An entry from an online journal by Jotipalo Bhikkhu on his walking pilgrimage from New Orleans to the Arrow River Forest Hermitage in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Jotipalo, a Buddhist monk, and fellow pilgrim Austin Stewart find some Christian faith in Mississippi.
Day 14: We got onto Highway 467 this morning and we noticed two middle-aged men outside their house, working on their car. They called out, “Good morning.”
We responded, “Good morning.”
One of them looked at us quizzically—especially at our backpacks.
“Were you out in that storm last night?” he asked.
“Man, that must have been terrible,” he said.
“Ah, it wasn’t so bad,” I called back.
“Yeah, it was,” he said.
“Yeah, it was,” I admitted. And we started laughing. They had big smiles on their faces. And I noticed as we walked into Raymond, Mississippi that when people were looking at us, they seemed to realize we’d been out in that storm, and the looks we got were almost looks of respect.
We walked into a laundromat and saw an older black man looking at us like we were very strange. We were stripping off our clothes and putting them in the washing machine, which had to seem even stranger.
We asked him where the bathroom was, and he stared at our backpacks.
“What are you guys doing?” he asked.
“Walking up to Canada,” we told him.
“What are you doing that for?” he asked, and we explained that it was part of our religious training.
“Are you Christian?”
I don’t even remember how I answered that one.
“You got a gun?” he asked.
“What about coyotes? You need a gun. You get up the road and into those coyotes and you’re going to be wishing you had a gun,” he said. “I’m just going to be praying to Jesus to protect me,” I said.
He warmed up to us after a while, and later I heard him sum up our trip (and possibly our appearance) as he was talking with Austin: “Damn—this is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen!”
As we were waiting for our clothes to dry, two other guys came in to pick this man up. One of them was really mean-looking. He had scars on his body from knifings and alligator skin boots, and he just stood there and stared at us. When the first man told these two what we were doing in Mississippi, one of them said,
“Do you have faith in Jesus?”
I said, “When you’re doing something like this, you have to.”
He looked at me and said, “My name is Eddie J. If you’ve got faith like that, then tonight you say a blessing for Eddie J.”
Then they all three walked out, and Austin heard Eddie say to his friend, “Man, those guys got way more faith than I do. Hell, they’ve got more faith than any preacher I ever met.”
So tonight we’ll say a blessing for Eddie J.
The pilgrims’ complete journal can be found online at www.abhayagiri.org.
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