Jo'el King pedals his bike full of Bibles. God, he says, powers him. The calling to spread the good word has prompted the 40-year-old King to travel tens of thousands of miles in the past 14 years, through 13 southeastern states, including up, down and across the Florida peninsula. He doesn't peddle the Bibles, though. They're free. From a distance, King looks like a guy who's come up with a novel way to take his kids along for a ride, pulling five baby carriers like a train behind his three-wheeled bicycle.
But get closer, and the words shaped in yellow tape on placards atop the carriers come into focus: SANCTIFIED BY THE WORD OF GOD and THY KINGDOM COME THY WILL BE DONE, among others.
Four of the trailers are filled with Bibles. The fifth has, according to King, all his worldly possessions: clothes, tent, sleeping bag. Also spare rims, tires, tubes and a bike pump. Plus a dog-eared atlas and a tattered tome labeled "Prayer Book" that doubles as King's contact list.
He relies on donations to eat, mostly from the dollar menus at fast-food joints, and to buy more Bibles. During dry spells, he can lay tile, paint and, if he's really desperate, do roofing work.
"I live where God sends me," King said this week while parked in the lot of a Publix grocery store in Brooksville under the blazing late-afternoon sun.
"Everywhere," he says, "is home."
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Here's how King relates his story:
Jo'el (pronounced Jo-ELLE) Dale King was born in Texarkana, Texas, one of seven siblings. He was raised in the Lone Star State, learning to read by reading the Bible.
By his mid 20s, he'd gone astray.
King started suffering from headaches. A doctor said he had a brain tumor and a year to live. Cocaine and methamphetamine helped him cope.
"I asked the Lord to deliver me from what I was going through and I would do whatever he wanted me do," he recalls.
In 1995, it came to him. He started walking, accepting donations and giving out Bibles.
He got a bike to cover more ground. Now he's on his 12th, his first three-wheeler. The odometer reads a few clicks over 27,000 miles.
He's been in Florida seven years, and the hash marks in his atlas tell the tale: Miami, more than 300 Bibles; Webster, 463. His record before he stopped keeping records: Fort Myers, 825.
He's tackled the heat of Miami and the traffic of Tallahassee.
King says he mostly sleeps outside. He approaches churches for a little help, but usually gets a wary eye.
"Jesus Christ slept outside," he reasons, "so who am I to say I'm not going to do it because I can't afford a home in every city?"
He says he's reconciled with his mother. She lives in Georgia now, he says, and is proud of her son's calling.
As for the tumor, King is convinced: "The Lord healed me."
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Pastor Joe Heidler admits he was skeptical.
A trusted friend who knows King asked Heidler, leader of Turning Point Church of the Nazarene in Brooksville, to do what he could for the traveler while he was in town.
"Give him a chance," the friend asked Heidler. "He's got a good heart, and he loves the Lord."
Then King rolled up on his Bible train.
"When you first see it, you're just like: Is this guy for real?" Heidler said. "But I'm genuinely impressed with him. What you see is what you get."
Heidler marveled at King's personal Bible, taped together and cross-referenced in King's small, precise print. Heidler says he was amazed at how King could come up with a quote from Scripture appropriate for whatever came up in conversation.
Heidler offered some floor space in one of the church's rooms. King pitched in during one of the church's workdays.
In the mornings, he's up and gone before anyone can remember he was there.
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King carries an abundance of Bibles, mostly King James versions, picked up at Wal-Mart, Dollar General and other discount stores.
But he's got options: Spanish versions, ones illustrated for kids and Bibles on compact disc.
While in a given city, he sticks to the commercial areas, rolling slow loops around crowded parking lots. He doesn't approach people, he says. They come to him.
The cops don't bother him much, he says.
At Publix on Tuesday, Karole Adams of Brooksville stepped out of a minivan and handed King a neatly folded bill.
"I admire him for doing it," Adams said. "I can't do it, but I can donate and help further his cause."
King relies on God to tell him when it's time to move on and in which direction to go. By Tuesday, he had been in Brooksville 14 days and wasn't sure when and where he would go next.
But he will keep going.
"I'm going to do this until one of two things happens: I die trying or the rapture comes."