BENSON — Roger Gates walked across the country nearly four decades ago. He needed a little more than a year to trek from the North Carolina coast to California.
Gates expects the second time will take a little longer. The 71-year-old Braggs, Oklahoma, native on March 15 set out from Carolina Beach on another cross-country journey, carrying not only the extra burden of Father Time, but a 60-pound symbol of his faith.
Gates fashioned a large white cross he now carries with him every step, every mile. He always knew this day would come. He wasn’t sure of the date, but Gates said he would know it when it did.
“God told me when I finished that walk that I had another one to do,” Gates said. “I’ve been waiting and I thought I had got too old. Maybe he passed it on to a younger person. About 10 months ago, the Lord said it was time and I knew what He was talking about. I started building the cross and preparing for the walk.”
Gates contacted a friend and made arrangements for his extended absence. He stopped off in Benson on his way westward and reflected on the life journey that led him to this latest chapter.
Gates served in Vietnam, but returned home to a troubled life. He struggled with addiction and substance abuse, losing his family and landing in jail in the process. A desperate moment in prison, however, led to an awakening and a new outlook on the days ahead.
“The Lord told me to open up and share my relationship with God to help others,” said Gates. “I’m doing this for the future generations. We need to get behind what God is trying to do. I knew I needed help. I was spiritually sick. I had walked away. I placed my life back in God’s hands and told Him to do with me as He wished.”
Thirty nine years ago Gates followed his heart and walked across the nation, spreading his faith and seeing the country from a unique perspective. Fast forward a handful of decades and Gates started feeling the effects of advanced age fairly early in his trip. With 100 miles under his belt, Gates said his body is slowly coming around.
“I started out doing four miles a day,” said Gates. “My body was hurting. I don’t exercise for this. Now, the farthest I’ve gone so far is 14 miles. To me, it’s an honor to do God’s work at least one more time. It’s not about me, it’s about what God is trying to do for his people.”
Gates carries a sleeping bag and a small tent in the event he can’t find a place to sleep. Churches invited him to stay the night, but the current COVID-19 pandemic altered his second trip in a profound way.
“The walk I did before, people invited me into their homes,” Gates said. “That was great. We had fellowship and we talked, but this time, because of the virus, they’re not doing that. I can understand.”
Bad weather held Gates up on several occasions, but delays often lead to unexpected friendships. A woman Gates met on the road offered him a ride to the nearest hotel, spawning a friendship and an offer to create the Facebook page “Ministry of Truth,” chronicling his journey. If he received enough financial support, Gates said he’d like to open a multi-faceted facility in Oklahoma that provides for families in need.
Gates planned to spend a few days in Benson before heading west again. He’s prepared to see this through to the very end and realizes the trip could be his last. Gates and his cross expect to arrive in San Bernadino some time in 2021. He did it before. He just needs a little more time.
-Dunn Daily Record