By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
It’s not something that most people think about-and for those who even think, far fewer actually do it. But Michael Pearson, 42, and his wife Julie, 34, went way beyond just thinking about it.
They’re now well into “doing” it-walking 3,000 miles across the United States to raise money for their dream project of helping the homeless. I was intrigued when a Facebook friend first let me know what they were doing and decided I wanted to interview them.
It’s the Pearsons’ goal to start a ranch where the homeless would come to live and work, and learn about God. They’d like to help their future guests to get jobs and transition into a place of their own.
On a crowdfunding page Michael writes, “We will have drug and alcohol counseling, a kitchen and meal hall, and church where all are welcome. It was a vision that God gave to me to do this walk and to start the ranch.
With your help we could change the world for thousands of homeless across the country.”
They’d like for the ranch to be in New Mexico, but Michael said, “We are open to where God would have us do it and where we can afford.”
In a recent interview I asked Michael and Julie what led to their ambitious goal and what they were doing prior. Michael said he was a night auditor at Santa Fe’s Inn of the Governors for nine years, and Julie was a stocker at Walmart.
Michael said it all started with a dream he had some time ago of walking across America to raise money for the homeless. He said when he told Julie, he expected her to laugh, but instead she asked, “When do we leave?”
Julie said, “I didn’t think twice. I think God had made me ready for this walk.”
I wondered why God had called Michael to work with the homeless. He said he had been exposed to them periodically while in Santa Fe, where he had lived since 1997.
“I always felt sorry for them and felt bad that they didn’t have the opportunities I had,” he said.
However, Michael’s parents weren’t quite so receptive, initially thinking he was “crazy.” After all, he had just bought a car and a motorbike and the couple had loans.
They weren’t the only ones, with friends and fellow employees also trying to persuade him not to leave.
In addition, Michael also had some health challenges.
However, Michael and Julie continued to pray about the walk, and after getting a second job taking care of a 93 year old woman in Santa Fe to help pay off their debt, after about a year they were ready to go.
They began their trek at 2 p.m. on Feb. 20 2014 from Port Hueneme, a small beach city in Ventura County, Calif.
In Michael’s words, “That was almost as far away as you could get from New York,” their intended destination.
Michael said he didn’t do any extra exercise before he began walking, and they walked 7.3 miles their first day.
Michael said after the first day they were quite understandably sore, but “fantastic emotionally and feeling good.”
On their second day they got carts to push their gear. His was, and continues to be, about 300 lbs, and while Julie’s was initially 150 lbs she managed to whittle it down to about 115 lbs.
The couple said they don’t talk a lot while on the road, because traffic forces them to walk single file However, they do take advantage of the time to pray and listen to praise music.
I asked them in the three months or so they’ve been on the road to name a few highlight experiences. Michael didn’t hesitate. He said it was the day a crow flew down in front of Julie, and a snake rose up and killed it.
“If the crow hadn’t done that, she would have walked right into the snake and been killed. It was a ‘divine distraction,'” Michael said. “It saved her life.”
However, there were more mundane experiences. “Like waking up at 6 a.m. and going outside in the snow. The water was frozen and there was no gas.”
Julie recalled her favorite experience. It was on Easter Sunday in Williams, Arizona, when church staff took them out to an Easter brunch and them to visit a deer farm.
Michael’s parents have changed their minds about the project. He told me, “I think (it was when) we crossed the first state line.
It wasn’t really they thought he couldn’t do it, he said, “but they were not sure about if my body would make it.”
I asked Michael if living with barely basic amenities and the constant walking has made him able to better empathize with the plight of the homeless.
He said, ” Sleeping in a tent is not something most homeless do … I am lucky to have the walls around me. It makes me feel safer, but I know that is an illusion.”
Michael added, “I feel for the homeless every time I need a restroom, because most places turn them away if they do not buy something, or give them a hard time or dirty looks. We have gotten some of the same till they find out why we are walking.”
Reading one of Michael’s Facebook updates, it was easy to see that God has given them a heart for the homeless.
On May 27, Michael wrote that they met a “lot” of homeless people and shared a meal with two.
Michael poignantly wrote, “Roy and Ken are brothers, and we saw them pull a McDonalds bag from the trash and one of them started eating the fries. They walked around the corner and sat to divide what they found. Julie and I followed them and ask if they were hungry, and both said ‘yes.’ We took them in to Panda Express and let them order.”
He continued, “We prayed with them at the table and talked to them. I do not know how long it had been for them to just have a normal talk. Both said that they do not meet very many nice people that will not judge them right away. They are both schizophrenic … Their father was homeless for ten years.”
Mark Grothe, Senior Pastor of Cross Christian Fellowship, Rt. 66, who’s been following the couple’s Facebook page since mid February, said in response to an email question about the couple’s adventure, “I continue to pray for them as they go on their journey, and can’t wait to see what more they will learn and be able to share with others about homelessness.”
Long time musicianary Karen Lafferty told me by email, “Mike and Julie put their whole hearts into what they believe in. Their passion to have a ranch to help the homeless and their dependence on God, I believe, is giving them strength for their walk and will bring their dream to reality.”
For more information, and to keep up to date about where Michael and Julie are at, visit www.facebook.com/Walk3000MilesInThierShoes