By Woody Woodrick
A UMNS Repor

When Ben Poor told his parents he wanted to go for a walk this summer, he wasn't talking about a stroll around the block or a quick power walk. Poor took a loooooong walk. Like 850 miles.

The 20-year-old United Methodist walked from his hometown of New Palestine, Ind., to New Orleans to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief. He left New Palestine, near Indianapolis, on June 26 and reached New Orleans on Aug. 9.

"It all started a couple of years ago with a mission trip to Oklahoma," Poor said during a stop in Jackson, Miss. "I knew then I wanted to go to New Orleans. Then I went backpacking in Europe with my family and decided, '"Why not do that for a purpose and a good cause?'"

Poor's pilgrimage to New Orleans had raised more than $10,000, including $3,000 donated at the outset by New Palestine United Methodist Church, where Poor and his parents are members.

Along the way, Poor relied on the kindness of others for places to stay and many of his meals. He often contacted United Methodist churches for assistance.

"The church is united," said Poor, a student at Ball State University. "Everybody (in The United Methodist Church) is connected. They really helped me out. If people helping me couldn't contact another Methodist church, they called Baptists or Catholics. It's all about God. It's unbelievable how he has taken me on this walk."

One step at a time

As he began his journey, Poor was accompanied by friend Matt Gillott to the Indiana state line before going it solo. He carried some clothing in a backpack and brought along books on tape. Most of the time, however, he was simply walking.

"It gives you a lot of time to think," Poor said of the walk. "I think about God and keeping safe, my family and friends, sports."

Walking 15 to 20 miles per day, he was often sore from the physical exertion. The key was finding someone willing to drive and pick him up at the end of each day's hike so he could eat and sleep before returning to that spot the next day to resume his trek.

Poor's journey through Mississippi came at the beginning of a heat wave. If actual temperatures weren't more than 100 degrees, the heat index usually was. "It was insane walking in all that heat," he said. "It really takes a toll on you both mentally and physically. Your body says you can't go on anymore, but you tell yourself you have to do it."

At one point during the Mississippi stretch, Poor's parents took a week of vacation and traveled with him.

"Most people who do this sort of thing have a support team or others who travel with them," said Maria Poor, who called her son's walk "a pretty scary undertaking."

Mike Poor added, "He made it pretty clear we were not going to be able to talk him out of it."

New friends

In Jackson, Mike and Maria Poor found the United Methodist Mississippi Conference office and got assistance from staffers Brenda McGloster and Krystal Bonds. They helped to secure places for Ben Poor to stay as he continued his journey south, including contacts with Lumberton UMC, Poplarville First UMC, Picayune First UMC and the churches of the Picayune Circuit.

In Poplarville, which was directly affected by the hurricane, church secretary Diane Weiss took care of the young walker.

"We were thrilled to death that he was doing this. We were open to doing whatever we could for him," she said. "We gave him a place to stay. We have a bed and breakfast here."

Poor reached New Orleans on Aug. 9 to find a banner welcoming him to the city and a band playing. "Getting there was such a sense of accomplishment. It was unlike any feeling I've ever had."

Poor spent a few days in New Orleans before returning Aug. 13 to New Palestine. He since has returned to Ball State.

"I put forth a little bit of effort and time, but it was nothing compared to what the volunteers have done and what the people there have gone through every day since the storm," he said.

Woody Woodrick serves as editor of the Mississippi Advocate, the newspaper of the Mississippi Annual Conference.