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Baptist takes anti-drug message across U.S. via 3,550-mile walk

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–Ted Stone might be called the John Chapman of Southern Baptists.
Chapman, better remembered as “Johnny Appleseed,” became known for his travels throughout the 19th-century Midwest, carrying apple seeds in one hand and a Bible in the other.
So it has been with Stone, who recently completed his second coast-to-coast walk, sowing the seeds of the gospel and calling on citizens to focus on America’s drug abuse problem. Stone is a longtime Southern Baptist minister who became addicted to amphetamines nearly 30 years ago, after having been a pastor for seven years. During his addiction, he committed seven armed robberies and even shot a man before serving four years in prison in the early 1970s.
Stone used his 3,550-mile walk — beginning in California — in the San Francisco mayor’s office — and crossing nine states before ending in Virginia, in the Atlantic Ocean, to tell people how Jesus saved and healed him from such a destructive lifestyle. His message was heard by addicts, families of addicts, church groups, civic organizations and schoolchildren.
“I did this to try to rally Americans to a more active involvement in the war against drug abuse,” he said of his walk that began April 20 in San Francisco and ended Oct. 19 with him kneeling in prayer on the sands of Virginia Beach.
“I thanked God for the grace and mercy he showed me during the walk,” Stone recounted. “Then I asked God for a special miracle in the lives of all the hurting people I met along the way. Then I recommitted my life to the Lord. I said, ‘Lord, I’ll do anything you tell me to do.'”
Stone, a member of Grace Baptist Church, Durham, N.C., has a pretty good record with such promises. This was his second coast-to-coast walk devoted to sowing the gospel and drawing attention to the nation’s drug abuse problem, the first in 1996 spanning 3,600 miles from Washington, D.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., then on to Los Angeles.
During his most recent trek, Stone walked six days a week and Sunday afternoons if necessary, wearing a red, white and blue “Ted Stone Walking and Talking” T-shirt or sweatshirt, carrying an American flag each step of the way and averaging about 30 miles a day. Two assistants, Philip Barber of Dallas and Mike Yarborough of Durham, followed Stone, setting up speaking engagements, doing his laundry, toting his luggage, giving him water and snacks and securing shelter when thunderstorms approached. Funds for the trip were provided by love offerings at the churches he visited. He stayed mostly at Holiday Inns, many of which offered him a reduced rate. He does not know yet how much his trip cost, but his first walk across the country cost $36,000.
The 64-year-old Stone battled 100-degree temperatures, endured four climbs to more than 7,000 feet in elevation and lost 44 pounds. He suffered through snow in June at Soldier Summit in Utah, rode a hot air balloon, talked with American Indians in New Mexico and stopped by a blues festival in Mississippi, sharing his testimony at each juncture. While approaching Fort Smith, Ark., on the Oklahoma border, he nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion — until he saw some Christian friends who were waiting to pray for him just a few hundred yards away.
Stone went through two pairs of New Balance sneakers during the walk, met with Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee and two other governors, spoke at more than 200 engagements and collected 100,000 “Commitment to a Lifestyle Free From Drug Abuse” cards from people.
“It was worth all the pain if I’ve helped just one person,” Stone said. “If the Christian church doesn’t assume a leadership role in the war against drug abuse, then who will? For years the church had abdicated this to the secular world. It’s time for that to end.”
His efforts have captured the admiration of people ranging from former President George Bush to recovering drug addicts inspired by his supernatural transformation through the power of Jesus Christ to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June in Salt Lake City, who heard his testimony and voted to form a task force to involve Southern Baptists in addressing the nation’s drug abuse problem.
“It has been easier for leaders to embrace more romantic and popular tasks,” he said. “It is time for us to join Jesus in the dark alleys ministering to those considered by many as unlovable.”
A trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and a member of the board of visitors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Caroline, Stone said he believes the nation has been hypocritical in the different ways it has addressed drugs and alcohol. “Alcohol should not be addressed separately from other drugs. Alcohol is a drug.”
He is a proponent of faith-based treatment for abusers and has no problem with 12-step programs as long as Jesus is the focus.
“To change a person’s lifestyle, faith-based treatment is best,” he said. “While the secular world has offered temporary relief to those with drug problems, the real hope for permanent cure lies with a Christ-based program.
“Treatment programs err when they teach the individual that he’s addicted for life. The word, ‘recovering,’ is a prophecy of doom to the person fighting back from drug abuse. I’m living proof that a person, by the grace of God, can actually get well.”
Stone has written two books, “The Drug Tragedy: Cost, Cause and Cure” and “Somebody Special,” an autobiography. He plans to write a third book to recount his walk across America, which in addition to California and Virginia crossed Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.
“Chances are high for another walk, but his time I will set aside more time for it,” Stone said. “It will be between large cities and I plan to spend a week to 10 days in each one. I want to have a more intensive speaking effort next time around, particularly in our schools and churches. I’m afraid there are a lot of churches that are pretending that there is no problem. Drug abuse is a problem for our whole nation and if we don’t come together to address it, it can destroy us.
“Our young people need a new set of heroes in America. What greater hero than a family member who is sober and has self-control? That’s the key.”

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  • Don Hinkle