Pilgrimage for Promise - Walking for Shoes
by Terry Allen
October 4, 2017
Rick Hagens is a pastor from Alabama and is walking across Wyoming this fall and is in Pinedale right now. Wyoming is the 38th state of our union he has walked across. It’s taken 27 years to get to 38 and he’s headed to do all 50.
Rick takes these long walks every fall because he considers it a part of his ministry and because he has two missions. One is to encourage donations of shoes that he takes to the poorest of the poor in Mexico every year. Two, he runs a halfway house program and he needs to get away from the challenges of helping recovering addicts.
The program has a 30 acre halfway farm for men, and a few miles away, a there is a big old building built by the CCC back in the thirties which he turned into a rehab for women that are pregnant. About 30 to 40 babies have been born there. "Sometimes the mothers stay for a while," he said. "One of the children spoke her first words there. She’d run up and down the halls yelling "Med call, Med call."
"I’ve been a few places and I’ve earned a few degrees," said Rick, "but my most valuable education has been the elemental recharging that occurs by walking the open road. Walking gives me back the calm and the time to think that the automobile and the fast life that followed it, took away. I love meeting ranchers and talking about their cows and horses…it renews me. I buried 19 addicts last year and it is very depressing. When I hear honking and look up to see a formation of geese going by, something deep in my soul stirs and I get refreshed."
A few years ago while on a walk, Rick met a man drinking from a spring in a remote rural area. They shared the spring and while they talked the man said he had had a dream that a real preacher would come by and be able help his wife. Rick said he was a preacher and he’d be willing to help if he could. The man asked if he was a real preacher with papers and Rick said he was, with papers, degrees and everything. He asked Rick if he would come home and meet his wife. Rick met a woman with great physical deformities, and learned the the surrounding neighbors and children were afraid of her and taunted and threw rocks at her, so she was afraid to go out in public. I’ll respect the privacy of their entire interaction but I’ll tell you that it was a process of laying on of hands, and tears, as she hummed the old hymn of Christ…"He Touched me, He Touched me." Her tears flowed onto his hands and the pain that had been summed up in her face, dissolved in that moment.
"That’s why I think I do this walk," he said. "To touch people, to touch people."
Sometimes as he walks he is invited into homes to eat and sleep. Other times he is allowed to sleep in barns and even slept in a charity drop box once. "One time a church turned me away but a family in a broken down house across the street waved me over and invited me to join them for dinner," he said. "I couldn’t tell if they were burning trash or had a BBQ going. Turns out it was both, since the burger was being grilled over smoking Styrofoam. They had very little to share but they cut their burgers in half so I could eat. We stayed in touch by letter for many years."
This year Rick’s wife, Kim, came along to help him. "The doctor said he was getting arthritis," she said. "At night I have to ice down his swollen knees and feet, and then I rub horse liniment into them."
When Rick and Kim’s boys turn 13 they are allowed to walk with their Father. "It is a sort of rite of passage," said Kim. "They come back home with a deeper and warmer respect for their Father and their fellow man."
Rick doesn’t plan on giving up walking once he walks across all 50 states. "After I do all 50 I think I’d like to do Ireland," he said. "My ancestors came from there so I’d like to see it. After that I guess I’d like to walk across India. Indians like to walk on pilgrimages like Gandhi used to do."
I asked Rick what impression he had of people in these troubled times. "The rule is good people," he said. "Not the stuff you see on TV."
If you’d like to donate shoes or sponsor his walk or halfway homes, you can learn more about Rick’s efforts at his website: www.harvestevangelism.org or call (334) 742-0777.
Thank you Dawn Ballou of Pinedale Online for sponsoring this wonderful story.
Your photographer: Terry Allen – firstname.lastname@example.org