CLINTON, Ill. (BP)–Despite intense summer heat and challenging terrain at times, evangelist Ted Stone pressed on to complete 84 miles July 1 during the second week of his fourth “Walk across America” to spread awareness of the hope that substance abusers can find in Christ.
His week picked up at Grace Southern Baptist Church in Virden, Ill., where he said “it became obvious that the dedicated pastor and his congregation were in lock step in their dreams for ministering to broken people.”
Stone, 72, spoke during the church’s morning service June 25, and during the invitation time several people gathered at the altar to pray for loved ones struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs and other substances.
“They shared many of their personal concerns in private conversations with both Sean Reece, my ministry partner, and me,” Stone wrote in a journal submitted to Baptist Press, adding that lunch at a nearby Dairy Queen after the service gave “additional opportunities to provide much-needed hope and encouragement to specific individuals.”
Stone’s walk began in Chicago June 19 and will wind through Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama before ending in Pensacola, Fla., later this summer.
On Monday, June 26, Reece drove Stone back to the point just south of Wilmington, Ill., where the evangelist had left off walking before he made his speaking engagement in Virden. Stone walked 11 miles that day and then was driven back to Virden for another round of conversations with the church members about implementing Stone’s HIS Way ministry to substance abusers.
“Pastor [Brent] Williams and the nearly 30 members who assembled on a rainy night were obviously intrigued and inspired by the information I offered, especially when I told them that as mentors to such individuals, they would assume the role of God’s spokesman to the individual assigned to each of them,” he wrote.
Stone characterized June 27 as “quite a victorious day” as he stepped up his walking pace and conquered 18 miles. He enjoyed some horn honks from passing semi-trucks.
“The truck drivers had been my special friends and encouragers on my three previous walks,” he wrote. “… I waved vigorously at passersby, sometimes waving with my outstretched hand and sometimes holding high the Christian and American flags I carried in a salute to my fellow travelers of the highways.”
After a high point on Tuesday, the next day proved to be the most difficult yet, Stone said. As he walked south from Pontiac, Ill., June 28, a state trooper pulled over and informed him that he would have to walk either on the narrow, rocky shoulder of the road or walk on the dilapidated bed of the old Route 66.
“Route 66 was anything but easy to journey, for the pavement often ran out, leaving uneven passage over weeds and hilly mounds of grass and dirt,” Stone wrote. “I had not expected things to be easy, but I prayed to God for the strength and wisdom to overcome trying times. This I was sure He would provide.”
After 12 miles in the hot sun, Stone’s legs were extremely weak and Reece persuaded him to call it a day and drive to the next speaking engagement at First Baptist Church in Litchfield, Ill., where pastor Tim Shrader and about 60 church members had gathered for a Wednesday night fellowship meal.
“First the church young people detailed their recent experience at camp and the church lay leader of the youth program encouraged fellow church members — many of them senior citizens — to join with the young people in reaching their recently adopted goal of turning First Baptist Church into a lighthouse for Jesus in their community,” Stone wrote. “Those assembled listened carefully to our testimonies, and at the conclusion of the service the pastor indicated a sincere interest in the new HIS Way ministry.”
On Thursday, Stone and Reece rushed back to the place he had left off the painful walk the day before, and June 29 turned out to be the best day of the walk to that point, he said.
“Sean and I had prayed in the car for God’s help before I commenced the day’s trek and I began walking near the interstate on the little adjoining road,” Stone recalled. “God was faithful to answer our plea.”
Stone said he had more strength than on previous days and was able to walk at a quick pace. At one point another state trooper pulled over and this time gave him a cold bottle of water.
“I kept repeating to myself a favorite Scripture, ‘The Lord is my strength and my refuge. Of whom shall I be afraid?’” he wrote.
After walking 20 miles in the hot sun, Stone stopped just short of Bloomington, Ill.
The next day, he turned pale and weak, so Reece advised him to stop and rest for about two hours. He picked up his journey again and walked 11 miles June 30.
On July 1, Stone walked more vigorously down the highway, he said, because the shoulder was wider. But again the high temperature was a challenge, and he stopped near Clinton, Ill., after walking 11 miles with a total of 84 for the week.
Reece, a sophomore at Southeastern College at Wake Forest in North Carolina, drove Stone to Troy, Ill., where he was scheduled to speak at Bethel Baptist Church. (During his walk across America, Stone is driven to churches along the way that he had pre-scheduled speaking engagements. He then is driven back to the spot where he stopped walking.) Tim Lewis, the pastor, had just finished a decade of service as a trustee at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, so Stone and Reece discussed some common bonds.
“What a blessing the weekend turned out to be!” Stone, a longtime member of Southeastern’s board of visitors, wrote. “Soon after our arrival Saturday evening, Pastor Lewis brought $100 worth of Cracker Barrel gift certificates. Delighted at the treasure, I wondered if he had read the previous Baptist Press story that had mentioned my joy at visiting a Cracker Barrel in Bloomington where Sean and I relished sweet iced tea and apple butter.”
Stone, Reece and Lewis spent time praying before the two Sunday morning services July 2 that those who were broken and hurting would find hope in Jesus.
During the services, Reece gave a testimony about his former broken life, pointing out that a youth pastor from his church in Jacksonville, Fla., had introduced him to Jesus but his conversion experience did not produce an immediate change in his lifestyle.
Reece had been involved in alcohol, drugs and gangs before Stone showed up at the Jacksonville church one day with another of his ministry partners, Philip Barber. Barber, too, had come out of a substance abuse lifestyle and now is a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
After hearing Stone and Barber speak, Reece was inspired to make a complete change in his behavior and soon accepted God’s call to the ministry.
“The congregation was obviously thrilled by the young man’s honesty in discussing God’s grace in transforming him from a broken person into one keyed into doing God’s will with the remainder of his life,” Stone wrote of the Troy church members.
Stone followed Reece with his own testimony of accepting Christ as a 10-year-old boy and serving in the ministry seven years before rebelling against God, becoming a drug addict and criminal, and going to prison. Then he told of God’s “miraculous intervention.”
At Bethel Baptist in Troy Stone started keeping a prayer request book for people at each stop to write down the names of the loved ones they hope will find the road to recovery by accepting Christ. More than 50 names were added July 2, and Stone has committed to praying for each person and adding to their number.
“They will not be forgotten,” he said.