Ezer Vavala tries to mind her business, but it isn’t easy when she’s on foot, pulling a tiny house behind her with a small pack of farm animals in tow.
Ezer and her husband, Brian, live a nomadic lifestyle. They’re bound for “home” in Missouri, having started out in Aquadale, NC, just south of Albemarle. Though Ezer has lived off-grid for years and has traveled this journey before, she and Brian are traveling together this time and recently passed through Mooresville on their way from Salisbury to Catawba.
They quickly became local celebrities during their stay here. Ezer posts updates along their journey to their Facebook page, Walk the Way — Nomadic Living.
It was on Facebook that Kristen Halsted saw a post about Ezer and Brian needing a place to stay near Mooresville. Kristen’s family owns Oak Hill Farm and Stables — affectionately known as the “Horsey Hotel” — in the Shepherd community between Mooresville and Statesville. It’s a convenient place for folks who are traveling with large animals to stop off I-77 and rest for a night or two. “I love that our place can have a purpose,” Kristen said.
Ezer, Brian and their animals made Oak Hill Farm and Stables their home for a little over a week, and Kristen said she enjoyed spending time with and getting to know them. “They’re so kind and willing to talk and share about their lifestyle and their faith in God,” she said. “You have to have a lot of faith to do what they’re doing.”
Ezer sells handmade jewelry, but primarily she and Brian walk on faith — even for provisions for themselves and their animals.
“Ezer shared with me that she sees (her travels) as a form of ministry,” Kristen said. “People are curious and stop to see the animals and will stop to ask questions.”
Ezer and Brian left Mooresville with an extra pony that someone donated to them and two bunnies from Kristen’s family for the kids that Ezer meets along the way.
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
While Ezer and Brian are usually met with kindness and an abundance of love from locals in the communities through which they’re traveling, they also sometimes face intense criticism. Just recently they documented being shunned by a church and told they weren’t welcome on the premises to rest. “We were spoken to in a not-so-nice way,” Ezer said in a Facebook live video. “Churches don’t have open doors anymore. I’m kinda worried about the world we’re coming into.”
Brian and Ezer have also been stopped by police, including in Iredell (where traffic is heavy and patience is thin), for holding up traffic. “Everyone is acting like we’re slowing traffic, but the area seems pretty good at doing that themselves,” Ezer wrote on Facebook. “I can’t believe people choose to live like that as much as y’all can’t believe we do this LOL.”
“Sheer stupidity,” someone recently commented on one of Ezer’s Facebook posts. “This is nuts!” someone else wrote.
But then instances happen like the one at Food Lion in Troutman. The couple stopped to rest in the parking lot, and the grocery store donated bottled water and snacks for the journey — and even a thermometer (and a backup) for Ezer because one she had purchased earlier in her travels proved to be a dud.
All creatures great and small, the Lord God made them all
While some folks are genuinely curious about the welfare of the animals that tag alongside Ezer and Brian’s cart-turned-house, others have accused them of animal abuse. They’ve been criticized for pulling egg-producing chickens and geese in cages on tag-a-long carts behind the wagon. People “pity” the sheep that provide milk and the canine companions that travel with the couple — the same dogs that anyone who has met Ezer will tell you she loves with her whole heart.
While traveling through Iredell, someone reported Brian and Ezer to Animal Services, and they have been reported to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) multiple times, Ezer said.
She just smiled and pointed out the irony of her and her beloved husband and animals staying in a community called Shepherd while in Mooresville: “What do people think shepherds and animals did before now?” she asked.
But for the most part, even the welfare calls about the animals turn into blessings, Ezer said. Iredell County Animal Services, in fact, offered timely rabies and booster shots to the couple’s canine companions, saving Ezer and Brian time looking for someone else to do it down the road. “Luckily every attempt to hinder us has ended up in grace and actually helped us,” Ezer told her Facebook followers.
Traveling is limited to 5-10 miles per day, depending on weather and the time they’re able to make on foot. In summer, traveling is squeezed in before lunchtime or after dinner to avoid walking during the hottest part of the day. And the animals are able to walk in the roadside grass to protect their hooves and paws.
Many people have rushed to judgment, criticizing Brian for pushing the cart while Ezer pulls. But the couple, which openly communicates to stay in sync while traveling, has found it’s the most efficient way to travel for many reasons — not the least of which is that the backpack Ezer carries and is hooked to the buggy shaft is a ladies’ small.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1)
Ezer said some people simply don’t understand how she lives the way she lives. The feeling is mutual, she said.
Besides the occasional mean person or motorist who intentionally startles the animals — or something else equally as annoying that someone may do “just to make my life more stressful,” Ezer said — she feels safer on the road than in a house.
Ezer forgives and keeps moving along. “People are not going to be perfect ‘cause no one is,” she said in a recent Facebook live video while pulling the cart. “We’re in a world where we’re not really open sometimes to other people, and even myself — I get judgmental sometimes myself, and I say, ‘Well I’ve been hurt by these people.’ Then it never fails: somewhere down the road, one of those people that I had maybe taken a judgment against help me, and I am humbled, and I have to sit there and look Humbleness in the face and say, ‘This person’s a good person despite what I thought.’”
Ezer is no stranger to hurt, and she has a special place in her heart for those who suffer. “I love to meet and talk with people and uplift them when needed, especially if they’re struggling with something and open up about it,” said Ezer. “Maybe nobody’s told them that day that they’re just as important as everyone else, so I tell them, ‘You’re important, too.’”
Ezer will sometimes make custom jewelry for people she meets in her travels, like a woman who shared with her that she had recently miscarried. Ezer was grieving a miscarriage, too.
People have shared with her important things during her journey. Noticing “silly things” that Ezer carries with her in her wagon, “people ask me why I keep it,” she said. “And I tell them it’s because someone gave it to me with all their heart.”
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
“This is really a walk of faith,” said Ezer. “I can’t explain to people what they don’t understand. But when you take a church with you in your heart, that has an effect on every community that you go through as you travel.”
Kristen Halsted said she couldn’t agree more, and she bore witness to the impact Ezer can have on a community:
“People are either annoyed or irritated by her, or they are very inspired and encouraged by her; she experiences both,” Kristen said. “But her presence can also bring a community together. It’s been so cool to see how people help her along the way. It gives people the opportunity to practice kindness and generosity. We all need opportunities like that, and it’s a good thing when we can show hospitality and kindness to someone in need.”