It was a hot day on the Relay today, but thankfully we had Zack and Jenny to commiserate and share the burden with.

Out through the bottoms ran Tom and Zack, encountering the first signs of crawfish roadkill that we’ve come upon so far. At about 5 miles in, Tom was ready for his Relay partner and called me into service—and just in time, for himself, that is! As the hills were next! A series of rolling hills awaited me and Zack as we ran toward Thebes, Illinois, and our only solace was the nice breeze and occasional shade bringing the heat slightly in check. I knew the finish line at the old Thebes Court House was nearly in sight but after cresting that last hill I nearly bottomed out, so I switched the baton back to Tom for the last half mile. Turns out there was one more hill awaiting he and Zack, but they made it!

Jenny and I met them at the Courthouse, admiring the view of the river. Evelyn Caldwell, with Alexander County Tourism, joined us to share some history of the area and her own life and family. According to Evelyn, much of Southern Illinois has fallen on hard times and she is very fortunate to have all her children nearby still, all having found work in the area. She said there really aren’t many jobs in the area to keep young people. But it’s a beautiful area, and farming is still very prominent. The history is very much the treasure here that they are trying to protect and share.

After speaking with Evelyn we went back to Cape Girardeau, Missouri—our partners there (Alyssa and Sara) had generously made arrangements for us to stay a second night. Not only that, but Alyssa had also set up a meeting for me to meet with Renita Green, Pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church. How to even begin talking about Renita. Woman. Clergy. White. Shepherding a historically black church in southeast Missouri—some would call it the South. Her flagship mission is homelessness, and she is is really listening to how it’s affecting people, where it’s affecting people, and what kind of help is needed and wanted. Her very small church parish, with under 20 recurring parishioners on Sundays, and yet masses of volunteers from the community at large, serves as a shelter of sorts.

But Renita is truly seeking more systemic change around these issues. She is taking the time to build relationships with the people living under the overpasses and on the park benches, the “characters” we all know in our small towns and dismiss—she is instead recognizing them and taking time to talk to them and find out what they need, what they want. This is a lifetime’s work she’s engaged in, and currently it’s led to a new partnership with St. Francis Medical Center to establish a house for those seeking to recover from the longterm trauma of living in homelessness. She is also working on setting up another home for more transitional occupants, men who have fallen into homelessness out of circumstance and just need some intermediary support to get back on their feet. Renita feels these types of structures are one type of systematic solution that can really help, if we listen, if more people listen and engage.

Renita is a busy lady and had to get on with her day. I just had to get my laundry folded. Thank goodness for our accommodations giving this an opportunity to refresh the wardrobe (and rid the van of that aroma that had been brewing!)… After housekeeping, Tom and I wandered down the street to only the second “Cajun” restaurant (yes in quotes) that we’ve encountered on this Mississippi River trail—Broussard’s!

Zack and Jenny met us there and we feasted on Crawfish Etouffee, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice, AND Boudin! Now, the seafood wasn’t from Louisiana (marks against), but it was from the Gulf (some recovery). And, everything tasted pretty darn good. I give it a B+. My dear friends at Louisiana Seafood, please know, I have been up in arms everywhere the seafood is NOT from Louisiana, and proclaiming Louisiana’s preeminence!

We lugged ourselves back up the hill to the hotel and called it a night. Tomorrow on to Cairo, Illinois and the confluence of two great rivers.