Cooper: Homeless missionary pedals his beliefs

Cooper: Homeless missionary pedals his beliefs

May 18th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

He's sort of a rolling stone is David Peters. Wherever he lays his hat - to paraphrase The Temptations' 1972 song - is his home.

The 50-year-old homeless man rolled into Chattanooga earlier this week on a bike he earned through the Pedal to Possibilities organization in Syracuse, N.Y. Peters, who hopes to make it to Orlando, Fla., in time for his daughter's 18th birthday on Wednesday, calls himself a missionary.

"I'm fulfilling the Great Commission," he says, referring to the passage in Matthew 28. "I'm making disciples, preaching the word along the way to anybody and everybody that wants to hear it -- and some who don't."

When I tracked him down, Peters was in a McDonald's in Cleveland, Tenn. He'd "witnessed to a dozen" in a nearby Hardee's earlier in the morning.

He's been in Knoxville since Christmas Eve, staying with a cousin and then a "generous [Christian] brother." On the way from Knoxville to Florida, he may overnight at some homeless shelters and help tend to the physical and mental needs of others like himself.

A Pedal to Possibilities-sponsored bike trip by Peters from Syracuse to Orlando last fall raised some $7,000 for the organization with per-mile donations, but Peters is on his own for this trip, having left Knoxville with "73 cents and $88 in food stamps."

Halifax Urban Ministries in Daytona Beach, Fla., paid for his bus trip from Florida to Knoxville last December, but he almost lost his hard-won bike in the process. The ministry was going to ship it back for him, but the cost was prohibitive. Eventually, "a tremendous Christian brother" at Greyhound made it happen, he says.

"I had almost written off getting [it] back," he says.

When Peters leaves Chattanooga, he'll pedal to Birmingham and its Brookwood Baptist Church, where the senior pastor is David Platt, author of the book "Radical," which challenges readers to take a look at their lives and forsake everything to follow Christ.

"I read that book and, frankly, was blown away by it," he says. "I read it again, very slowly, the next day. I would put it at the top of the list for anybody who claims the name of Christ and wants to know him better."

Several years ago, in the midst of the Great Recession, Peters was laid off from his Syracuse job in the automobile parts field. The jobs he might have taken would pay him $100 to $150 less than his monthly unemployment checks so, when he got sick, the money ran out quickly.

"It didn't take long to deplete my resources," he says.

Once homeless, Peters became involved with the Pedal to Possibilities organization, which was started in 2011 by then-Le Moyne College student Andrew Lunetta. The organization, in promoting the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, offers homeless people a bike after 10 rides, a light after 20 rides and a rack after 30 rides in the Syracuse area.

One of the most important thing "graduates" get is a certificate, he says. Achieving that is practically as important as the bike, he says, because homeless people tend to develop "a sense of hopelessness."

Those rides, Peters says, taught him a lot.

"I thought most [participants] were drunks and drug addicts," he says, "but they were just looking for a hand up, not a handout. And for 90 to 95 percent of them with drug and alcohol problems, those problems were the result of the homelessness, not the reason for it. It's a preferable alternative to suicide."

Peters says he ran Pedals to Possibilities while Lunetta and his girlfriend biked to California last summer and joked with the group's founder that: "I could ride all the way to Florida."

"I should never have opened my mouth," he says, laughing. "I had been thinking about it and praying about it, but [Lunetta] charged in like a rhino."

Soon, Peters had a partner for the ride down the East Coast and was collecting sponsors. Ultimately, the partner couldn't go, but Peters was still determined.

The 1,600-mile trek took 34 days -- 28 days of riding -- but, alcohol free for 30 years, drug free for "quite a while" and in "pretty good shape," he made it.

"It was tough in the beginning," he says. "I've cut way, way down on my smoking, but I've never completely quit. My lungs and my legs were good, but my wrists and my back were the problems."

Though he's not making a sponsored trip this time, Peters would like to see similar results. At the end of the last trip, his visit with his father and stepmother in mid-Florida saw them return to church for the first time in 30 years.

This time around, he'd like to restore his relationship with his daughter and forge a better peace with his remarried ex-wife.

Eventually, Peters wants to settle down, but he's not sure when or where.

"I'm going where the Lord sends me to go," he says. "My wants and needs have always been provided by him. It's hard to pray, 'Here I am, Lord,' and then refuse to go."

So, for now, he's still on a roll.

To reach or assist Peters, call 315-876-3976.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497.

Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.