Every day, twice a day, Marysville’s Gary Haga goes out for a long walk. He laces up his shoes, puts on knee supports, and grabs a walking stick. And then there’s his 10-pound sandwich-board sign.
Haga, 64, is a walking advertisement for his Christian faith.
He varies the words on his black plastic sign. On Monday morning, the front of it said “Jesus Is The Only Way To Heaven.” And on the back were the words, “Jesus 4Gives When Asked 2.” He has made several signs, but his essential message is always the same.
He is compelled to share his unshakable belief in salvation through Jesus Christ. That belief has only been strengthened since Haga learned he has a life-threatening disease. In March, he said Wednesday, he was diagnosed with Stage III pancreatic cancer.
Now under the care of Evergreen Hospice, Haga is not undergoing chemotherapy. “I get pain meds and anything necessary for just maintaining,” he said.
It wasn’t illness that first set him out on his pedestrian ministry. He began carrying the sign on walks about three years ago after taking a pastor’s words to heart.
“The pastor asked people to step out of their comfort zone,” said Haga, who attends Marysville Church of the Nazarene.
He took a baby step in that direction by raising his hands while worshipping. Later he was raising his hands while on walks or in public places. “I was getting crazy questions — ‘Why are you doing that?’” he said.
Once, while he was getting coffee, someone thought he was preparing to arm wrestle. “Shortly after that, I had to make my first sign. I wanted to get the message out.”
Now Haga believes that only the divine can explain how he can cover eight miles a day while suffering from one of the most deadly forms of cancer. “I’ve beat the odds,” he said.
“I want people to know that doing this — being able to walk four miles twice a day — is only because of Jesus and God. I couldn’t be out there doing this if it wasn’t for them,” he said.
And so he walks.
A familiar sight around town, Haga mostly sticks to a route that has him treading along some busy streets.
“I go up Fourth Street, 528, until I get to 64th. Then I hang a left and go to Grove. Once I get to Grove, I head west to Armar Road, then across in front of the park (Jennings Park) back to Fourth Street, then head east down Fourth to 53rd,” he said.
The end point is near his house, which stands out because “there’s a big cross in the yard, a 6-footer,” he said.
Each walk takes him about an hour and 15 minutes. He goes rain or shine. In the summer, he’s out early to beat the heat.
Wherever he walks, people notice. Haga said reactions were curious at first. Now, he said, “90 percent of the people who respond do it in a kind or positive way.” His steps are accompanied by friendly honks. Some drivers start waving a half-block away.
“People have gotten out of their cars to give me a hug,” he said. “It blesses my day more than it blesses them. I tell them about the Lord.”
Raised in Darrington, Haga considers the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church there his spiritual home. The son of a lumber truck driver, he went to Sunday school as a boy in Darrington. Haga said it was meeting his future wife, Paula, that “really brought me to the Lord.” Married for 41 years, they have two daughters and three grandchildren.
The couple worked at a business near Paine Field that customized wheelchairs. Haga retired after that business closed.
His first signs contained Bible verses, but the letters were too small for people to read. “I need to make a new one,” he said. He already has the words: “Jesus loves me, this I know.”
Haga walks on, recognizing that his cancer might some day prevent him from covering so many miles.
“I worry about it some,” he said. “I try to put on a good face.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.