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JOLIET, IL — For many years, people around Joliet could find Steve Sherwood sitting outside the Walmart Supercenter on West Jefferson Street preaching the good news of the Bible, parking his long bicycle nearby. But that ended abruptly a few weeks ago.
Sherwood told Joliet Patch that a Joliet store manager told him he's no longer welcome to occupy the metal benches in front of the giant retailer at 2424 W. Jefferson St. Sherwood acknowledged he usually was not at the Walmart to shop for store merchandise.
In recent history, the Joliet Walmart became a haven for panhandlers, and was notorious for having a flood of service calls to the Joliet Police Department. Last year, Joliet police had responded to a total of 528 calls for service as of Dec. 9, a Joliet Patch analysis uncovered.
According to Sherwood, one of the store managers approached him in late August and said, "We don't want Walmart represented like this."
Sherwood said he has been homeless for several years. Joliet's residents are familiar with Sherwood because of his unique bicycle.
"He said, 'you can't sit here,'" Sherwood said, referring to the metal benches in front of the giant retail store that draws several thousands of customers every week. "I tried to tell him I don't represent Walmart.
"I don't panhandle, and I'm not soliciting. Yes, I sit there usually from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. We talk about Jesus, people. I try to put a good, positive message that God loves us."
After being told to leave Walmart, Sherwood said he took to his Facebook page and posted a video.
It's a rant that he has since removed from Facebook after saying it received 618 shares.
"It just went crazy. The video got 618 shares, and I took it down. So many haters came, and that's not what I'm about," Sherwood said.
Joliet Patch reached out to corporate media representatives for Walmart asking for comment regarding the incident at the Joliet Walmart involving Sherwood, but nobody responded.
Moving forward, Sherwood said he does not want people to be mad at Walmart for asking him not to sit on the metal bench near the store on West Jefferson Street.
After all, Sherwood said he is all about spreading love and a positive, upbeat message about the Bible. Urging people to be angry at the Joliet Walmart is contrary to the good news of the Bible, according to Sherwood.
"All I'm trying to do is lift His name," Sherwood said. "Some of His last words, as Jesus was dying on the cross, were, 'Forgive them, Father.'"
Sherwood went on to say, "God is not against us. He's for us."
Sherwood said he plans to follow Walmart's orders. He does not plan to return to the Walmart to sit on the outside benches.
And that's how Joliet Patch's editor found him last week.
Sherwood had his folding chair set up under a small shade tree at the busy Joliet intersection of West Jefferson Street and Joyce Road, near the Panera Bread restaurant.
One of his signs placed in the grass urged motorists to "HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS."
As cars and trucks whizzed by, Sherwood sat in his chair, cradling his two little dogs, Misty and Mindy.
Cars and trucks honked at him constantly, sometimes several per minute. "Yesterday, about 1,000 to 1,200 people," he replied. "My arms got tired."
He said some people around Joliet give him donations, to help him out.
"But I never ask," he said.
"I'm about love and people," Sherwood told Joliet Patch. "God is love. I'm just trying to be a positive force. I help the homeless. I've helped a lot of people. People need to find their faith in times like we've been going through."
Sherwood told Patch he does not ride his bicycle as many miles as he used to.
"I used to do 20 miles a day," he said. "But, since I'm on high blood pressure medication, I'm down to about three to five miles a day. That's about as much as I can handle with the sun."
The first cart on his bicycle, where he stores his winter clothing attire, has a sign proclaiming: "THE WAY THE TRUTH THE LIFE. JESUS KING OF KINGS."
Another cart on his bicycle reads, "ALL THE GLORY BE GOD."
The sign on the back of his bicycle reads: "JESUS LOVES REGARDLESS."
Why is Sherwood so adamant about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through signs on his long bicycle?
"They have taken God out of schools, the courthouse, the main square, so I'd like to see Jesus Christ be back in mainstream society," Sherwood answered.
"I would like more people coming out like Jesus said and be a light unto a dark world," Sherwood said. "There's so much darkness in the world, and it doesn't have to be there."
Sherwood told Patch he lived in Channahon from ages 2 until 13. He later lived in St. Louis, Florida, Texas and "I've been in Joliet about 35 years now."
Sherwood said he is 59 years old.
How long has he had his bicycle, which is one of the most recognized bicycles in all of Will County?
"About 21 years," he said. "But it grew over the years. God has multiplied it. It's not going to get any bigger. It's already heavy enough."
Sherwood said many of the items stored inside his bicycle, his home on wheels, include food, water and clothes for freezing winter weather.
"I've got overalls for minus 60 degrees," he said.
As for Mindy and Misty, the two little dogs are doing terrific, according to Sherwood.
"The dogs are always taken care of," Sherwood said. "They've got their own groomer and vet."
As he sits in his chair under a tree along Joliet's busy West Jefferson Street, Sherwood said he knows he's making a positive difference in the world.
He's spreading Christianity and reaching the masses through his signs, he said.
"So many people sit in a church and don't make any difference," Sherwood said. "But if they would come out of the church house and walk into society, they could have a greater impact on society."
Sherwood told Patch he does not identify with any particular religious denomination.
"I'm just a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching homeless street minister," he responded.
As you well know !