Three young men carried a cross from Willmar to Duluth, and made life-lasting memories along the way
It was an amazing undertaking, not only for the three men making the faith journey but for the people they encountered along the way.
Chris Alle, of Willmar, and two friends, Scott Pederson and George Menchanca, went on a prayer walk, a faith walk journey. They said, ‘Why don’t we carry a cross with us?’ The next thing they knew they were building a cross out of 2x4s.
They were on their way, their hearts filled with love for their fellow man and the hope of ministering to those in need.
“The highlight of their trip was to know that there are people out there that, when they see someone in need, they’re willing to help,” said Alle.
They set off from Willmar, carrying the cross. The only other thing they brought along were backpacks. “We left from Scott’s house and just started walking. We got about two blocks away, and a friend of mine swung around the corner and gave us $60. So just to start the walk off, the Lord put money in our pockets so we could eat. That was awesome.”
They took the trail from the high school in Willmar and started walking to Spicer. There is an underpass on the trail and that’s where they slept that night. “It started raining, and the water was starting to come in, and it was like ‘Lord we didn’t want to start out this way.’” They made it through that night and walked to a gas station in Spicer where they purchased some supplies before starting out on their faith walk once again. “Our hope was to evangelize because we wanted to live with the poor, those who are on the streets, and evangelize to them.”
They didn’t walk far when a friend picked them up and gave them a ride to a church in Cold Spring. They got about five miles outside of Cold Spring when they met a pickup going south. All of a sudden the pickup hit the brakes and swung around behind them. They were a little skeptical, especially when three “decent sized” construction workers jumped out. “We thought, ‘Here goes our first kind of trial that we’re going to have to overcome.’” It was just the opposite. The men in the truck wanted to know what they were doing and why they were carrying a cross. Alle told them their hope was to live with the poor, those on the streets and evangelize to them. When they heard that, Alle said, their faces lit up like kids. “They said, ‘Really, we’re men of God ourselves. We saw the cross as we were driving. We seen you guys with the cross and wanted to come back.” They offered them a ride and invited them to a baptism, at which the three men were getting baptized.
The men dropped them off at the Salvation Army, in St. Cloud, with a promise to come back and get them for the baptism. They also gave them all the money they had in their wallets, about $250. Alle said they were able to shower at the Salvation Army and wash the clothes they were wearing. “We only brought two pairs of clothes, the ones we were wearing and the ones we had on our backs.”
From there they walked to a nearby grocery store after calling the three men to let them know they would be waiting for them there. It turned out the grocery store didn’t want them in their parking lot. “They asked us to leave their property so we went across the street.” That was a little surprising, Alle said.
The three men also asked Alle and his friends if they would go to another church in the morning because they wanted to see how they would be treated at that church. “The service got over, and as they were leaving the church, Alle, who was in fatigues and had a headband on, walked to the bathroom and saw a woman pull her daughter off to the side, telling her to stay away from him. “We’re at church….I left a little hurt because I never want to be like that because a stranger comes around…..we’re in church so we left a little bummed.”
When they got out of church they walked quite a ways. Their feet were really starting to hurt, and they were getting tired. “We were sitting alongside the road, and this man comes roaring up and pulls over and said ‘I found you guys.’ He takes us out to eat at McDonald’s and brings us into Cloquet. That night we slept in the park. It was getting cold out, and when we woke up, we were all wet. The dew just laid on us.” He said they spread their sleeping bags and clothes out for an hour or so to let them dry and from there walked to a store to get some food. “We’re sitting on the side of the gas station in Cloquet and this man gets out of his car and walks up to us and asks what we’re doing and who we are. We told him our mission, and he said ‘I want you to wait here. I’ll be back in 15 to 20 minutes and I just want you to wait here.”
They waited, and when he returned, he was with an older man named Jack. “We found out he’s evangelized all over Duluth….a sweet old man, you just know he’s full of knowledge and the Lord’s anointing was on him.” These two men took them out to eat, they bought a hotel room for them, and spent the next day with them as well, buying them lunch before sending them on their way.
They were walking up 35W when a sheriff pulled up, hits his lights and jumped out of the car, asking what they’re doing. He told them it was illegal for them to walk on the side of the busy highway. “We told him our mission. He said he would give us a ride to the next town, where there were trails we could take.” Alle said they told him they wouldn’t leave the cross. That if they were forced to leave it, they’d walk in the woods, as they were getting into some very dense woods. “He said, ‘We’ll make it fit.’ So he put the cross between the bars, the bottom of the cross kind of angled over our laps, the top of it hanging outside of the squad car. Found out he was a man of God himself so we got to sit and talk with him for half hour or so.”
All those people they’d come across and spoke with signed the cross. The officer also signed it and put his name and badge number on it as well. “It was one of those ‘yah God’ moments. You just keep putting people in our path that are blessing us.”
They finally arrived in Duluth, and near the big lighthouse where the ships come into port, they took a break, journaling and reading. “We got some pretty ugly looks from people that were around there. It’s a tourist attraction, and it was ‘You guys need to be more downtown.’” They then went to the homeless mission downtown and ate with the homeless and got to talk to some people and spread the word. He said they actually were walking through alleys downtown and they caught a man and women down there “shootin up.” They wanted to talk to them but didn’t know what to say. “I was still a little young in my walk. I had been there so I witnessed some different stuff, helped a drunk man get to the mission to get something to eat. It smelled like he had been drinking all night and into the daytime. He could hardly walk.”
They left Duluth. One of the men accompanying Alle on the walk was nervous about being there, plus the lack of sleep was taking a toll on their bodies. “He said he didn’t feel comfortable about things. I said, ‘This is what we came out here to do and now that we’re here you can’t get scared to be here. This is our whole purpose.’” His friend told him he felt the Lord was saying they needed to leave. “My frustration was starting to come up, and I said “we agreed that the Lord said for us to come out here.’ Our plan was to go to Duluth and walk all the way to Minneapolis and stay there for a couple weeks.”
They did leave, catching a bus to the Munger Trails. “We get into the Munger Trails and it was starting to get dark out, so we stopped at a store to get some food before we went onto the trails.” They found this little shack about five to six miles into the Munger Trails. “We decided that would be where we would stay. We’d build a fire right in front of it and stay there.”
They did just that, hung out and discussed some more about their mission and why they were out there. “The man that wanted to leave from Duluth said he thought he would just go his own way…I guess just the pain from walking, getting beat up out there, the way people looked at us, viewed us, it was starting to take a little bit of a toll. I said ‘let’s go to sleep and wake up tomorrow and get this figured out.’”
There was a kind of door on the shack they were in and they put a bunch of sticks and whatever they could find in front of the door. “We’re on the Munger Trail. There are bears out there and all sorts of stuff going on. It’s creepy at night because when it’s really quiet you can hear noises and things walking around you.” They woke up the next morning a little more recharged. They walked about 20 miles or so that day. Alle had purchased some shoes that were lightweight; while they were in St. Cloud, shoes that could breathe if they got wet. “I couldn’t walk in the boots I had anymore. I had to get rid of them. I got a chance to give them to a guy that had some pretty beat up shoes. It was nice to be able to help him out.”
That night they stopped and slept on the trail, without any shelter. “We built a little fire, roasted some brats and that was probably the scariest night because there was no shelter and noises all around us.” When they woke up the next morning, his friend stood up and fell down right away, saying his feet hurt so bad. “He took his shoes off and he had blisters inside of his blisters. It was nasty, the skin on his toes was peeling back, but, he said he would fight it out, so they kept going.
They stopped at a church to see if they could get some shoes and food, but, they were turned away. They walked to a gas station about a mile and a half away. Their friend just sat there, saying, ‘Guys I can’t do this anymore. My feet hurt so bad,’ Alle said. “I couldn’t blame him. His feet looked horrible. We sat at the gas station and he said, ‘I’m going to call and get a ride.’” All of them ended up going home.
“Our plan was to stay out for a month. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to persevere through things I knew were going to take a toll on us. When we got in the car and I sat back and relaxed, I looked out the window and thought, the time we were out there, we went through a lot of stuff. We went through a lot.” Once home, he remembered looking at the TV, at his bed and thinking about the homeless mission and the people downtown that were walking around and getting high and drunk and just living on the street, and he started crying. “This stuff is meaningless,” he said, referring to the amenities people surround themselves with. “People don’t have any of this stuff and I make a big deal of ‘I have to have the nicest TV, I have to have this’ and I should just be thankful that I have something.”
It was a heck of an adventure, and an interesting one, he said. “We were out there about a week, and you can understand how people live on the street, how they have mental illness and things like that because it wears on you, it takes a toll on you, and there are unsafe places to be. But we made it back with our cross.”
For Alle, the highlight of the trip was to know that there are people out there that when they see someone in need they’re willing to help. “That was a blessing.” He said one woman even stopped and gave them a bunch of water because she thought they looked thirsty. “But just the hearts of some people who would actually take time out of their day, out of their schedule. We’ve messed up a bunch of people’s days, and they did it out of the kindness of their hearts and that was amazing.”
Secondly, he realized how spoiled he was and how he put more attention on things he really didn’t need and that he can live with so much less. “I feel like materialistic stuff was important to me, and it can’t be because there are people that live with nothing. They live on the streets – they have nothing; they’ve got to look for food.”
Alle would love to do this again but would have to get permission from his wife. He wasn’t married when he went on his journey carrying the cross. “I’d love to be able to do it again and find a couple guys to go and spread the gospel, and if that is the case, it wouldn’t be just for a week. I’d go out for at least two or three weeks and maybe stay out for a month.”
Alle’s life story
How did Alle get to where he’s at today? How did he go from being an addict and alcoholic to the Christian man he is today? He said he got tired of waking up in random beds of people that he didn’t know. He got tired of being an addict and alcoholic, his health deteriorating, he was tired of being in and out of jail and being in prison. “The last time I went to jail I was arrested by a police officer, who brought me into jail. I remember getting my cell, and I sat there, and I cried out to the Lord and said ‘I don’t want to do this anymore…..I don’t want to live like this anymore. I’m tired of this life, back and forth and in and out of jail.’”
He went on to say that one of the most amazing times that he’s had with the Lord was his conversion, when he came into salvation. “He (God) said, ‘Son, I love you, and I made you for so much more than this. I created you for great things.’” Alle added, “I knew this wasn’t me talking to myself because I never talk to myself like this, and people don’t talk to me like this so I knew this was the Lord speaking to me, and he was just wooing me onto himself.”
Alle said he has always believed in God. He believed there was something greater than himself up there, but he didn’t follow him or follow Christ. “I said, I’ll give you six months of my life, and if you can’t do anything in this time I’m going back to what I came out of, but I will pursue you wholeheartedly…..and it’s been over seven years now, and I push and put everything into this.”
Alle said he doesn’t like to do things half way. “When I put my effort into something, it’s 100 percent or nothing. So when the Lord started speaking to me more through people, through his word, and just to me and that quietness, I’ve never felt love like that before and I never want to go back to the depth I came out of.”
He went on to say his life before he found God was years of mental institutions, years of chemical dependency treatments, years of in and out of jail, prison two different times, six years in all. He said it started when he was 11 years old when he started breaking into cars. “I got put into a shelter home and from there on, it just went and went and went until I was 28. For me, enough was enough. I see other people that are happy and figured there’s got to be more to life than what I was doing.” He said he decided to give it a shot. “And the Lord hasn’t let go of me yet.”
Alle’s body is pretty much covered in tattoos. “A lot of it is my faith that is written on me. I had a lot of nasty stuff on me from my old life before and I had to get it covered up. Now I have my children’s names, and prayers. One prayer is from my old life and thinking back, ‘Lord, I can handle my enemies, please save me from my friends’ because it’s usually your friends that hurt you. You already know where you and your enemies stand. It’s basically all faith, things that I believe in and it’s a great evangelistic tool too because people get curious and wonder what it is.”
Alle is happy with where he’s at today and with his job at LifeRight, which he said has been and is amazing. “I had the opportunity to take a ministry from the ground and build it up, and the Lord used me to do it. It wasn’t much of me, it was just he used me, and this is something you know you were built for.”
Alle said he knew the Lord wanted him in ministry, and he waited five years or so and did ministry on the outside. He was an elder at church, he mentored men, walked with men and helped them join a good church to get involved. “I just knew the Lord had a place for me. It was two years ago now I went to a mission’s retreat in Colorado and got a chance to meet a bunch of awesome people, and one of those individuals asked me if I would be interested in coming to Austin, Texas, in church planning.” He said yes and that church flew him, his wife and son there. “We went out for about four days – I got the opportunity to speak at their church and preach that Sunday, and it was kind of the red carpet was rolled out. They wanted us there and did everything that was appealing. I got back and I was ‘This is amazing. I would love to do that,’ but I have children from other women that are not with my wife so it was the decision o, ‘Do I stay and raise my children at least until they get a little older or do I take this position because this is what I want to do.”
He wanted to be in that church in the worst way, but after a lot of prayer told them no, because, he needed to be near his children.
“So, with tears and a broken heart I denied it.” he said. “I was on my face a lot after that, crying out to the Lord ‘You need to do something. I’m being obedient. I don’t think he would have left me if I went out there. He would have went with me, but I’m choosing to be here for my kids.”
A week and a half after that he got a message from a friend of his that’s on the steering committee that helped bring the ministry of LifeRight Outreach to Willmar. She told him she had something she wanted him to check out, that the founder of LifeRight was going to be in Willmar to look at a nursing home they would like to purchase. She told Alle this would be a perfect time for him to get involved because he would be a perfect fit for this. “I started crying right away, just sobbing, it was like, ‘Lord, you hear me, you hear my prayers, you hear me crying out to you’ and I didn’t even know if I had the job yet or not.”
He met with the LifeRight founder Mark Foss, and the committee and as they were walking through the building felt like a lost kid because they all knew each other. “I was kind of following and that’s when I met Cecil Meyer, program administrator, as well because he sat on the board to bring it here. We went to the coffee shop and sat down, and Mark looked at me and said ‘Who are you and what is your story?’ I laid out who I was – he said ‘Do you want to be a part of this’ and I said ‘I’d love to’ and I ended up on the steering committee on that board and I figured that was what he was talking about.”
But, it was much more than that. They purchased the building, and two days later Mark asked Alle to come work for him. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ We’ve had many conversations since about how things are run and what would be expected of me.” It took two to three months to get the place fixed up before they could open it. The time came to open, and he asked Alle if he would be the program administrator. “Cecil then stepped in because I’m not really interested in doing paperwork. I just want to be with the men, that’s where my heart is, so I stepped into the program coordinator part of it.” He added, “My passion is teaching them, encouraging them, speaking life into them, that’s more what I’m built for. They appreciate having someone who has been through it, knows the struggles, knows what it’s like to withdraw from dope, knows what it’s like to be in prison and jail – I speak their language, and they can’t play me, and they know they can’t.” He said it’s been over a year now, and he still loves it. “It’s not a job that wears out on me. I love what I do, and I think it’s because of the calling the Lord has on my life. Once you step into that calling – this is life – and I’m blessed to get paid to do life.”