It was an awkward introduction to the quest of Mike Durbin and his son of the same name.
“Hey, can I call you back in a few minutes? I’m driving a stick shift right now,” he said.
Sure, no problem. This was a story more than worth waiting for a few minutes for.
Durbin called me back while entering a Wal-Mart in Van Buren, Ark. He, Mike Jr., and Mike Jr.’s uncle Marccus were in the middle of a 500-mile trek from their Whitehouse, Texas home to Springfield, Mo. But this journey is hardly your run-of-the-mill summer vacation, either in how or why it’s happening.
The how is walking.
Mike, 15, and Marcuss, 19, are walking the 500 miles to Springfield. Mike Sr. is driving a support vehicle making sure the young men are taken care of in terms of food and shelter.
But why walk?
A quick Mapquest check shows it takes only about eight hours to drive from Whitehouse, located between Dallas and Shreveport, La., to Springfield.
“When Mike told me about this, I said, ‘OK, this will work out,'” the elder Durbin said. “We had been planning a summer vacation to New York and we could stop in Springfield on the way through.
“Mike said, ‘No way, we can walk the 500 miles in a month.’ He said if we drove it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. If he was going to do it was going to be a sacrifice.”
Mike Jr. attended a youth conference sponsored by the Speed The Light missions group through the family’s congregation, First Assembly of God Church in Whitehouse. He was excited about what he had seen and heard about the group, which is operated by Assemblies of God’s national organization.
The morning after the conference, Mike told his dad of an extensive dream he’d had feeling that God was calling him to do something major for the group. As he prayed about it at school that day, his resolve was strengthened and the trip began to take shape.
To even get to the point where such a trip was possible, Mike Jr. had to overcome daunting health obstacles. His dad said Mike had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was five. The initial prognosis was good. After treatments, the cancer went into remission.
Then it came back.
At that point, Mike Sr. said, he was given less than a 5 percent chance of survival.
“It was a miracle of God that he was healed,” he said.
Mike Jr., too, saw the connection between his survival and his current journey.
Showing wisdom well beyond his age: “Mike told me he believes God didn’t save him from something, He saved him for something. Mike feels God saved him to do missionary work, so here we are.”
Since Mike was still in school, he and Marcuss began walking daily for 3 ½ months to build up stamina for the journey around Mike’s schedule. Mike Sr. said initially he was concerned they would be able to build up the necessary fitness in time.
Now they’re 200 miles from the Assemblies of God headquarters, on target for their planned July 1st arrival date.
But what about paying for this trip? Anyone who has ever been a teenage boy or parents teenage boys knows they eat – a lot. The amount of calories and energy needed for this endeavor is immense.
That’s where Mike Sr.’s job comes in. Part of his role is to find food and lodging ahead of the boys, politely asking for donations and assistance.
“We have paid for one meal on this trip, and that’s because we were in a hurry and didn’t ask for help,” Mike Sr. said. “All I know is that we pray that God will lead where we need to go. He is leading the way for us.”
Fighting back tears he added, “None of us are so overwhelmingly bold that we expect our food to be paid for or for a place to stay. We’ve seen God’s hand all through this. We have been rejected a few places and then felt led to come back a second time and we’ve been accepted.”
Ultimately Mike Sr. refers to the journey – and I couldn’t agree with him more – as a rite of passage. Referring to John Eldredge’s well-read (and worth the read if you haven’t before) “Wild at Heart“, Mike Sr. and his wife Yvette see this trip as crossing a bridge into Christian manhood.
“As Christian parents we have an obligation to help these two boys become men, and if we miss this opportunity, we may not get it again. … What Mike has done is take the faith of a child and out of that, he’s becoming a man.”
“He told the main reason he is doing this isn’t the money he’s raising, although that’s important. The reason is, he said, ‘to make Jesus famous.'”
The next time you think about commitment to faith, particularly if you’re thinking a teenager can’t make it, reference Mike Durbin. In this case the walk with God is more important than the walk to Missouri.
To follow Mike on his journey, read his blog.
To donate to his cause, click here.