Pastor Walter “Chick” McGill is walking across America, but unlike most people who make the trek, he’s not raising money for any charitable cause.
“I’m doing it because I want people to know that God is there for them no matter what faith they are,” he said.
He arrived in Flagstaff Tuesday morning wearing a bright orange shirt, carrying an American flag and saluting motorists as he made his way through town.
The idea to walk across the nation came to McGill two years ago as he was experiencing the lifestyle of a homeless person in Quartzsite. He said God told him to camp in a tent in the desert near Quartzsite so that he could learn what it was like to live as a homeless person and better minister to them.
It was shortly after he started his campout that God came to him in the middle of the night and told him that he wanted McGill to walk across America.
“I told him, ‘You’re knocking on the wrong door.’” McGill said.
God woke him again at midnight on the next night.
“I told him, ‘I’m too old.’” McGill said.
On the third night, God told McGill, “My grace will be enough.”
McGill, 69, agreed to the challenge and the next morning called his wife, Barbara, who was working as a missionary in Uganda. The couple bought a motorhome and on April 23, 2014, their wedding anniversary, started the trip across the U.S. from Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
He said God asked him to draw people’s attention to the Golden Rule, the 10 Commandments and the founding documents of the U.S., and to how they were treating each other.
“If you take the principles in those documents and apply them to people, you will treat everyone right,” McGill said. “It’s not about raising money, but about networking with people and getting the discussion going (about how people should treat each other better). I’m not trying to twist anyone in a mold.”
“I didn’t know at the time that it would be a prayer walk or that I would be taking on veterans’ issues,” said McGill, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
He said the war really messed him up, but he eventually returned to the faith that his adoptive parents taught him and became a pastor and a missionary. That led to his current mission.
As he enters each town on his path to the West Coast, McGill said God lets him know the pain that each community is suffering and he walks a few extra miles in prayer to help heal those pains.
Shortly after entering Flagstaff, McGill learned about deaths of Kayla Mueller and Flagstaff Police Officer Tyler Stewart. He walked four or five extra miles around town to honor them.
He was especially touched by the letter that Mueller wrote to her family while she was being held by ISIS. The part about being free because of her belief in God really struck a chord with him.
“She was a person just like me, just trying to get God’s work done,” he said. “We should always have our hands out to help others.”
McGill said despite heat, high winds and the other bouts of bad weather, the trip has been a positive experience for him and Barbara and he’s met some amazing people.
In North Carolina, he met a teenager who he said was clearly struggling to find herself.
“You could tell by her demeanor,” he said.
She wanted a picture with him and insisted on giving McGill $5, even though he declined the money repeatedly. He later found out, through Facebook, that she had been riding in the car with her mother when she spotted McGill walking along the road. She asked her mother to turn around so she could “meet a good man.”
“It really gives me hope for the next generation,” McGill said. “They’re so mixed up about God. They can see what is good but we need to give them more examples.”
Another touching encounter happened with an older woman McGill saluted while walking down the road. She pulled her car over and even though she didn’t say anything McGill said he knew she wanted him to approach her car. When he did so, she rolled down the window and rested her hand on his arm.
“I couldn’t see her eyes, because she was wearing sunglasses, but there were tears rolling down her face,” he said.
McGill plans to end his walk on April 29 at the Santa Monica Pier in California.
“It’s good to hear that I’m almost done, but I have mixed emotions about the ending,” he said. “I’ll be glad to not be walking so much, but I’ll be sad that the project will be completed. I really enjoyed talking to people. My greatest hope is that something positive will come out of this.”