Peter Jenkins began a five-year, 4,500-mile walk across America in October of 1973. First published as two articles in National Geographic, his memoirs then led to two best selling books, A Walk Across America and his most recent book now available in paperback, Looking for Alaska (St. Martin's).
"On that original walk across the U.S., however, Jenkins found something else—faith. Two years into the journey, he stumbled into an Alabama revival and accepted Christ.
How did you end up in a Southern revival service?
I grew up in Connecticut in a very quiet, official, East Coast Presbyterian church. My parents believed, and they made their six children go to church and Sunday school.
In 1973 I had started walking from upper New York State. A year and a half later, I found myself in Mobile, Alabama. It was just as radically different as any place I'd ever been.
I was working as a tree surgeon and some people had invited me to go to this party. I knew it would be a typical dope-smoking party where you just sit and listen to The Allman Brothers. [On my way there,] I saw these big billboards advertising a revival.
I had no idea what a revival was.
Were you looking for a religion?
I wanted a religion that had emotion in it. I wanted a religion that had life, action, and the kinds of things I found in the kind of music I loved. Prior to this, I had lived in North Carolina with a black family. And that sort of set the stage. I had realized in that black church that you can have emotion and you can express yourself. You can even dance and sing for three hours. You can shout. You can be mad.
In all of our lives we're on this spiritual quest. As you go, you can see how things are set up, just like they are in a good movie. The scene is set.
The scene is set for you to go to the revival that night?
Yes. Instead of just sitting [at that party] I went to this revival. I walked in and there were thousands of people there. I had to go to the front to take pictures. I looked at it as a sociological experiment. I was actually working for National Geographic at the time, so I'd read about various spiritual events over in Africa and Tibet. And the Deep South was like being in a foreign country to me at the time.
When the revival begins, this guy from Texas named James Robison comes out screaming and preaching and throwing his arms around. And I was thinking, "Wow man, these are great pictures I'm getting." There was sweat dripping and everything. He was dressed in a three-piece suit and cowboy boots.
The two of us could not have more unalike. I was this young man with sun-bleached reddish hair down to his shoulders and an unshaven beard.
He later told me that he wanted to scream, "Hippie, stop shooting those pictures and get away from me." But God told him to stop. I probably would have never ended up becoming a Christian that night if that had happened.
He kept preaching. I dropped the camera and started paying attention. And I honestly felt like when he was preaching the gospel, a huge sword was slicing me into a whole bunch of pieces.
Do you remember what he was saying that night?
He was saying, "Joining a church won't make you a Christian anymore than joining a Lion's Club will make you a lion. From the day you were born, you wanted to do your own thing and you were rebellious against God. If you really want to really know God, you've got to repent of this rebellion which the Bible calls sin."
I could really relate to that. I thought I was a really pretty good person. I thought I was in search of the truth. The more I heard this stuff, [the more I realized that] religion is not the answer, salvation is. You just have something inside of you that knows when you hear the truth.
Was there an altar call?
Oh yeah. There were hundreds of people. I almost got trampled. And I was the only hippie up there. But that just doesn't matter. All of the things that we think about ourselves, how we define ourselves—all that is insignificant when it comes to what's going on in our soul.
So what happened after you went up front?
This little slender woman with no makeup came up to me and said, "You look like you're about eight feet off the ground." And that is how I felt.
"Angels are smiling down on you from heaven right now," she said. "But I just want to say one thing to you: It's not always going to be like this."
I almost wanted to slap her. What are you doing, raining on my parade? But I have remembered that because she was exactly right. She said, "You're on a mountaintop right now, but you're going to go through some very dark valleys, as we all do, and that's part of the learning process and refining curve."
How did that night change your life?
About a month ago, James and I met again. James has a very popular show on television in Texas called Life Today. I actually got to appear on it.
We're a lot more alike now, actually. We both wear jeans and cowboy boots. I live in Tennessee and he lives in Texas.
But what I realized as I was sitting there with him, was that he gave me one of the greatest gifts anybody could have ever given me. He led me to the Lord. That has had probably the most powerful and substantial influence on my life.
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Earlier Christianity Today articles on Sproul include a review of his book Willing To Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will and a response to his critique of the ecumenical document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together."
Earlier Dick Staub Interviews include:
R.C. Sproul's Testimony | The theologian and author of Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow talks about how he met Jesus and why playing the violin is like reading the Bible. (Dec. 31, 2002)
Calvin Miller on a Southern Baptist's View of Advent | The author of The Christ of Christmas celebrates the season around the one great miracle (Dec. 17, 2002)
Phillip Johnson | Asking the right questions is at the heart of the evolution debate. (Dec. 3, 2002)
Connie Neal | The author of The Gospel According to Harry Potter talks about leading a friend to Christ through the wizard hero. (Nov. 19, 2002)
Chris Rice | The author of Grace Matters talks about his friendship with racial reconciliation leader Spencer Perkins, his former coauthor and best friend. (Nov. 12, 2002)
John Polkinghorne | The 2002 Templeton Prize winner sees the Bible as "the laboratory notebook" of the Holy Spirit. (Nov. 5, 2002)
Ruth Tucker | The professor and author of Walking Away from Faith talks about doubting God. (Oct. 29, 2002)
Vishal Mangalwadi | The author and lecturer talks about how the Bible shaped India, Western democracy, and his life. (Oct. 22, 2002)
Dave Alan Johnson | The creator of Doc talks about balancing entertainment with spiritual depth and TV shows with evil plumbers. (Oct. 15, 2002)
Chuck Palahniuk | The author of Fight Club talks about his new book and the need to see culture not on a TV set but by talking to neighbors. (Oct. 8, 2002)
Frederica Mathewes-Green | The author of Facing East and The Illumined Heart talks about her spiritual journey and transformation. (Oct. 1, 2002)
Chris Seay | The author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano talks about men who want to be in the "Christian mafia." (Sept. 24, 2002)
John Sloan | The author of The Barnabas Way says Christians need to kiss more frogs and reconsider their prayers for blessings. (Sept. 17, 2002)
Nancy Guthrie | Two years after sharing her story of Hope with Christianity Today, the modern Job tells of losing another child to Zellweger Syndrome (Sept. 10, 2002)
Stephen L. Carter | The Yale University law professor and author of The Emperor of Ocean Park talks about the lack of religious characters in modern fiction (Sep. 3, 2002)
Francine Rivers | The fiction writer says she starts each book with a question that she doesn't know the answer to. God provides the ending. (Aug. 27, 2002)