Roadside evangelist waves signs in Oak Harbor
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:41 PM
"Mitch Metzger knows all about heckling.Standing on a busy corner in Oak Harbor, Metzger is the target of angry words screamed from passing cars during the lunchtime rush hour. He's an easy target, holding a 10-foot-tall sign that says Jesus is coming soon, God hates sin and other evangelistic slogans.He calmly yells back answers to some of the people - God is angry with the wicked - and ignores the ruder comments with an embarrassed smile.It's no big deal. During a decade of sign-waving across two nations - the U.S. and the Philippines - Metzger has been sworn at, threatened by police, body slammed by Marines and was thrown into a swimming pool. People have ripped up his signs, squirted detergent at him from cars and dumped cola over his head.But for Metzger, these are just the trials that come with his mission. I'm planting seeds, like a farmer, he says. Some seeds will land on stoney land and some will land on fertile ground.Metzger says he is part of a growing membership in an unofficial campus ministry. Every three years, he and his family make a 200-day journey across 42 states to wave his Jesus-loving signs at busy intersections, events, festivals, and especially, college campuses.In October a bunch of us are meeting in Salt Lake City when 30,000 Mormon leaders arrive, he said. We're going to hold anti-Mormon-type signs.Metzger has friends in Oak Harbor, at both the Oak Harbor Assembly of God and First Baptist. He was stationed on Whidbey Island when he was in the Marines back in 1985, then lived in the city for about a year in 1988. He now lives in the Philippines, where he first became a Christian while he was there as a marine. He and his wife, Liberty, run a Christian missionary from Quezon City, Philippines, called Youth With a Mission.Metzger says he also does a lot of traveling and sign-waving in the Philippines, but he also holds discipleship training. His family takes in and Christianizes downtrodden people. He says he talks girls into leaving the life of prostitutes to move into his home with his kids and learn their evangelistic ways. One of the girls, he says, turned out to be Michelle Rodman, basketball star Dennis Rodman's half sister. This spring, Metzger's sojourn across the U.S. began at his hometown of Aberdeen, S.D. He says a Christian car dealer friend of his in South Dakota loaned him a car decked out with religious bumperstickers - Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Metzger, his two daughters and his wife will spend more than six months driving and spreading their word across America.At the busy corner of State Route 20 and Pioneer Way on Thursday, Metzger was an evangelical lightning rod who sparked roadside theological debates. In about 20 minutes, a half-dozen people driving by yelled angry comments out the window. A woman said, God doesn't hate. A man yelled, There is no God. Wes Wedner of Mount Vernon stopped by to express his concerns about the wording on one side of Metzger signs - God hates sin! The sin and sinner go straight to hell together. Wedner said the wording seemed to say God hates people who sin. He argued that God doesn't hate the sinners, just the sin.Metzger countered by quoting Bible verses and said God was at least really mad at sinners. He says most of the people who argue with him are simply misguided. They're Christians who don't read the Bible, he said.Or at least they don't read the Bible his way. Then there are a few people, like Kathy Kerns of Coupeville, who stopped to talk to Metzger and ended up holding signs with him. She held a sign that said Trust Jesus as she lay on the grass and questioned strangers about their deepest-held beliefs.I ask people walking by if they love Jesus because any demon could say he trusts Jesus, she said. I told one man who said he didn't love Jesus that he was going to hell. This is America, where we can all have our beliefs. I'm not hurting anyone by professing that I love Jesus.Kerns got into an odd argument with a couple in a car. I died there. I died in Las Vegas. I'm on a lot of medication. I was reborn when I found Jesus, she said as the couple continued goading her on. You'll get your head cut off. You'll go to hell.Looking embarrassed, Metzger snuck away from the arguing people to stand alone at his corner, waving a small yellow flag and holding his sign high. He says sometimes he'll attract as many as 50 people at a time, creating a scene of flag-waving religious zealots, concerned critics and honking horns.Metzger said he plans to leave Oak Harbor on Tuesday. He's heading down to Portland next, then down to California before crossing the desert to Sin City. He'll be waving his sign in front of Las Vegas' Caesar's Palace by the end of the month. You can reach features editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or call 675-6611. "