Discover more from Tread by Lee Hedgepeth
An Air Force vet thought his mom was dead. Then her 2,000-mile religious trek to Warrior, Alabama, made headlines.
Theirs was a reunion 20 years and 2,000 miles in the making.
He had thought his mother was dead.
It had been nearly two decades since Beloved Ndegwa had heard from his mom, Janet. During that time, the Air Force veteran tried everything he could to find her. Year after year, he’d made calls. He’d searched online and on social media. He’d even hired a private investigator and a former Los Angeles police officer to help locate her. It was all in vain. Beloved had given up. His mother, he’d concluded, was dead.
It wasn’t until late May, when Tread reached out to Beloved, that he found out his mother was very much alive.
In late May, Janet Ndegwa had boarded a Greyhound bus in Pomona, California, and trekked across the country to answer the call of a self-proclaimed “prophet.”
Two days and 2,000 miles later, just before dark, Ndegwa arrived in Warrior, Alabama, in the parking lot of Church International.
The church, led by Robin R. and Robin D. Bullock, has garnered intense scrutiny from some locals who have said they’re concerned not simply about the couple’s often radical teachings — but about what they see as the church’s rapid expansion and lack of transparency.
But Janet Ndegwa didn’t know about those concerns. At least not yet. It was a Youtube video of Robin D. Bullock that had moved Ndegwa deeply enough to board that Greyhound in California — a video where the self-proclaimed prophet had asked anyone listening to his voice to make their way to the small Alabama town.
And Ndegwa had done just that. But when she arrived at Church International, Ndegwa did not find the open arms she’d expected. Instead, as the sun set over Warrior, the 82-year-old curled up under a street lamp in front of the church with only the concrete to comfort her. The church’s façade, that of a renovated Fred’s, towered over her: “God is Absolutely Good.”
Still, Ndegwa had faith.
The next day, Ndegwa approached the front doors of the church. A hesitant staffer answered and quickly turned the 82-year-old away.
Soon after her arrival, though, Warrior’s residents began to pick up the church’s slack. One local couple even opened up their home to Ndegwa, who spoke with Tread a few days after arriving in the town of just 3,000 people.
“I felt the Holy Spirit was asking me to come here,” Ndegwa told Tread at the time. “And I have trusted that voice all my life. It has never failed me.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Ndegwa told Tread about her life. She’d been born and raised in Washington, D.C., until her family decided to move west when she was in eighth grade. Soon, Ndegwa found herself in California, where she’d finish high school, attend college, and graduate with a degree in sociology. After graduating, she would work as a juvenile probation officer and, later, for child protective services.
During the interview, Ndegwa also mentioned a son, named Beloved of God Ndegwa, whom she had not seen in years.
After Tread’s interview with Janet Ndegwa, we located and reached out to Beloved, providing him a copy of the story featuring his mother’s cross-country religious trek.
Beloved was stunned.
“You have solved the greatest mystery of my life,” the veteran wrote to Tread.
Now, just a few weeks since Janet’s trip to Warrior, the 82-year-old has made her way to Tampa, Florida, where she’s now living with her son Beloved.
In a joint interview, the two said they’re happy to have been reunited after all these years.
“It’s been priceless,” Janet said.
Growing up Ndegwa
Beloved of God Ndegwa was born in 1981 in Waukegan, Illinois.
His mother said she knew her son’s name would be revealed to her, and that she’d seen the words “Beloved of God” rise above the pages of her Bible. Officials at the Catholic hospital where he was born were hesitant to put the name on the certificate, but Janet insisted. It was what the Holy Spirit required, she said.
Around a year after his birth, Janet moved the family to Compton, California, where Beloved would spend the rest of his childhood.
His raising was a strict, Christian one, Beloved said, one that was starkly at odds with the environment around him in Compton.
“It was unique,” he said. “But mom always kept me on the straight and narrow.”
By age five or six, Beloved’s interest in all things mechanical was already starting to emerge. Often, Janet would take Beloved to Magic Johnson Park in the neighboring Willowbrook area of L.A. There, Beloved would begin to build a world of his own — a world focused on possibilities that, at the time, seemed out of reach.
“I was very fascinated with deep sea exploration,” he explained. “Once, I attempted to create my own scuba diving equipment.”
The attempt — which included a soda bottle, some tape, and a water hose — was a disaster.
“I ended up almost drowning,” he said. “But it was a lot of fun.”
As he grew older, Beloved developed an interest in flying, too, spurred in no small part by a family member who served as one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
Ready to fly
When he was 21, a year to the day after the attacks of 9/11, Beloved enlisted in the Air Force.
His mother said she felt it was time to let her son spread his wings.
“Beloved was ready to fly,” Janet said. “And I knew I had to release him. I knew if God wanted us together again, he would make it happen.”
Beloved attended and graduated from basic training and saw his mom for the last time just afterward. He had traveled back to California for a brief visit before he began additional training for his military job.
“I came down and got to hug her and everything,” he said. “I told her I loved her and she said she loved me.”
“It was just like a blank slate. She was just gone.”
After that brief meeting, calls from Janet became more and more infrequent, Beloved said. One day, he received a call from her informing him that the Holy Spirit had placed a calling on her.
“She told me that there was a church that she wanted to join in Southern California,” he said. “And that’s where we began to lose contact.”
He’d immediately felt uneasy about Janet’s decision and requested leave from the military to travel to California and intervene. It was denied. The Air Force mechanic had been deemed essential as U.S. war efforts ramped up.
Missing in action
Soon, contact with Janet ceased altogether. For months that ran into years, Beloved enlisted family members, friends, and even a private investigator to help track his mother down. She was nowhere to be found.
“It was just like a blank slate,” Beloved said. “She was just gone.”
Janet said that, at the time, she wasn’t worried about Beloved. She missed her son, she explained, but she had complete faith in God’s ability to protect her only child.
“All that time, I still had the ability to pray and cover him,” Janet explained. “I never really worried because my lifelong relationship with the Lord has been such that I trust him thoroughly.”
Then came Warrior.
Janet had felt the Spirit move once more, and a Greyhound bus became its facilitator. The 82-year-old’s trek to the small Alabama town led to coverage in Tread, and later, another story on a Birmingham television station.
But it wasn’t until Tread reached out to Beloved that he learned of his mother’s religious journey to Warrior.
“I thought she had passed away,” Beloved told Tread. “That you found me is incredible. You brought things back together.”
A reunion for the ages
Beloved said that because of his history with his mother, he wasn’t particularly surprised that she’d crossed the country to join a church. Instead, it was the church’s lack of compassion that gave him pause.
“It sounded like something mom would do,” he said frankly. “But I’m not a big fan of Church International. I feel like they’re charlatans. I don’t know if they’re talking to God or not, but I certainly have my suspicions.”
Janet, too, grew more suspicious of the church over time, particularly once she began hearing concerns from folks in Warrior. Soon, she’d decided it was best to get on another Greyhound, this time bound for Tampa, Florida, where her son lives.
It was a reunion 20 years and 2,000 miles in the making.
“The way this all happened is so miraculous,” Janet Ndegwa said, her son sitting beside her. “No human could have pulled it off.”
In the end, she said, Janet Ndegwa said she is grateful to the residents of Warrior who lifted her up when she was down.
“Warrior is such a sweet place — such wonderful people,” Janet said, her wide smile audible in her thin voice.
Then she turned to Church International.
“I would hate to see something dark invade that place,” she said of Warrior. “I’m praying for them. God has the power. He’ll do what needs to be done.”
As of this writing, Church International has not responded to Tread’s repeated requests for comment.
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You can read Tread’s original story on Janet’s trek to Warrior below.