Honoraville church receives thru-travelers in Jesus’ name

Published 8:45 pm Sunday, March 5, 2023

For several years, members of Union Baptist Church in Honoraville have welcomed travelers who were hiking through the area and seeking a hospitable place to rest for a night.

Life-long member, Leesa Massey, said she has met a half-dozen or more of these travelers on several occasions. She and other church members welcomed each one, offering them food, shelter, and a place at the table during worship when hikers arrived during a service.

But according to Massey, some who attend the church never knew exactly why the travelers passed through the rural area, that is until the last one stopped by Feb. 28.

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The most recent traveler to visit Union Baptist, Kansas native Lo Phong La “LP” Kiatoukaysy, explained that the church sits on part of the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT), a network of trails stretching from Key West, Florida to Bell Isle in Newfoundland, Canada.

The 190-mile portion of the trail passing through Honoraville is known as the Alabama Roadwalk. Travelers like Kiatoukaysy who follow all our parts of the ECT are known as thru-hikers and most consider the pastime a serious adventure they engage in regularly.

Kiatoukaysy, whose trail name is “Lil’ Buddha,” said thru-hikers travel long distances as opposed to traditional hikers who walk a few miles or backpack over the course of a weekend.

“Thru-hikers start at the beginning of a long-distance trail and hike until the end,” Kiatoukaysy explained. “Thru-hikers are covering very long distances and traveling all the way.”

Kiatoukaysy called the church phone that night on his way through the area because the church is known among thru-hikers as a “friendly destination,” a place likely to welcome travelers and allow them to pitch their tents for an evening to rest. Massey, who lives near the church, stopped by just in time to catch fellow member, Harold Nelson, opening the church and waiting for Kiatoukaysy to arrive.

“I had met a few of them before, but had really only talked to three or four,” Massey said. “Harold told me he was waiting for a man he expected to arrive at 6:40 p.m. Harold had been up and down the road and didn’t see him. But we looked up and there he was.”

Massey and Nelson welcomed Kiatoukaysy and opened the church for him to stay inside. They offered him access to food and facilities and prayed with the traveler before turning in for the night.

The ECT stretches approximately 4,400 miles, not including water gaps around Newfoundland. Kiatoukaysy has walked the entire trail and is considered a “triple crown thru-hiker.” Once he completes his current journey, which will take all year, he will have hiked the entire ECT three times and earned the title of “triple, triple crown thru-hiker.”

Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road,” Kiatoukaysy began thru-hiking at age 19. Today, he lives frugally and saves earnings from his marketing job to make regular thru-hiking trips.

“I put everything into my thru-hiking and backpacking,” he said. “Tonight, I’m seeing the church as such a blessing. Churches in communities often open their church halls. If not for their generosity and kindness, it would be very hard to hike this trail.

“I am a person who can become very cynical if I don’t hike and I’m not exposed to people and random acts of kindness like that. Today people pulled over and gave me a soda. The church tonight opening up this room for me is such a blessing. All those experiences reaffirm to me that humanity is redeemable. I need those reminders and it really does that for me.”

Massey said church members consider the hikers a blessing too. Pastor Mason Halacker stays in contact with hikers who share contact information.

“We just treat them like they are members of our church,” Massey said. “It’s obvious that they have been on the road, and they are tired. We are thankful LP came our way and we got to meet him. It’s outreach, but they just come to us and we make them feel comfortable and at home.”

To follow Kiatoukaysy’s journey, visit his website at lilbuddhahikes.org.