Robert Wood — the man conspicuously walking around the East End of Long Island this week dressed in robes and bearing a 35-pound wooden cross — said he would love to stop.
He’d love to have a home, a job, and a life of his own.
But instead, he’s following the path he says God designed for him.
Wood, 55, of Freeport, began walking across Long Island from his hometown to Montauk in April and reached the tip of the South Fork on Thursday — a roughly 100-mile journey. Then he turned around and starting walking back.
On the return, he’s heading through Sag Harbor and will take the ferry to the North Fork, he’ll cross the length of the Island again and continue on through each of the five boroughs before heading upstate.
He has a five-year plan to finish the state of New York, which he considers to be in grave danger of having lost touch with God. He said he believes God put him on a mission to spread His word throughout Wood’s home state.
“He told me to build a cross and dress in robes,” said Wood, while stopping for a rest on his way to Sag Harbor Friday. “I’m always afraid every time I step out. But especially in New York. New Yorkers are skeptics. They’ve lost their way. I never know how they are going to react.”
Wood said he’s been ignored for most of his journey. He was stopped once by police in Nassau County and again in Hampton Bays. But he’s also been pleasantly surprised, a few people have stopped each day to give him water or food. On Wednesday night a man took him home so he’d have a place to sleep — otherwise, he’s slept outside in wooded areas or parks.
Wood’s friends helped him on his journey from Freeport as far as Eastport. They would drive ahead of him to mark the miles and then give him water when he caught up. But Wood told them he would do the East End alone.
Ernest Imken, 71, of Baldwin, met Wood about 10 years ago, but lost touch when Wood moved to Texas, where he’s been living for most of that period. Imken said Wood came back to town about six months ago and sought him out for help with his trip.
Imken, until recently a chaplain for Gideons International, which focuses on distributing bibles around the world, said though he doesn’t know Wood very well, he was willing to support him because they share the same vision.
“Each Christian has his own individual way of expressing themselves,” he said. “His is very unusual, but he’s proclaiming the message.”
Wood said God spoke to him in 1983, after years of roaming the country and supporting himself as a male prostitute. He slowly took steps toward changing his life — he moved back to Freeport to live with his grandmother and found odd jobs.
In 1991, he was moved by an evangelical preacher from Texas he saw on TV, and found his way to that preacher’s parish. There, he learned to read for the first time in his life by listening to tapes of the Bible and following along and eventually became an ordained evangelical minister.
He said his mission is both to repent for his own sins and warn others of the consequences of their own.
On Friday, Helen Gordon, of Southampton, pulled over and got out of her car to meet him. She had seen his picture in the local newspaper and was awed by what he was trying to do.
“I’m on my way to work, but I thought, ‘I would love to meet him,’” Gordon said.
Wood replied, “so would I.”