From time to time, seemingly random events intrude into our predictable routines. These occurrences, unbidden and unanticipated, give opportunity to reflect on profound matters otherwise unnoticed.
For the past nine months, I have been totally unaware that a couple from Utah had undertaken to hike across America. Then, last Sunday, our paths crossed right here, in Kemmerer. Kolton and Amanda began their journey at Tybee Island, Georgia on May 1, 2017 and spent the last weekend of January right here.
It’s worth knowing how we came to meet. It starts with a heart open to others. T.C., a pipeline operations supervisor from Kemmerer, saw the two. More importantly, he noticed them. How many thousands of eyes have seen them over the last 2,200 miles is anybody’s guess. But one pair of eyes didn’t just see them. He noticed them.
He turned his attention to them. He learned their story. His wife joined him in opening their home. By inviting strangers into their world, one loving couple gave St. Paul’s Lutheran Church an opportunity to share in the love. In our day of busy and insulated lives, it is profound what can happen when a single person simply notices other persons.
As it turns out, while it only took one caring couple to bring them into our orbit, Kolton and Amanda have been eyewitnesses to hundreds of similar acts along the way. A trucker stopped to give them his lunchbox. A woman gave Amanda a pair of shoes. A store-owner gave them a shopping spree. A homeless man pressed a ten-dollar bill into her hands and would not take “no” for an answer.
All across America they have benefited from the kindness of strangers. This is not how they planned it. Their intention was to work their way from town to town. They planned to earn their keep. Instead, the generosity they encountered took them by surprise.
For me, their story is very heartening. Following the 24-hour news cycle, it is easy to get the impression that heinous crimes, fake news, and acrid politics define American life. The fearmongering that sells products and garners votes contributes to a culture of self-defense. The more we give in to our fears, and assume our fellow citizens will do the same, the more America becomes a hostile place.
That narrative is blown away by the constant stream of care and protection that Kolton and Amanda have received from strangers. American generosity and love are still alive and well from coast to coast, even if doesn’t often make the evening news.
For them, personally, crossing America on foot has worked a deeper appreciation of our dependence on God and others than most of us are aware of. When all your worldly possessions are carried on your back, priorities must change. Like the character, Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, they have learned that an accumulation of worldly possessions is far more of a hindrance than it is a help.
You cannot possibly carry enough stuff to meet every possible problem that life could throw at you. It would be enough to crush and paralyze you. They have learned by experience what St. Paul taught in plain words, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV).
A small change in weather, in surroundings, or within your own body, can suddenly take you from a blissful stroll through nature to an agonizing struggle for survival. In this situation, you are reminded, daily, of twin truths: 1) life is far more fragile than you ever imagined; 2) God’s gracious providing is far more reliable than you ever dreamed.
For instance: while traveling through Missouri, Kolton’s ankle grew steadily worse. A previous injury, repaired by surgery was becoming aggravated and forced him to use crutches. That was nearly five months ago. Why he is still walking over 1,000 miles later, only God knows. But God does know.
A second instance happened as they were crossing the southwest corner of Iowa. Amanda was feeling an unknown sickness which slowed her pace in the early autumn air. Then, just before crossing the Missouri River into Nebraska, she found the joyous reason for her illness. She is no longer walking for herself alone, but she carries another person within.
Such are the wild swings of emotion on the trail of life. Forced to rely on others and to trust in God, we come to know the world in a different way. Amanda wrote about it this way:
“It’s extremely humbling to rely so heavily on others. And it’s faith-building to have to lean on God daily to provide for needs and comforts others have without thought. We are also having a unique approach in that we are intentionally trying to learn to manage ourselves well enough to not fear or worry. And it’s been beautiful. During moments that look so helpless, we usually end up talking about the fear trying to creep in and then start talking about how God has kept us safe this whole way. It’s been interesting to be more aware of our fear than ever before.”
Kolton and Amanda are not alone in their journey. Thousands of people from around the country are following them on Facebook (2918 Miles) or following their progress at site.2918miles.com.
They walk to raise awareness of the Make A Wish Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
However, in some sense, their story is not unique. It is just like yours. The things they have learned about humility and thankfulness, trust in God and peace of mind, are lessons that God also wants to teach you through your daily walk (even if it’s not as many miles).
As we see Kolton, Amanda, and their child walk out of Wyoming and into their Idaho adventures, let us not only see them, but notice them. We send them with our prayers into the care of God through loving hearts of friends they have yet to meet. They hope to make it to Oregon before the baby is born. God will take care of that, too. If you want to help them too, send a note of encouragement or contribute to gofundme.com/2918miles.
But above all, we can let their story remind us of the God who watches over them and us. He has promised the same to you as He has repeatedly shown to them: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 ESV).
Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network.