He’s a skinny man with a white beard, sturdy sneakers, a large American flag outfitted with a soft foam grip on the pole for hours of walking, and a crisp salute for everyone he sees … for nearly 1,200 miles so far. Walter “Chick” McGill is pastor of the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church in Guys, Tenn., and he passed through Bartlett Thursday on his iconic walk across America.
“I salute people as a gesture of respect and honor to my fellow Americans,” he said during his Bartlett trek. “The Bible principle is esteeming others greater than yourself. And I feel positive energy coming back. I see people saluting, I see people doing this, reaching out, honking horns. You know, about 60 percent of the people that I salute are giving me something back. And it’s encouraging.”
Pastor Chick, as he prefers to be called, said God persuaded him to take up this walk at age 68. He gave in on the third night after trying to argue against it. Now he walks about 15 miles most days, timing it to avoid the worst of the heat, and his wife drives the pace car and brings him water.
He sees America as drifting from its founding principles and believes its heart has been taken away by selfishness, idolatry, avarice, loss of family values, and secularism. He hopes his cross-country walk will serve as a beacon of hope, a symbol of Christ’s unconditional love and an opportunity to do what he says more churches should be doing – reaching out to people on a one-on-one basis.
“If the Son therefore sets you free, you are free indeed,” he said. “So I have found freedom over lust, I have found freedom over racism, I have found freedom over disease, I have found freedom over everything, because perfect love casts out fear. I love atheists. I love agnostics. I love Muslims. I even love the devil. And people say, ‘Oh, you’re dangerous, pastor — you love the devil!’ You know, God loves the devil. God never stopped loving. The devil was Lucifer, a child of God. God never quits loving his children. And we, as people, we need to be Christlike. We need to be Godlike. We need to love everyone equally. And so I have found that love. I have found that freedom.”
He believes in quite literally walking the walk because he talks the talk.
“When I was a sinner, I was the chief of sinners,” Pastor Chick said. “But when I became a Christian, God said, ‘Now I want you to shine. I want you to let your light shine. You don’t have to make it shine — just let it shine.’ And that’s what I’m doing.”
Being obedient to God’s call has been rewarding for him both spiritually and physically, he said. Since he began walking, Pastor Chick believes his memory has improved, his singing voice has returned, football injuries to his feet have lessened, and the torn meniscus in his right knee appears to be healed.
“I’m not limping anymore,” he said. “Most days, I’m averaging over three miles an hour, for like four to six hours straight without a break. My lungs and my heart are just like a high school kid. You know, I say, ‘Everybody walk across America! This is gonna help us!’”
He said it’s mind over matter for him when he walks during hot weather. He just drinks more water and soldiers on.
“I’m a mission-oriented person,” he said. “I don’t let the flesh stop me from my mission. I don’t let the enemy stop me from my mission. Why? Because I’m always tapping into that power of God.”
During one recent walk he was very hot and asked God for the relief of a breeze. So an 18-wheeler came along and almost blew him off the road, he said, chuckling. It inspired him into making up an impromptu song, and he started marching to it.
“And every 18-wheeler that came by just gave me a cool breeze. And it was enough to carry me through,” he said. “You know, that’s the way God works for me. Even if it’s an 18-wheeler.”
The message he wants to pass along to a troubled America is of a God who loves his children and warns them of the dangers of not paying attention to his advice.
“It’s like if we’re children and parents tell us, ‘If you don’t pay attention, you’ll pay the price.’ You know, ‘If you don’t stop playing ball in the road, you’re gonna get hit,’” Pastor Chick said. “… So we have to put a fence around our children to protect them, and God has put the Ten Commandments around us to protect us, and if we abide by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, we wouldn’t even need law enforcement.”
He hold the church responsible for not properly representing God and not getting out of its comfort zone to reach people where they live. “Christians have to leave those four walls and start doing one-on-one ministry and showing love. Extreme love. So that people say, ‘Ha, that is something special.’”
He has served as project director of humanitarian health services in Uganda (East Africa), where locals began to accept him and his wife as sincere after two years of slowly building trust. The website walkthewalknow.com also mentioned his service as a Viet Nam vet (1967-1969) as well as a varied life serving others as a businessman, electronics technician, family counselor and private Christian academy principal. Now he’s often known as a cheerful “cross-country flagman” as he walks through their cities and counties and states.
“We have so many contacts with people,” he said. “We have young people that have their parents stop and say, ‘I want to shake hands with this good man.’ They see a good man carrying an American flag, saluting people, and they identify that as something good. They don’t know I’m a Christian. But they just see it as something good. They’ve got earrings, they’ve got things in their noses and their lips and they’re all purpled up and they don’t know who they are, but they can recognize something good when they see it, and that gives me hope for the kids of America.”
He recalled one older woman who came up to him, touched by his journey and with tears in her eyes. She just reached out to pat him, wordlessly, and seemed to be very moved. “I don’t count anything out here. Because healing is coming, one heart at a time. And I’m beating a loud drum that some may hear a whisper.”
For more information, see his website at walkingcoast2coast.com. Pastor Chick expects to reach his final destination, Santa Monica, Calif., by his 69th birthday in February 2015.