RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (BP)–After 32 years on the highways and back roads of America hitchhiking for Jesus, James McCollough finally got in trouble with the law.
But God had a bigger purpose all along for the man known as “The Hitchhiker” and has used the legal tangle to further his ministry.
McCollough, a 61-year-old ex-Marine, Southern Baptist pastor and a Mission Service Corps missionary for the North American Mission Board, hitchhikes evangelistically as part of his BlackTop Ministries based in La Puente, Calif.
Back on June 1, McCollough left wife Martha at home when he began a 2,500-mile trek to Orlando, Fla., for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting and Crossover, a week of sharing Christ in Orlando during the lead-up to the convention.
But only 40 miles east of Los Angeles, McCollough was sitting near the Interstate 10 on-ramp in Rancho Cucamonga waiting on his next ride. One of the city’s police officers took note of McCollough and proceeded to roll up on his motorcycle, turn on his loud-speaker and advise The Hitchhiker that he couldn’t be on the ramp.
Even though McCollough had not passed the on-ramp sign marked “no pedestrians past this point,” the policemen wrote The Hitchhiker a ticket. After James respectfully accepted the ticket, the officer left and McCollough proceeded to catch his next ride. He made it to Orlando on Saturday, June 6, in time for the Crossover outreach and the SBC annual meeting.
But the story doesn’t end there. Fast forward to Sept. 17, the day McCollough — now back home — reported to San Bernardino County Judge Michael Libutti’s courtroom in Rancho Cucamonga. Rather than just pay the $200 ticket, The Hitchhiker had decided to ask for a jury trial, believing himself to be innocent of the charge.
After hours of sitting through dozens of other traffic court cases, McCollough’s name finally was called. After the officer alleged that McCollough was past the on-ramp’s “no pedestrian” sign, The Hitchhiker produced photos proving otherwise.
“At the time the officer saw me, I also wasn’t actually hitchhiking,” McCollough told Judge Libutti. “I was sitting down on the ground, writing in my journal. My thumb was not in the air.”
As Libutti, the police officer and McCollough examined the photographic proof, “I told them I had been hitching as a Christian ministry, sharing the Gospel, since 1978,” The Hitchhiker recounted.
“That caught the judge’s attention and he asked me why I do it,” McCollough said. “I explained to him that I preach and share the Gospel.”
Libutti reduced what would have been a $200 ticket to $20 and invited McCollough to his church, Life Bible Church in nearby Upland, Calif., to speak to his men’s breakfast. McCollough and the church are currently working out a speaking date for the near future.
“I have hitchhiked since 1978 for the Lord,” McCollough said, “and this was the first time I’ve ever had to go to court because of it. I’ve been stopped a few times but when I explain what I do and give them my card and a copy of the hitchhiking laws, they always let me go and just tell me to move to a safer place.
“On that day, the enemy was just trying to stop me from getting to Orlando for Crossover and the convention. I went to Orlando, did Crossover, shared Christ and everything. The enemy wanted me to high-tail it and run because I got the ticket.”
But as McCollough says, Marines and missionaries never turn tail and run.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.