Four years ago, Junior Garcia hoisted a 12-foot cross over his shoulder and departed the parking lot of the Oasis Church.
He was 19 and so shy that even his fellow church members joked they did not know if he could talk. Yet that summer, Garcia felt called to walk from Saginaw to Washington, D.C., carrying the 15-pound wooden cross, wheels attached at its base.
And so he did.
For 37 days, he trudged across interstates and down quiet rural roads, cutting a path through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, then Virginia. It rained the very first day. Passers-by honked, some with approval, others not. Strangers snapped photographs. Scores of newspapers and television stations interviewed him.
I was asking God to use me, and this is what he wanted.
Junior Garcia, on why he carried the cross
“I felt God put this in my heart to do,” said Garcia, now 23, on a recent morning in the sanctuary of The Oasis Church International, which is Pentecostal. “I had been searching and looking for a stronger faith. I was asking God to use me, and this is what he wanted.”
Since that journey Garcia’s life has changed in fundamental ways. Still quiet and unassuming, he is now a husband and a father to an 8-month-old daughter. He works as administrative pastor at the Oasis Church in Saginaw. And in December, he graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in business, with plans to return to school this fall to study theology.
Yet even today, Garcia can recall the heft of the cross in his arms and sensation of walking on bloody, blistered feet, which he said only strengthened his relationship with Jesus.
“I felt that was part of the lesson God was trying to teach me,” Garcia said. “My feet hurt badly every day, and I had to turn to God to get through it. God wants us to rely on him.”
‘A faith that was unshakeable’
Garcia’s trek began one full year before he ever set out from the parking lot. While participating in freshman orientation the previous summer, Garcia felt a separation from God that troubled him.
On the last day of orientation, he came across a Muslim man kneeling in prayer on a campus sidewalk.
“I saw a faith that was unshakable. I saw a man who was confident in his God, who wasn’t afraid to stand by his faith,” Garcia recalled. “I returned to church and asked God to put in me a kind of strength and desire like that.”
37 days it took for Junior Garcia to carry a cross from Saginaw to Washington, D.C. in 2012.
Garcia turned to the Bible for inspiration and came across a passage from Mark 8:34: “Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.”
For Garcia, the words would become his literal task. He spent the next year mapping out his route and contacting churches along the way for lodging. Family members and the church’s pastor, Randy Lemme, agreed to join the journey.
Courtney Garcia, then his friend and now his wife, said some criticized his decision as too radical. But they missed the point.
“God wants us to have a radical relationship with him,” Garcia said. “Junior wanted us to see God through these actions.”
Summer temperatures soared. Most nights, he and his followers slept in motel rooms donated by church groups and supporters. Every morning before the sun rose, Garcia prayed for guidance.
‘Inspired a lot of people’
In Virginia, strangers threw cigarettes. One person spat. People asked him why. He wanted to draw attention to the cross, he replied, which is a message of love.
Others drew inspiration. Pastor Lemme, who is now Garcia’s father-in-law, recalled a 6-year-old boy in East Texas who drove two hours with his father to get a glimpse of Garcia.
When Garcia arrived in D.C., about 100 people gathered to pray near the White House. It was July 13, 2012. Together, the group sung, Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow.
“It inspired a lot of people,” Lemme said. “Quite a few people were blessed and touched by it.”
When Garcia arrived in D.C., about 100 people gathered to pray near the White House. It was July 13, 2012. Together, the group sang Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow.
Garcia waited for a sense of completion to wash over him. It never came.
“I didn’t feel finished,” he said. “I had just walked 37 days, but I never got that sense of completion. I realized there was more to do.”
‘Whatever God asks me’
On returning to Texas, Garcia started the nonprofit Assignment Haiti with a Maryland pastor whom he met during the trek. Together, they have traveled to Haiti to deliver food and clothes, plant trees and rebuild homes in the impoverished country.
A crew is now completing a documentary of Garcia’s journey across the states, using footage from cameras that had been attached to the cross.
I will follow whatever he has planned for me.
Junior Garcia, on his future
Today, the wooden cross hangs in the lobby of the Oasis Church, a reminder of the walk. Garcia said he does not know if it will return to the road.
“I am absolutely willing to do whatever God asks me to do,” Garcia said. “I will follow whatever he has planned for me. If he puts it in my heart to carry a cross again, I would.”