Rick Hagans supplies those in need with shoes, one step at a time
By Anna-Claire Terry
Rick Hagans is a traveler. Over the span of 19 years, he has traveled across 35 states. On foot, that is.
It all started 20 years ago in Mexico when a little boy approached Hagans and asked if he could trade his toys for a pair of shoes. “I didn’t have any shoes to give him, so I said ‘I’ll come back, and I will bring you some shoes,’” he said. “I came home and was preaching at a large church in Birmingham and said ‘Hey, if I walk across Alabama, will you give me a pair of shoes for each mile I walk?’” From there, a life-changing campaign was born. Now, shoes and monetary donations come from individuals, churches and businesses from all over the world who follow his journeys.
Hagans is the pastor of Harvest Evangelism and a life-long resident of Opelika. He said he has wanted to preach for such a long time that he recalls being picked up by the police as a child for attempting running away from home to go preach. He laughed and said he thought he was going to hop a freight train and leave Opelika.
From time to time, Hagans travels barefoot to help him identify with the people he is seeking to help. His mission has attracted enough attention to be featured by various news outlets and for Hagans to be asked to carry the Olympic torch through Montgomery in 1996. His run with the torch was symbolic because, this, too, he did barefoot.
“I’ve walked a lot of miles – right at 10,000,” he said. That adds up to hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes. Maybe by the time I finish up, I can do all 50 states and raise up to a million pairs of shoes.” The shoes are distributed wherever there is a need: locally, nationally and internationally.
Why walking as opposed to other ways of raising awareness? “My feet are more valuable than my mouth,” he said. He added that he also uses his treks to spread the word of God. To the pastor, walking is a sacrament and pilgrimage. “I figured Jesus spent a lot of his time walking. Why not me?” Hagans said.
He said one thing he has learned is that good things can come from all sorts of people. “The empathy of some people had surprised me,” he said. “Once, on the very same day I was run off from a church parking lot, an old drunk picked me up on the side of the road and took care of me while I was having a heat stroke.” He added that he has learned a lot about humanity through his travels. “By and large, people are good. Two or three mean people out of 35 states – that isn’t too many,” he said.
From Christians to witches to hippies, Hagans has crossed paths with an array of people willing to help. He said the purpose of his walks has become a blend of the shoes and evangelism, and the best parts about his walks are the individuals he has had the opportunity to meet and help. He went on, “In Texas, I met some hermit priests and also had the opportunity to talk to a full-blooded Comanche Indian woman about the Lord. I brought home an alcoholic from Alaska, and in New Hampshire, I met a preacher who was about to kill himself that day. I even met a bearded lady in West Virginia who was afraid to go to church because people were afraid of her.” Hagans has an extensive list of hands he has held in prayer. He said he tries to make sure each mile counts, and that if he can help just one person, all the miles are worth it.
However, Hagans said as he gets older, the walks get more difficult. “There are aches and pains that come with it. I’m almost 58 years old,” he said. “But I haven’t suffered much more than a heatstroke, aches and some hurt feelings.” While traveling, he sleeps anywhere he can find: bushes, abandoned buildings, the back of a truck, tents and the homes of good Samaritans. “People are always worried about me getting hurt while walking across these state roads, but I’ve learned that the most dangerous thing to watch out for is a blue-haired grandmama in a Lincoln,” he said jokingly.
Hagans began his walk across Washington on Saturday and plans to continue his walks until he has all 50 states under his belt.
For information about making donations or to follow Hagans as he travels, vist Harvestevangelism.org or call 332-3932.