Pastor Bruce Engelman, 54, youth pastor Jeremy Peters, 30, and Engelman’s son Jason, 23, started out at 4 a.m. June 25 on a journey by foot from their church to Jefferson to raise money through pledges for an inner-city ministry.
Since hiking along Interstate Highways is prohibited by law, Jeremy said, most of their journey was “the scenic route,” along backroads and, mainly, on U.S. 80. They passed through Big Sandy and Gladewater in Upshur County last Saturday, June 29,
They’ve announced their project on a special web site, worthitwalk.com, and have received pledges from all over the country, Bruce said. They also have had a Facebook page to update people on their project.
Their goal, according to their web site, is to raise $200,000, all of which will be poured into an inner-city ministry in Fort Worth, providing outreach to gang members, the large homeless community and fatherless children, the pastor said.
They also help feed and cloth these people as they can.
But money, or the absense of it, is a problem.
“There is a lack of resources” which they are hoping pledges to the walk will help alleviate. Some people pledged a penny a mile ($2), 10 cents a mile ($20), and up to $1 a mile, he said. They’ve received some pledges from across the nation, and some people they’ve encountered on their walk have given some money to help out.
Their walk has been through some of the worst heat this year, including Thursday, June 27, when temperatures went above 100 degrees.
Their congregation and also supporters kept them informed by phone about conditions, and they each carried a 2-liter water pack as they trekked along the narrow road side.
They had some aches and pains, especially after the first day, with blisters and hurt muscles and other problems.
On June 27, all of them experienced the beginnings of heat stroke, although it affected each one differently. Bruce got a nose bleed, Jason had muscle cramps, and Jeremy was dizzy and nauseous. They stopped their walk that day at about 2 p.m. Overall, though, they made about 25 to 30 miles a day, completely on foot, Bruce said. They had no vehicle accompaniment, but had contacts along the route they could reach by phone if a problem developed.
Bruce said that when he was in high school many years ago, they were advised to constantly take salt pills to stave off heat exhaustion. Now, he said, authorities advise eating a banana, because of the potassium in it.
They generally stayed with friends at night, who would pick them up and then return them to the route the next morning. The trio rarely ate lunch—when they did, it was usually a fast-food sandwich. They specifically mentioned Subway.
The narrowness of the roadsides meant that they got a little spread out, rather than walking side by side.
They finished their walk Tuesday at an inn in Jefferson, where they were to be met by some people from their church to take them home.
Asked about problems, Jeremy said he was surprised how many people let their dogs run loose. In one case, “a gate was wide open” and three pit bulls came at him—he was some distance ahead of the other walkers—and he felt one dog was getting ready to attack him.
But he feels God protected him.
The dog ran to leap at him—and got smacked by an oncoming truck. The other two dogs fled the scene after their comrade’s untimely demise.
“The truck driver thought it was my dog, and stopped and apologized,” Jeremy said. “I felt he was sent by God to protect me.” He surmised that pit bull attacks exceed those of all other breeds combined, and used his phone to search out the information—in one recent year, 59 percent of recorded dog attacks on humans were by pit bulls.
Pastor Engelman has what his son calls “a tossed salad” religious background.
“I was raised Methodist, was saved in the Nazarene Church, went to a Presbyterian college and a Church of the Brethren Seminary, and am a pastor in the Baptist Church,” Bruce said. He also has experience as a TV news reporter.
He was an assistant pastor at Longview Baptist Temple before accepting a pastorate in South Florida, prior to returning to Texas with the South Fort Worth Baptist Temple several years.
While in Longview, he was chaplain for many years of the John Gregg Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, commanded by Sam Mercer of Gilmer, and he and Sam remain good friends. He is also a friend of Upshur County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Lyle Potter, and is well known to many others in the area.
Pastor Engelman wrote a book about the John F. Kennedy assassination, Eternal Flame, while residing in Longview, coming to Gilmer to do from of his research.
Jeremy said he realized three things about the walk:
“I got to see God’s creation, and spend some time alone with God” because the walkers were often too far apart to communicate verbally.”
He said being alone on the march gave him time for intense prayer.
“There are some great people connected with God.”
“I came to value people in our church even more, and am glad they realize we are doing this for them and others in the community.”
Pastor Engelman, who is a native of Pennsylvania, said that that “95 percent of the people we’ve met are super nice. I always thought typical Texans were very nice and very hospitable. This trip confirms that.”
Anyone who would like to donate to help their church’s mission may find out how by going to their web site.