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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Street Preacher Walks Hermann Missouri

Street Preacher, Neal Armstrong was passing through Hermann, Mo. Saturday, Sept. 25, 2011 (photo by Wendi Busch)

Street Preacher Walks Wildwood

A religiously motivated man, dressed in multiple layers of all white, decided to bless Wildwood with good karma on his way to Branson and Joplin, MO. The thing is, he is completely afoot. 

By Julie Brown Patton

Once a year, this street preacher travels to some area of the United States, "dealing with whatever God brings my way." Neal Armstrong walks on long, religious journeys.

He was a blinding image of total white in the 93-degree weather against a perfectly billowy blue sky as drivers rounded an obscure curve of Missouri Route 100 in Wildwood on Tuesday.
Who walks alongside a heavily trafficked roadway in high temperatures with a long beard, white gloves, a tall pilgrim staff and a Gilligan's Island-style, broad-brimmed sailor hat? Yes, this unusual vision of white unity turned a few drivers' heads for double takes, including mine, and prompted a few honks as he waved to radiate his self-professed love to strangers.
Should I stop and ask what his 'story' was? Afterall, it's not every day that one sees a person outdoors in multiple layers of clothes and a robe during the simmering Dog Days of summer in St. Louis, just tooling along in Wildwood for a religious walkabout.
Generally we see joggers, bikers or deer alongside the road—not someone who immediately conjures biblical images of Noah and Job.
But there were personal safety considerations for circumstances such as this. I drove on to take photos at my two scheduled stops, making a pact with myself to return to where the man was. If he was still there and available, I decided I would stop and ask for an interview.
I returned to the magical road segment, hoping I had not merely been daydreaming too strongly before. The street preacher was still there, and was amenable to my journalistic curiosities. And his is an interesting story, which I'm bursting to share!
A real silver lining
Neal Armstrong said he believes very strongly that "St. Louis should be deemed the Christian heart of the United States because it has four rivers running through it, just like the Bible recommends venturing off into the four corners."
He said the word "Saint" means righteousness, also giving an extra meaning to the city's actual name, St. Louis.
"Once a year, I travel to some area of the United States, dealing with whatever God brings my way," said Armstrong, who indicated he had ridden the bus to Wildwood and started walking southwest from the city's edge on Tuesday.
This middle-aged man, who said he resides with his sister in south St. Louis city when he is not walking to spread the gospel, has been a St. Louis resident since he was 10 years old. He said he babysits his niece and nephews in exchange for room and board.
Armstrong said he walks about 11 hours a day when he does these trips, and maybe rides with someone an average of 1 hour a day. "An hour before dark, I look for the front porch of a church, a homeless shelter or some place safe to sleep, wherever my guardian angel takes me."
Armstrong said it was his thirteenth year of walking the United States.
"I want to see the people and I want them to see me," he said, as an explanation of why he chose to walk and encourage people to be good stewards of the Earth.
This man gets around on vapor
Armstrong claims to have walked through 45 states and at least 20,000 miles during the past 13 years. "I've been stopped by the police more than 450 times, and put in jail three times," he said, citing what he considers to be bogus charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.
"I don't like to take rides from police, because I've learned they don't like my past. They aren't understanding, and they usually take me to some remote place and dump me off, when they ask if they can give me a ride to the county line," he said.
He claimed to have been beaten up from various police four times in his life.
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.
Armstrong said one of his most memorable trips was to the Grand Canyon. He said he also enjoyed Idaho's mountains and lakes. "I got to sleep for four nights in the Red Wood Forest, too."
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."
Why Armstrong walks to all ends of the United States
The self-professed street preacher said he was orphaned at age 10, and raised in five different foster homes. "I wasn't always a good guy, though," said Armstrong, citing that in his twenties, he and his friends partied, consumed drugs, stole items and in general, were less caring about others.
"Then one day, when 20-something, I almost drowned, trying to swim cross 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."
Before we parted ways, Armstrong shook my hand and blessed me. As I pulled back onto the highway, I watched Armstrong disappear around that curve, wondering where he would bunk down that night.
The white-flowing street preacher was full of hope, saying that he just knew the people in Joplin would need him. And just maybe they will enjoy his "can-do" spirit, after what all they have been through.

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VIDEO: MISSOURI THE BEAUTIFUL Take a patriotic tour of the Show Me State's natural wonders . . ========================================================== .

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