the evening service, where we got to shower in the "bridal suite" (a nicely decorated room for use during weddings). After the service we went home with Eddie and Stacy again for subs and conversation and slept there too. We left the next morning very grateful—and with the further possibility that they might pick us up on their way to the next town later that evening. We were hopeful for that ride, since it was almost 25 miles to the next town, further than we could walk in a day.

As it turned out, we had managed about ten miles when a man on his way home from work offered us a ride in the back of his pick-up. We hesitated, then accepted, a little sorry not to see Eddie and Stacy again. But when we were dropped off and began to look for a church for the night, we had only walked a few blocks when I heard someone call my name. We turned and there was Stacy. She had just dropped Eddie at a meeting and was headed for Americus for dinner, did we want to come along?

So we shared another meal with her and found ourselves in the town we had been headed for. Having moved so far so quickly, however, I didn't know the area. So we wandered, looking for a church, and not finding much, when I thought of the Habitat for Humanity headquarters there in town (Habitat started from Koinonia Farm, and now operates out of Americus). Maybe someone there would point us in a good direction. It was closed when we arrived, but there were some people in the parking lot, so we introduced ourselves and explained our situation. Hearing we were headed for Koinonia, one of the women promptly offered to drive us. So our third ride of the day landed us at our destination.

Our most extreme experience yet of being carried. Over two twenty-five mile stretches which offered little shelter or water, through the hands of a half dozen people we hadn't met before (not to mention the hands that dialed the police to get rid of us). Almost as if someone arranged it. You know, it may not be so bad to be a nobody, as long as you have someone looking out for you...


not the ride we expected

Butler, GA

Not much time to write today, but we are being passed along very well. I'll write about it when we get to a library in a couple days. It involves a ride in the back seat of a police car, and a shower in a church's "bridal suite"...


hand to hand to hand

Thomaston, GA

We passed into other hands again last night. Walking out of town, we were looking for a sheltered place for the night, as rain was predicted again. Before we found it, however, a car pulled over and the woman asked where we were going. When we explained, she invited us to her home. "Are you sure?" Heather asked. "No..." she replied, "but I've passed you three times now and I think God's telling me to pick you up."

It turned out that Darlene lived a days walk in the direction we were going. When we got there she introduced us to her mother, Jackie, who was happy to have us spend the night with her. We enjoyed a good talk over dinner, and for a couple hours after. They're quite a lively pair. "My tongue's tied in the middle and loose at both ends," Jackie joked. They also have a strong trust in God; we felt very comfortable there. "If we don't meet again here, we'll recognize each other in heaven," they said. Darlene also drove us to the next town this morning, saving another days walk, and sparing us a wet morning.

After today, though, the next few towns are pretty spread out, then there's the library holiday on Monday. So I may be out of touch for the next three days. It may be a rough stretch, so we're hoping that God has prepared other hands for us to grasp along the way.

In the meantime, enjoy this reading of Jabberwocky; it's Heather, recorded and arranged by Glenn from Jubilee Partners.


mmm, bacon

Griffin, GA

I thought of this comic during the bible study yesterday evening, when the discussion swerved to this topic. Heather and I arrived in time to join them for the service, but a little late for their weekly fellowship meal. Good to see churches doing that regularly. And after hearing our story, before we could ask to sleep outside the church, the pastor offered to get us a motel room nearby. But then plans changed again when a couple there offered to take us home with them instead.

So we had a warm bed for the night and stayed out of the rain, which lasted until late this morning. Brian and Angie also had pancakes and bacon ready in the morning, and offered to keep us dry by driving us to the next town, even waiting for us while we stopped for groceries. Actions that showed what's in their hearts.

Again, I get the strong impression of being passed from hand to hand, carried along on our journey, so that it seems very little our own doing. A way of God glorifying his name?


"for this purpose I have come to this hour"

Hampton, GA

Rain today, so the going was slow. It will probably continue on and off for the next couple days. This part of the country really needs it.

I was thinking more about Jesus words, "And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." This is often understood as referring to the crucifixion, though I don't think Jesus' death does much to glorify the Father's name. The Greek word translated here as glorify also can mean "to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged." It seems this may refer more to how God carried Jesus through his death and preserved his life. The Father is glorified by proving that he is trustworthy, that his love is stronger than death.

It is a severe trial for Jesus to walk into the place and people that threaten him, when he is so vulnerable, refusing to use the strength of his followers to protect himself, and knowing that even his disciples will desert him. But it becomes a more perfect opportunity for God to show his power and infinite worth. An answer to those that mocked, "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now..." (Mt 27.43) Yet Jesus seems to desire, not so much a vindication of himself, but a vindication of God.


"glorify your name"

Jonesboro, GA

Alice served us Belgian pecan waffles for breakfast and drove us well out of the city this morning. A good visit with her, and a chance to get to know each other. We also visited Heather's cousin Madell and her family in Atlanta, and they surprised us with a belated wedding gift. So we're in very good shape as we start walking south again.

Praying in the library I came across these words of Jesus, as his arrest and trial nears:

"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."

Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. (Jn 12.27-29)

I've been thinking about our experiences as "nobodies" on this trip, and about how our experience has been markedly different during the past month. I'm feeling I'm being shown something, perhaps something to do with this prayer in the midst of threats, "Father, glorify your name."


prayer and listening

Yesterday we worshipped in a park in downtown Atlanta, and met Bob and Holly Book who started the street church there, then walked through the Martin Luther King Jr. national historic site, and ended up at the Open Door community to worship with them. The Sunday gospel was the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which takes on a powerful meaning in communties like those.

Another good discovery came through a conversation with Aunt Alice, who is a psychologist for an international missions organization. She told us of a practice started by Karen Mains, small listening groups, where each person is given time to talk about anything they wish:

We gather, go into silent listening prayer, one person shares, the others keep praying and listening. When the person who has been sharing is done, we go again into silence, which is only broken when that person thinks of something else that needs to be spoken or gives permission for the group to respond. And we do respond, but only with questions. Then we go back into prayer-filled silence and this is broken after a few minutes when the next person begins the cycle again.
Both Heather and I think this might be good to use at our retreats, to get a sense of each retreatant, to set the tone of respectful listening, and most of all to show love by our complete focused attention on each person.