Walking preacher passes through Gillespie
Passed through Monday evening
Did you happen to pass this man on Staunton Road heading to Benld around 7:00pm Monday evening on July 16? The guy dressed in multiple layers of all white with a tall pilgrim staff. This highly religiously man passed through our area Monday evening as he stated he was heading back to St. Louis, afoot.
He was impossible to miss as he walked high trafficked roadways in the hot temperatures Monday. The fellow, Neil Armstrong, was dressed in a white robe, white gloves, white Gilligan’s sailor hat, long white beard, tall pilgrim staff, and a huge cross necklace hanging by his chest.
Needless to say, he was a blinding image and this unusual vision turned countless drivers’ heads. He even impelled a few people to stop and ask him what his story was. Other drivers just waved and sometimes even honked as he stopped every 10 feet and waved at passer-byers.
In Gillespie, this seemed to be magical. Usually I see walkers, joggers, people walking their pets, bikers, hoodlums, wanna-be gangsters, and so on, you get my drift, but never this. After taking a brief photo, I decided to ask him what his story was. It was actually remarkable.
Armstrong said this year is his fourteenth year walking around the United States. Once a year, he travels to some area of the United States and “deals with whatever God brings my way.” He walks about 11 hours a day when he makes these trips. About an hour before dark, he looks for a church, homeless shelter, or another safe place to sleep. “Wherever my guardian angel takes me,” Armstrong added.
He would not state his age, but could pass for middle-aged. He resided with his sister in St. Louis when he not walking to spread the gospel. He receives free room and board in exchange for babysitting his niece and nephews.
To this date, Armstrong has journeyed through 45 states and has walked at least 25,000 miles during the past 14 years. He has been stopped by the police more than 475 times he said and put in jail four times. “I was arrested in Jerseyville last week,” Armstrong noted.
He said he had taken a bus to Chicago, then walked to Detroit and then to New Orleans over a six-month period one time. In 1999, he claims to have gotten from St. Louis to Jacksonville, FL, and back to New York, as one of his longest adventures.
“I’ve criss-crossed the country, going to Arizona, Washington, and Texas, going to all the corners, just like the Bible says to do,” said Armstrong. He even claims to have gone to the top of the World Trade Center one year before it was gone, and to the White House when President Bill Clinton was in office.
He said people sometimes bring him water and food. “I can go a long time without food. It’s all about being obedient to God.” Armstrong just wants people to see him and he wants to see the people. He wants to encourage people to be good stewards of Earth.
The self-proclaimed street preacher was orphaned at age 10 and passed through five different foster homes. He wasn’t always a good guy, he said. In his twenties, he partied, consumed drugs, and even stole items.
“Then one day, when 20-something, I almost drowned, trying to swim across the Mississippi River. It was about 5 p.m. that day, and I thought I could swim straight across. My friends told me not to try it, but I did anyway,” he said.
“I got into trouble and yelled for help, but my friends were just waving goodbye from the dock. I started begging and pleading with God. He dunked me five or six times, just to get my attention. I promised I would go back to church and quit doing bad things. It felt like he asked if I was sure I wanted to do that, and I was. He helped me get out of drowning, but I didn’t make good on my promises right away.”
Armstrong said it took him 10 or 11 years to get back to keeping his promise to God. “He kept reminding me that I was lying that day if I didn’t live a good life,” he said. “Finally I got to where I couldn’t sleep at all, and I knew I had to do something to help show that God’s love comes from the heart, so I started these walks.”
After I was done talking to him, I watched him continue his path down Staunton Road as he said he was heading to Staunton that evening. Residents in Staunton said they saw him around 8:30pm Monday evening and then he was cited just outside of Staunton on Route 4 Tuesday morning by Cross Church as he walked back to St. Louis.