Taking the next step to building a church

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

If you want to take a walk across Florida, like from Pensacola to Key West, plan on having enough shoes for 817 miles or 4,313,760 feet or, in the case of Benny Collins, for 1,734,845 steps.

Collins is not counting every step he takes in his quest to walk the length of Florida, but he is counting on folks along the way to share an experience, prayer with God, and help Bushnell Assembly of God build a new sanctuary.

He left Courts of Praise Fellowship on Feb. 8 with plans to walk an average 12 miles a day until he arrives — by his calculations — on May 8 at the southernmost point in the United States.

Despite a blown out knee in Tallahassee and a dog biting his partner Guy Rodgers in Steinhatchee, Collins was two days ahead of schedule last week when he stopped in Bronson for a quick side trip to the Ten Commandments monument on the side of the Levy County Courthouse.

"It was over a year ago that the thought came into my mind," Collins said of his "Take the Next Step" walk. On this day he planned to walk 12.8 miles along U.S. Highway 27A toward Williston.

"I just could not get it out of my mind," he said. "I kept asking, God it's not something I want to do but if you are going to be in it with me Lord and you want me to do it,  I will."

Collins spent over a year planning the walk and preparing. He's been through a few athletic shoes. On this day he had a new pair.

This is not some fancy operation. Collins wears a neon green safety vest while walking on the far side of the highway shoulder. He's followed by Rodgers in a pickup truck towing a pop-top camper.

Every day they rely on the kindness of churches to park the camper that is their temporary home while they complete a 12-mile walk. Sometimes they stay in RV parks. Or, as was the case last week, they stayed with friends. "It's nice to get out of the camper ever so often," he said as he prepared to walk in a misting rain.

In Tallahassee when Collins encountered knee problems, the first doctor he saw told him the walk might be over, but he referred Collins to a sports specialist for a final answer. The specialist gave him the OK to continue after giving the knee a rest. "I choose to believe it's God's work," Collins said.

And while the doctor charged a modest fee for the diagnosis, he also made a donation to the church sanctuary.

"Everything happens for a reason," Collins said.

"God's been good to us," he said. "We have raised about $40,000 from this walk and that's been a blessing for the church."

While the walk is about raising funds for a new church sanctuary, it is not about the money.

Collins says  it's about the moments of prayer and the people he has met along the way.

"A lot of businesses and a lot of people are hurting," Collins said. "I'm passing people holding yard sales, selling their belongings just so they can get by, pay the rent, feed the family. I have prayed with them.

"I have learned a lot about myself and other people. ... Sometimes you just gotta get outside the four walls of the church to see for yourself."

And after a moment's prayer for a young woman facing the challenge of cervical cancer,  and one last look at the Commandments monument — "It's beautiful" — Collins tweeted his church's prayer groups and was on his way to Williston.

Later, he and Rodgers would retrieve their camper from beside the Bronson Church of God. Plans were to head beyond Williston to Inglis and Crystal River.

To contact Collins or make a donation visit www.ttns.org. You can tweet and follow him at bennycollins123 on Twitter.