Sep 8, 2010 10:06 AM by Kate Mundy
For many preachers the only part of their ministry that has anything to do with walking is the ever proverbial call for “sinners to walk down the aisle on Sundays.” But for one East Alabama pastor, walking has become an integral part of his life and the signature of his life of service.
Rick Hagans, a Southern Baptist minister from Auburn, Alabama (First Baptist Church of Opelika, AL), is currently walking across the state of Louisiana. That would be a lot of miles for anyone but for Pastor Hagans, it’s just another walk, or as he puts it, another “Pilgrimage of a Promise”.
Wednesday, he was walking through Alexandria. Pastor Hagans walks about 25 miles per day. He'll be headed to Lafayette later this week.
The promise and the first walk that came from it started way back in 1995, 15 years and almost 7,000 miles ago. Pastor Hagans’ walking started when a little boy he met in a garbage dump during a church mission trip to Mexico asked him for a pair of shoes. “We were on the last day of our annual Christmas mission trip when a little fella, no more than 5 or 6 years old came up to me and asked if he could swap the toys we’d given him for a simple pair of shoes. His own shoes were tattered with his toes sticking out well beyond the soles, and his were among the best in the dump. Many people, including this child’s own parents and sisters were barefoot, in a filthy dump, in a rare 30? snowy day in the Mexican trash pile they called home.” Hagans said that pitiful picture so struck a chord in his soul that while he had no shoes to give the boy, he gave him something more valuable, he gave him his word that he’d be back with shoes for everyone.
A school teacher at the time, Rick figured he could save a little money here and there and come up with the 80-100 pair of shoes he’d need to keep his word and provide the shoes everyone in that particular dump would require. The dream, to get those shoes somehow grew in Rick Hagans’ heart.
During a revival meeting that spring, he told a Birmingham congregation that if they’d help him raise shoes he would do something himself to earn them. Pastor Hagans pledged to walk all the way across Alabama if his friends would pledge a pair of shoes for every mile he’d cover. “They seemed enthusiastic about it so I upped the ante in a moment of excitement and told them I’d walk across Alabama barefoot like my little Mexican buddy if they’d help me raise 10 pair per mile. I guess Baptists like to see their preachers sweat because they sure got excited about me doing the walk barefoot,” Hagans told us.
So his walking began. That first year, 1996, he indeed did walk across Alabama. Although walking barefoot on black-top highways in a hot Alabama July burned his feet so bad he ended up in the hospital, he limped on until a farmer watching his plight told him, “Boy, when it’s this hot I don’t let my mules on the pavement without shoes cause it’ll lame them up…I guess that makes you dumber than a jackass.”
Hagans laughed, “That thought freed me up to put some shoes on, but it didn’t stop me from walking.”
He finished crossing Alabama that year, covering 300 miles, (East to West) and raising 30,000 pair of shoes. Hagans said when he was able to find that boy after returning to Mexico and when he put those new shoes on his feet, he felt more like Jesus than he’d ever felt like while preaching a sermon. So, like some sort of real life Forrest Gump, he walked on.
The next year he crossed Alabama North to South. The year after that he walked across Georgia. In 1999 he covered over 900 miles walking the entire Trail of Tears. “Once I finished the Trail of Tears I knew God was doing something deep inside of me on top of all the shoes I was raising, so I told my wife I figured I’d walk all of them, all 50 states (although admittedly he says he hasn’t figured out how to do Hawaii).
Over these past 14 years what he has done is walk across 32 states, covering over 7000 miles for which he has been given over 190,000 pairs of shoes. “It’s hard to keep count of the shoes now that groups like Soles4Souls (a non-profit shoe company www.soles4souls.org) have started backing me.” Hagans told us, “We’ve taken tractor trailers full of shoes to Mexico, given away tens of thousands here in our own needy neighborhoods and even now we have a warehouse full of flip-flops and sandals we hope to ship to India.” Hagans smiles, “I guess I kept my word.”
This year, on August 23rd, began his 15th “Pilgrimage of a Promise” in Northeast Louisiana and will travel Southwest across the entire state. His plan is to walk over Louisiana in the next three to four weeks or so until he finishes his 33rd state. Hagans says he doesn’t rely on a specific route, “If the road to my left looks more interesting than the road on my right, I’ll probably take it.” He walks 20-25 miles each day and then hitch-hikes back to a van he travels in. “Seeing who will pick me up is part of the adventure,” he says, “You can’t imagine the tales I have where someone picked me up and were shocked to find I’m a preacher. That’s become a big part of my pilgrimage. I pray for “divine appointments” and God never seems to disappoint!”
Hagans says he’s prayed with people out on the highways in every state he’s crossed. “Sometimes the road seems more sacred than the sanctuary. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me…Jesus seemed to share the same sentiment.”
So, if you see someone walking down some Louisiana highway with a walking stick, small backpack, and a big smile on his face, you might want to stop and say hello. You might witness a miracle, the walking preacher from East Alabama.
If you’d like to help Pastor Hagans raise shoes, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (334) 332-3932 (he walks with his cell phone). Soles4Souls number is (615) 391-5723or their email is email@example.com