Steve Epp is just one man, but he’s taken on a project that’s fit for the divine.
Epp has made it his mission to carry the symbol of his faith -- a 35-pound, approximately 8-foot tall wooden cross -- across the United States. His goal? To show the people of America that Christ doesn’t just exist within the walls of a church. He can be found anywhere and everywhere. Hope can be found on the highway.
“They’re looking for God, they’re looking for Jesus. They’re not looking for some building,” Epp said Thursday on the east side of U.S. Highway 281. “That’s kind of what we represent out here. We’re just offering people hope. We say 14 words: ‘Jesus loves you and so do I. What can I pray with you about?’”
Epp, 67, spent 35 years as a pastor in Tulsa, Okla., where he’s from, but found he was feeling burnt out and stagnant, and wasn’t reaching as many people as he’d have liked.
“I’m sick and tired of religion,” Epp said. “What (the word church) actually means is you and me come together and pray together and worship together. It was never supposed to be a building. He just wants us to be together.”
So in 2014, he and his wife, Saundra Epp, made the decision to take their beliefs to the streets. Steve began walking from state to state with his cross and a few water bottles in tow, spreading hope and love. Saundra is his right hand man, always staying close by and making sure camp is ready when Epp’s day is done.
Epp walks about 10 miles and 20,000 steps a day. Sometimes drivers honk as they pass. Sometimes they pull over and ask questions. That’s what Epp wants. His goal is to invoke curiosity -- “What’s that crazy guy doing?” -- in order to communicate with more people.
Within the past five years, Epp has joined hands and prayed with tens of thousands of people -- a number that dwarfs the amount he had been able to reach standing behind a pulpit.
This is Epp’s version of the Lord’s house. He’s a firm believer that to save more souls, faithful followers must put in the work. That also means welcoming all kinds of people, not just those who fit into a specific mold.
Epp doesn’t refer to himself as a Christian, but rather, a follower of Christ.
Gone are the days when those followers should be identifying as Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic or any other denomination, according to Epp.
“God loves them all. We’re all his children,” he said. “When a sister’s hurting, you buy her groceries. When this guy’s hurting, you pray for him. We’ve got to get back to loving each other again.”
That’s not to say Epp doesn’t appreciate traditional worship or Sunday morning services. But he recognizes that, especially in younger generations, organized religion often gets a bad rap. So he’s taking it back to the basics of the Bible, back to what the words on its pages truly mean, at their core.
Along the way, Epp has prayed with people from every different background imaginable. No matter what a person believes and regardless of how they choose to live their life, Epp greets every passing visitor with a wave and a smile.
“This represents something more than me. The scripture tells us to go and make disciples. Jesus said he did not come to be served, but to serve others,” he said. “I really believe in what he did. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to serve.”
His trek through South Dakota, from Frederick to Aberdeen on Thursday, represents the last leg of Epp’s most recent pilgrimage. When he arrives back in Oklahoma, he’ll have been through 25 states and will take a much-deserved rest.
While on the road, Epp is missing his five children and nine grandchildren back home, and admits it can be difficult at times to stay motivated when thinking of them. But that’s the extent to which he believes in his cause.
“I’ll go until I can’t anymore. I’ve had people rebuke me. I’ve had people get mad at me. They think I’m an idiot, but I believe in something,” he said. “And I think your generation is looking for someone to believe in.”