(Originally submitted to the Forks Forum)
Neal Thompson is on a pilgrimage across America.
Wearing white robes he designed himself, a wide-brimmed white hat, and a dice necklace spelling out “Jesus,” Thompson has been traveling on foot, trains, and buses on a “walking ministry” five times already, in 1997, 1998, twice in 2004, then 2005, visiting all the contiguous United States except New England.
“I’ve even got in some sight-seeing,” said Thompson, a handsome, tanned man with beautiful skin. “I’ve been to Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Boston. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument and the White House.”
On July 2006, he took Amtrak to Poplar, Montana, to visit students he had not seen in five years and who asked him to visit again. From there he set out on foot through Washington, Oregon, and California.
“It’s beautiful here,” he said, sweeping an arm toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, beyond the parking lot at Ray’s Grocery, where he stopped for a rest and a snack on his way to the Pacific Ocean.
He said that people on the Olympic Peninsula didn’t seem friendly or offer him rides (he is walking with a staff, and was probably mistaken for a hiker). A local resident whom he’d spoken to earlier left him a tent, a bed, and food and water near the Hoko River sawmill. He’d slept outside since July nine times in 55 days.
“People help me with food, water, shelter, and laundromats,” said Thompson, pointing to the white robes.
“I began reading the Bible when I was ten years old,” he said. “Now I’m spreading the gospel of God, Our Father.” He went on to quote Old Testament texts and some of the New Testament epistles from the Apostles.
“The churches don’t like me,” said Thompson. “75 percent of the churches are working for the devil. 75 percent of Christians are the devil’s children.”
Born in 1954 in Hammond, Illinois, Thompson, with his brothers and sisters were taken away from their mother and placed in government orphanages.
“We were mistreated,” said Thompson. “I was beaten and starved, and cursed at. I saw what bad people do. I’ve been one of the most sinful. I drank and did drugs and I cursed, too. I began reading the Bible when I was ten years old, and I knew what I had to do to make things better.”
“Hammond and Bethlehem both have ‘ham’ in them,” he said. “So I knew it was a sign.”
“We need to fight the people who want to take God away from us,” he said. “We need to divide this country up. It was supposed to be a stew, but it’s just slop. This should be a Christian nation. Anybody who doesn’t like it can leave.”
“Drunkards and the slop who curse and throw beer bottles in their yards and gays and lesbians won’t live there. Black people can have two states of their own.”
When asked how this could be accomplished, Thompson answered, “We’ll get rid of their toys. We’ll close down the strip joints and the adult book stores. Then they’ll just move out.”
“All the people who need those things will live east of Missouri. The Indians can have three states — just not Missouri.”
By his own account, Thompson has been in the papers fifty-seven times, fifteen times on TV, run out of town twenty times and in jail three times, for disorderly conduct, littering and trespassing on private property. He displays a handful of newspaper clippings, laminated because “I get so sweaty sometimes.”
Thompson is the father of three children, a 29-year-old son and twin daughters.
“They ran off and left me fifteen years ago,” he said. “My wife hated me and made my children hate me too. I knew it was gonna happen, because it says in the Bible, if you love Jesus, your wife will hate you.”
“I’m a simple man,” said Thompson. “I can’t read or write past a fourth grade level, or spell past second grade.”
Thompson plans to travel to different countries, starting with Israel.