October 25, 2012

Spreading the Word, One Step at a Time

Neal Thompson of St. Louis, who spreads the Gospel through walks across the United States, was in Memphis this week. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. - Luke 9:23

That is just one Bible verse that Neal Thompson brings to mind when strangers see him traveling down the roadway, adorned in a white robe, long hair and a beard. If his appearance reminds passersby of the Messiah, wait until you hear his message.

For 13 years, the St. Louis resident has undertaken walking tours across the United States spreading the gospel.

"I pray my actions glorify and bring praise to my Father's name," Neil stated. "I pray what I do is viewed as bold, brave and strong as I stand up for what I believe in. Hopefully it can give inspiration to others to do the same and to be bold."

His most recent trip brought him to Memphis for a few days. He departed from Granite City last week and October 23rd marked his 12th day away from home.

"I try to walk at least 11 hours a day, six days a week," he said. "If I'm lucky I get an hour or two of riding in there on days when folks are gracious enough to stop and offer me a ride."

Thompson only travels with what he can fit in his pockets and in a small plastic bag that hangs from his belt beneath his robes.

"I always carry three or for garbage bags because they make handy beading and also can offer some protection from the weather," Neal said.

He spreads the bags out on the ground when he is in between towns, sleeping along the roadway or in the adjacent woods.

When he reaches the next town, often he will seek out a church where he can sleep on the lawn or underneath the porch.

Often times, like in Memphis, passersby will offer him a place to stay or will pay to put him up in a motel.

"People rescue me all of the time," Neal said. "They offer me food, clothing, shelter, money, laundry service, let me the use the phone and whatever else I might need."

Thompson says he takes encouragement from the warm welcome he typically receives, but added that the occasional heckler only serves to encourage him even more.

"I'm a walking billboard," he said. "Love will conquer all."

Neal had hoped to reach Nebraska on his current journey, but the weather has slowed him down and forced him to reroute back towards home in St. Louis.

This is Neal's second trip of 2012. Two months ago he traveled to and from Springfield, IL. In the past he has spent as long as six months on the road. Roughly a decade ago he traveled through Memphis.

Thompson says he begins each journey with a prayer to God to lead him into the paths of people who need to receive the Word.

"Sure there are plenty of nights when I'm sleeping along the road that I wonder why I'm here, only to awaken the next day and meet the person God has sent me to witness to," he said. "So you see, I don't mind suffering to serve."

That wasn't always the case. Neal's life was shaped by a childhood spent in foster care. He has struggled economically due to a lack of education.

"It was all a blessing in disguise," he says of his past. "I wouldn't be the person I am today without my past. I finally got tired of running away from God, and now I'm walking with Him."

And he has walked with Him across deserts, through ghettos and during storms and through heat waves.

"There have been plenty of difficult walks," Neal said. "But if only one person turns their life around because of it, then I know God is pleased."

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