Life is a long walk for Eli Carroll, a preacher who grew up in Birmingham but who has spent the past seven or eight years “walking around the country telling people about Christ."
“I’m like the guy with the cross, but he has an entourage,” Carroll said, his smile indicating he bears no ill will toward that other guy.
“I walk the hedges and highways telling people about Christ – the ones the church missed,” he said, explaining that he’s met people at truck stops, homeless shelters and under bridges and talked to them about his faith. He has taught people to read, talked people out of suicide, helped people gather the strength to overcome bad situations, and then just walked away.
He’s got a tent, a sleeping bag and a Bible in his big backpack, and usually a few dollars in his pocket that people bless him with along his way.
“The church didn’t send me – God sent me,” he said. “I’ve got no funding, but I’m never hungry. I don’t panhandle and I don’t hitchhike.” Carroll said he used to accept rides, but he prefers to walk now. And he used to refuse the few dollars people would offer him here or there, but he came to believe that God wants to bless others by letting them be a blessing to him.
Carroll says he’s a vegetarian and he’s studied religions from all over the world to be a better witness for Christ. “They all have something good to tell you,” he said.
He can quote chapters of scripture, break into a verse of “Blessed Assurance” and put listeners at ease as he talks about his long walk. “I’ve always had the gift of gab,” he said.
He started out by walking from Birmingham to Gulf Shores along the route of I-65, then over into Florida, then back through Alabama to Mississippi and Louisiana and into Texas. He accepted a ride to Austin, where he says he helped a former inmate find his way out of a situation where he was being drawn back to a life involving the crystal meth that put him in prison in the first place. Further rides landed him in Durango, Colo., Arizona and California.
He quoted Isaiah 6:8: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then said I, ‘Here am I, send me.’”
And Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
Carroll’s walk later included going from Illinois to Louisiana, then across Mississippi and Alabama up to Chattanooga, then to Atlanta.
There he met a man who was planning to kill himself. He bought the man a meal at a Golden Corral and helped him see the value in his life.
“I told him ‘Your life doesn’t even belong to you. It belongs to Christ.’”
Carroll said the man’s adult daughter lived in Iowa, and she told him if he could get there he could stay with her and get his life together. “I told him to walk,” Carroll said.
“I’m blessed to be able to brag about other people.”
Carroll walks a certain distance or time during a day before settling down in wooded areas off the backroads he prefers over interstates.
“When you do something like this, people say you’re crazy,” Carroll said. “But I’m better off than Jesus. I have a tent.”
He quoted Luke 9:58: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Carroll said he has run up against some rough characters along the way, but his faith has seen him through. “God has kept me in dangers seen and unseen,” he said.
Ultimately, Carroll has a destination.
“He’s prepared a place for me, I just don’t know where it is. I’m going to where God gives me rest, but it’s not about physical rest. God would have you in a place in order to do a thing. There’s always someone who needs me.”