Faith forward: From battlefield to inner-city America

Published 10:00 pm Friday, August 14, 2015

Cover Caption: Former Army “battle buddies” Adam Palmer, left, and Nicholas Grant, right, are Purple Heart recipients for injuries they received in the line of duty. Over 48 days this summer, they covered 48 states, delivering the gospel and encouraging words to the homeless and lost. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

Cover Caption: Former Army “battle buddies” Adam Palmer, left, and Nicholas Grant, right, are Purple Heart recipients for injuries they received in the line of duty. Over 48 days this summer, they covered 48 states, delivering the gospel and encouraging words to the homeless and lost. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

By Mark Schmerling


Instead of complaining about his third combat deployment to Iraq, Tryon’s Adam Palmer, who served in the U.S. Army, stoically figured, “It is what it is.” After all, he had planned on making a career out of Army service.

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That was, until he was nearly killed when struck by a roadside bomb in 2009. Palmer’s severe injuries tested his faith, but on the day he got hit, and thought he might die, he dedicated his life to Christ.

“It was a pretty cool story how God saved my life that day,” he said. Palmer recounted how he grew up involved in his church, but confessed that once he joined the Army, he “kind of fell away from the Lord.”

When first being treated for his massive injuries, Palmer admitted, “I had my head down.” He noted that at one such point, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a voice ahead of him yelled, “Keep your head up!” He raised his head to discover another soldier on a hospital bed, with no limbs and only one eye.

“That put things in perspective,” Palmer realized. “I knew that I had lived a life that was wrong, that I had hurt a lot of people. I felt like I needed God’s forgiveness.”

In asking Jesus to forgive him for his sins, Palmer understood that “Whether I live or die today, I’m ready to serve him.”


The mission

Around late 2013 to early 2014, Palmer began working on his mission plan to serve the Lord.

While preparing for his mission, Palmer gave his testimony at Tryon United Methodist Church. When word of that got out, officials at Tryon Baptist Church invited him to speak there. The same went for Midway Baptist Church.

Palmer, now on medical retirement from the Army after serving nine years, and his former Army comrade Nicholas Grant, joined together this summer for a 48-day, 48-state tour to show people—many of them homeless—the kind of love that Jesus practiced.

Their cross-country mission trip lasted from June 15 through Aug. 1.

On this tour, supported by Tryon United Methodist Church, Tryon First Baptist Church and Midway Baptist Church, and by private donations, the duo handed out some 1,000 Bibles, 11,000 salvation bookmarks, over 500 gospel tracts, 2,500 bottles of water and about 4,000 granola bars. Palmer and Grant often sought out the poorest sections of cities they visited. Not all their targeted audience accepted their message. Some, they noted used rough or crude language to show their feelings for Jesus. While some people rejected spiritual text and Bibles, others were overjoyed to have a Bible.

“The most stolen book in the world is the Bible,” Grant noted.

In many cases, Grant and Palmer made their initial positive connections with people by offering bottles of water and granola bars. The water was especially welcome in the summer heat.

Palmer and Grant did not use fear-mongering techniques as used by some religious representatives, but instead, Palmer emphasized, treated everyone with love and compassion.

“As long as we could make people smile, as long as we could light up their day, it was worth it,” Palmer said.

They wore their bright yellow shirts with “Team Jesus” printed in bold type on the front, and “Million Soul March 2015” in bold print on the back.

On their journey, mostly to major cities, including Washington, D.C., they met many homeless individuals, many people to whom a bottle of water and a food bar were supremely welcome, and often provided a link to Palmer’s and Grant’s message. They even encountered a few who had tried to end their own lives or who were about to try. No one carried out those plans during the time Grant and Palmer encouraged them. Some individuals accepted the water and food, but not the spiritual material, but the ministering duo never made them feel unwelcome.

Grant and Palmer mentioned that at times, young and tough inner-city men who’d first greeted them with suspicion, sometimes not only accepted them, but made it clear they were looking out for the pair. However, as military combat veterans, who could spot potential trouble, Grant and Palmer never felt intimidated by their circumstances.


Mission support

As of early April of this year, Palmer and Grant had only $1,800 in funds, hardly enough to visit 48 states. Through efforts from the three churches, and individual donations, they soon had the other 80 percent of what they needed. Midway Baptist Church officials procured many Bibles for the duo, and helped raise funds.

Miraculously, over the 14,500-mile ride, they experienced no vehicle breakdowns (not even a flat tire), and no illnesses.

Their rented U-Haul van was made up to sleep two, but they only spent about half their nights in it, and seldom more than two nights in a row. Instead, they were welcomed at homes of friends and relatives.

Pam Monterisi of Tryon United Methodist Church, provided what the men called “rear detachment support,” which meant that she found them many places to stay.


Honored to serve

Spending about four or more hours per day on the streets, Grant and Palmer got noticed. They sought out rougher parts of cities, or where the most homeless individuals lived.

“A lot of them were encouraged,” Grant recalled about the people they connected with. “You could tell that nobody had done anything nice to them for a long time.”

Both men were drawn to a cause bigger than themselves.

“Nothing was about us,” Grant emphasized.

One woman they met exemplified what they generally noted—that those with the most money were often the least happy with their lives. This particular impoverished woman “had a joy that was beyond her circumstances,” Grant recalled. “You can have peace and joy because of your relationship with Jesus.”

In Iraq, Grant had served partly as a “combat lifesaver,” providing first treatment and care to wounded soldiers before they received further care.

Though he was wounded in an explosion, Grant brushed off any hint that he was badly injured.

“I was more ‘walking wounded,’” he insisted.


On the mission the two did no preaching, but instead engaged people in spiritual conversations. Several people made commitments and re-commitments to follow Christ.


“We were trying to show love,” Grant, a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said.

Grant had suffered his own loss of faith, when his older brother died. Once Grant had re-committed his life to Christ, he called Palmer and announced, “I’m back on the team.”

To start the mission trip together, Grant drove some 1,500 miles in two days, to join Palmer in Tryon.

How did Grant feel about joining Palmer for the mission trip?

“I don’t know how one person could do that alone. I felt so honored to serve. Nothing about the mission felt wrong. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever been involved with, by far. It was intense—beautifully intense.”


What’s next?

Palmer survived the war physically, although it took three months for doctors to know if he’d keep his right arm, which needed reconstruction. Today, he’s built his body back to the point where he teaches fitness classes at Tryon Health and Fitness Center.

But he also survived the war spiritually, and indeed has grown in his faith.

Palmer said, “It’s time to find out what’s next. I gave my life to Christ. That’s not the end point, that’s the beginning. That’s what it’s all about, to make the world a better place than you found it.”

On Sunday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m., the two will speak at Tryon United Methodist Church about their mission trip. The public is invited.