Pastor Paul Wright nears the end of his marathon walk.
Pastor Paul Wright nears the end of his marathon walk.

Faith can move mountains, they say; sometimes it moves one pair of feet, a long, long way.

Paul Wright, 53, is the pastor of the Bikers’ Church in East London, and regional head of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, a man whose ‘day job’ sometimes involves as much administration as ministering. But underlying that is a simple, unshakeable faith.

“God speaks,” says Wright, “and I listen.”

Some years ago, he felt called to build a wooden cross, a simple metre-high structure neatly bound together with rope. Three hand-forged iron nails completed the symbolism and a harness allowed Wright to wear the cross on his back “when I walked the streets trying to lead people to the Lord”.

“Then one morning the Lord asked me to take that cross down off the wall and walk a thousand kilometres with it.”

Wright didn’t hesitate, he says, although his wife took a bit more convincing. Nevertheless, it was she who made up dozens of ‘sponsor packs’, each containing a copy of the Bikers’ Bible, Hope for the Highway, and a letter explaining the purpose of Wright’s walk and asking the public to sponsor Wright at a rand or more per kilometre in aid of the CMA Run for the Son campaign to fund a new printing of the bible, which is never sold, but given free to each rider who commits to the church.

Pastor Paul Wright's thousand-kilometre stare.
Pastor Paul Wright’s thousand-kilometre stare.

By the time Wright left East London to walk the 1000km to Cape Town, the appeal had raised R53 000 and he is confident that when the books are closed, there will be more than R100 000 in the bank.

He set out on December 1, accompanied by a small team of volunteers, a bicycle, a BMW R1200 GS and a small van with all their supplies. Real life had intruded, however, and he had managed less than three months of training, with only one full day of walking during which he completed 42km.

As he said later: “I got fit on the road.”

By the time he reached Port Alfred, there were blisters under the blisters on his feet and in Jeffery’s Bay he had to seek medical treatment. The doctor told Wright to stay off his feet, so he allowed himself a day of rest (one of only five during the entire journey) and the next day put in a personal best of 52km in 14 hours of walking.

Every night they had a place to sleep; one night they had arranged to sleep in a barn but when the farmer and his wife met them on the road, they simply took them to the farm, threw open the doors of their home and went to stay with family.

They touched thousands of lives along the way, as people waved and hooted, often stopping to give them food, drink and even money, and to ask why Wright was walking along the national road with a cross on his back. Many asked for sponsor packs; Wright reckons he raised about R13 000 for Run for the Son during the walk, with more to come.

Asked if there had been any negative reactions, he said he valued them because they gave him some feel of what it was like for Jesus when he walked through Jerusalem with a much heavier cross on his back.

Even the weather was kind; only once did he walk through 20km of torrential rain, but there was some cloud cover for at least half of most days on the road – although Wright’s deep tan is evidence of countless hours of walking in blazing sunshine.

A personal highlight for Wright was walking through Worcester; he knows he was born there but has never met his parents.

“It was like coming home,” he said. “Not to this place, but to who I am.

“Now I’m at home in my skin.”

Wright reached the Bikers Church in Brackenfell, Cape Town, late on the afternoon of December 30, having walked 1003.8km in 25 days on the road, an average of 40km a day, getting up at 4am and trying to be on the road by five.

During the walk he went through four pairs of running shoes and two pairs of aluminium walking staves, and developed a steady, relaxed stride that made him very difficult to keep up with.

“I don’t feel any sense of self-achievement,” he said, paying tribute to his support team. “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here.”

Greg Phillips cycled the whole way with him, carrying his own and Wright’s water, while Dale Simmons was always at hand with his big BMW to provide the nutritional supplements that kept them going up the long hills and through endless afternoons. Simmons actually wore out a pair of hiking boots, getting off the GS at least once a kilometre.

Wright said the team had learned much about themselves and each other along the way. Asked if it would be difficult to go back to everyday life after such an adventure, he simply said: “I’m a disciplined person now.”

Contributions to Run for the Son can be made to FNB account number 514 2002 3487, branch code 25 01 17, in the name CMA Run for the Son, using the reference Big Walk and your name. Please email proof of payment to Beth at 0866 147 321.