ONE STEP AT A TIME
The sounds of the city night fill my ears and the memories of today fill my mind. My aching, pained body and my blistered feet remind me of my humanity.
I never dreamed carrying a cross would be like this, Lord.
Oh, I need you, Jesus. Have mercy on me I’ve never been a sportsman and now I’m heading across America. I’m thrilled! I feel the excitement of the unknown and I’m ready to take the Jesus Movement from coast to coast. It’s also frightening but I will not be deterred from your will.
You are with me and your presence is enough. It’s been a wild day,
but people prayed and I can still smile.
I love you, Lord.
My emotions almost overcome me as I lie tonight by the sea. The walk is complete and I am alive.
I will miss, oh, I will miss, the long walks with just you and me along the roadsides of the world,
Lord. You, Jesus, have been my constant companion and I can hardly conceive of living without
our intimate times on the road or at night on the roadsides. There is nothing like being with you
with the wind in my face in a distant land or feeling your presence in the midst of danger and conflict.
It’s been a long journey around the world, but my heart feels young and my body fresh. You
know, Jesus, I feel better than I did that first day thirty-eight years ago.
Today at early dawn you asked me to lie on the cross. I did not want to do this, I never had before, but I obeyed you. You reminded me of the Scripture, “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless, I live, not I, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 220 – my paraphrase)
As tears washed my face, I cried so hard I could hardly breathe. You said, “The world
is open to you, you are free to carry the cross and minister Jesus in the entire world,
wherever I lead you.”
As of the publication of this book, I have carried a cross more than thirty-eight
thousand miles through 315 nations and island groups on all seven continents of the
world. That number includes every sovereign nation and every major island group in the world. The Guinness Book of Records has recorded my walking milestones since 1996, when it recognized me for making “the world’s longest walk.” The Guinness World Records 2000: Millennium Edition dedicated a page to this achievement, including a picture of me carrying my cross.
Over the past four decades I have visited sacred sites and bloody battlefields. I have been applauded as well as pelted by stones. I have shared Christ alongside Billy Graham and twice preached to crowds of a half-a-million people. I have been arrested or thrown into jail two dozen times.
I have slept in the presidential suites of fancy hotels as well as a pigpen in Colombia. I have survived numerous auto crashes. Snakes, baboons, elephants and crocodiles have attacked me. And I have been hauled before a firing squad to be shot and killed.
Recently someone asked me, “How did you walk around the entire world.”
“One step at a time,” I replied.
Throughout my life, I have heard hundreds of people talk about the dreams they wanted to pursue, the projects they wanted to complete, and the things God called them to do. But many times these projects don’t go forward. Why?
Because people don’t take one step at a time. They don’t break big things down into small, simple steps. As a result they are soon o overcome with the insurmountable challenges that face them, and they give up.
Experience has taught me that when God gives us a vision for what we should do with our lives we need to break that vision down into simple steps. That’s what happened to me. And I believe that if you will dream big but start small; your dreams will come to fruition. Let me explain what I mean.
Reaching an Unreached Generation
In the 1960s God called me to minister to hippies, Hell’s Angels, runaways, drug addicts, teen prostitutes, flower children, would-be actors and rock stars and other young people who were part of the emerging youth scene in Hollywood, California. Answering this call was an important step for me to take.
In 1966 and 1967 young people staged “love-ins” each Sunday at Griffith Park. I would talk to them about Jesus as they sat in the grass listening to bands, taking LSD and drinking.
One Sunday a young man asked me, “Why don’t you present your message from the stage?”
“They probably wouldn’t let me,” I said, looking toward the platform where a psychedelic rock group played loud, screeching music.
“Sure you can,” he said. “I run the program. You can have five minutes.”
I spoke briefly about Jesus from the platform and was greeted with warm applause. I invited those who wanted to hear more to meet me under a nearby tree. About fifty came over to talk with me.
This was my first big step in becoming known as “the minister of Sunset Strip.” And as I would see throughout my life, when I reached out to people in love with the message of Jesus, many would listen and respond.
I walked the streets of Hollywood, talking to kids, feeding them, and allowing twenty or more to sleep on the floor of my apartment at night. I also preached at some of the nightclubs on Sunset Strip, including Gazzarri’s, and musicians such as Andrae Crouch and The Disciples, Charles McPheeters and The New Creatures, Sharon Peck and The Sunshine Sisters and Jimmy Owens Singers would perform.
I was ministering to the lonely, the embittered, the lost and the hopeful who flocked by the thousands to sunset Strip each week. But I felt we needed a place of our own. My prayers were answered in March 1968 when His Place opened in the heart of Sunset Strip in a rented building next door to a topless go-go club.
His Place had wild stage lights, fishnet material on the ceiling, a quiet prayer room and a pool table. But something was missing: there was no cross. I felt we needed a life-sized cross hanging on the wall near the stage so that everyone who walked in would be immediately affected. Young people stoned on drugs or drunk might forget everything I told them, but I felt certain they would never forget the cross.
An electric company in Santa Monica gave us big wooden cable spools, which we used as tables. We also got some large wooden beams that were used for light poles. These beams were soaked in creosote to preserve them. I felt they would also make the perfect “old rugged cross” for His Place.
But even before we finished putting the cross together from the rough wood, we witnessed the impact it would have on the young people on the strip.
From Hell’s Angel to Heaven’s Child
After drilling a hole and inserting a bolt, we realized that we didn’t have a wrench to tighten the bolt. Just at that moment I heard the roar of a Harley-Davidson. Looking out the front window of His Place, I saw Tom, a local biker, getting off his chopper. I knew Tom from my times of sharing Christ with the Hell’s angels. He was as tough as they come, with strong shoulders, a bushy beard and long hair.
“Hey, Tom!” I called. “Do you have a wrench I can borrow? It will only take a minute.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I got one.”
I reached to take the wrench, but Tom had another idea. “I’ll do it for you,” he said, following me into His Place. But he froze in his steps once he saw the cross, which was twelve feet tall and six feet long, lying on the floor.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s a cross.”
“Hey, man, you do it,” he said, backing away from the cross.
“Okay,” I replied. “But will you come back tonight and see it on the wall?”
“No, I’m not coming back,” he said, shaking his head and staring at the cross.
“Well, come back sometime,” I said. “Jesus loves you, Tom. This cross is not the message of death, but life. Jesus died for you and rose again. You can have real life in him. You can be free inside.”
“No,” Tom sighed, “I don’t want nothing to do with the cross.”
“Hey, man, you are already a part of it,” I said. “Your wrench tightened down the center bolt!”
But Tom turned and walked away. After he left, we knelt around the cross, dedicating it to Jesus and praying for Tom.
Four days later Tom walked into His Place and stared at the cross hanging on the wall. “Tom, Jesus loves you,” I said softly.
You know, Tom said, “I just can’t get this cross out of my mind. Everywhere I go I keep seeing it lying there on the floor. I even dreamed about it. It’s strange how I drove up just at the time you needed that wrench.”
I replied, “No, it’s not strange at all — because Jesus wants you. He is drawing you to himself. Open your heart and you can know him. Repent and he will cleanse you.
Tom nodded and the two of us went to the prayer room where I showed him passages from the Bible about Jesus’ saving love. As we prayed together, Tom was born into the family of God.
During the next two weeks I spent much time talking, studying, and praying with Tom. Then tragedy hit. Tom’s motorcycle was struck on the Hollywood Freeway and he was killed. When I preached at his funeral five more bikers came to know Jesus.
Others would have similar encounters with the cross at His Place, but I will always remember the impact it had on Tom.
The Cross on the Move
Around five o’clock one morning, I knelt by my bed and prayed. I was twenty-eight years old and would soon be twenty-nine. Suddenly Jesus spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but in my heart and mind. He said, “I want you to take the cross that is hanging on the wall in His Place and carry it across America.”
I was stunned. But then the joy of the Lord washed over me like ocean waves. Tears poured down my face, yet I was smiling and thanking Jesus for reaching out to me.
Then the Lord spoke more. “I want you to take the cross onto the roadsides and streets to identify my message in the streets with the common man. I am sending you into the secular world. I am going to put the gospel on television, on the radio, by your walking. I want you to bear witness to my life and my love, proclaim my peace in the streets.”
As I reflected on these things, it seemed the Lord was telling me: When I was here, I was in the streets with the common man. And that is where my message has to be identified again – in the streets.
All this surprised me, but I didn’t question it. Instead, I was thrilled that Christ had spoken to me! Many times throughout history God has called the good, the mighty and the best qualified people to serve Him. This time God reached down to the bottom of the barrel and found me.
Blessitt – come on boy, I could hear Him saying.
Okay, Lord, I said, happy and thrilled to be doing anything he wanted me to do.
A Potential Setback
I could hardly wait to get going on my cross-country walk with the cross. But before I could take my first step, I received some bad news about my health.
Lying in a hospital bed in Glendale Adventist Medical Center, I heard a doctor’s grim prognosis: “Mr. Blessitt you need brain surgery immediately. You have an aneurysm in your brain – an abnormal dilation of the blood vessel wall, a blood vessel blown out like a balloon. This is seeping blood, causing your problem.”
Four times in three years I had experienced problems with my health. Sometimes I became numb on much of the right side of my body. This time a stroke had landed me in the hospital, leading to a battery of tests.
“We need to operate immediately and repair these blood vessels,” continued the doctor. “This is a very serious operation and you should be okay in a couple of months. But I should also warn you there is a possibility you could die or be paralyzed during the operation.”
“What if I don’t have the surgery?” I asked.
“The blood vessels could burst at any time. If you just rest, don’t get excited, don’t preach and don’t lift heavy things, you may have from six months to three years to live. But the aneurysm must be repaired.”
There I was. On the one hand, the doctor said to “operate.” On the other hand, God had told me to “carry the cross.” Should I obey the doctor or the call of God? I asked the doctor for some time to consider my options and I returned home.
I prayed and prayed before coming to a conclusion that would shape the rest of my life. What had changed since Jesus called me to carry the cross? Only my circumstances were different. Right then I concluded that I should not let circumstances alter the call of Jesus. The call of God is not conditional. I decided that I would rather die in the will of God than live outside of it. If I carried the cross, I would be at peace whether I lived or died. But if I stayed home, I knew I would rot inside from a mixture of doubt, fear and the knowledge that I had refused the call of God.
Faith and reason had wrestled in my heart. Faith won and I would never look back. I have had to contend with numbness in my body on and off over the years, but it hasn’t kept me from fulfilling Jesus’ call to walk with the cross.
I had decided to go, but I wasn’t foolish enough to think I would not meet further opposition.
One Final Hurdle
On Christmas morning in 1969, about two hundred people gathered around His Place to bid farewell to me and the team accompanying me on our journey from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.
For several years my call had been to minister in Hollywood by sharing Jesus with the people and by helping them experience salvation and become followers of Jesus. A great revolution had started there. Now Jesus was calling me to take another step: to go across America. I didn’t know it at the time, but this new ministry would help spread the Jesus Movement across the country.
My pastor, Gwin Turner, was there in a suit and tie. Around him stood kids who were stoned on drugs, braless, runaway girls, motorcycle and street gang leaders, young men from the criminal underworld, several other followers of Jesus and the His Place staff.
Pastor Turner laid hands on me to anoint me for the pilgrimage ahead. I took the cross from inside the building, raised it to my right shoulder and yelled to the crowd,
“Give me a J!”
“J,” they shouted back.
“Give me an E”‘
“E,” they shouted back.
“Who does America need?”
Then, as I walked with the cross along sunset Boulevard, a man rushed up to us and started screaming, “That’s my cross!” as he grabbed at the cross and tried to pull it off my shoulders. “I want it back! It’s mine!”
I knew Jesus told his disciples that if anyone asked them for their shirt, they should give their coat also. But what’s a person to do when a yelling man is trying to take your cross?
Finally the man stopped his struggle and issued a threat. “I’ll be back soon,” he said. “And when I get back here I will kill you all.”
Half an hour later the man reappeared. This time he was carrying a big board with a long nail driven through it, and he was waving the board and screaming, “I’m going to kill you!”
There we were: Jim McPheeters was a physically fit marine who had just returned from Vietnam and had been converted to Jesus at His Place. O.J. Peterson was a former alcoholic and nightclub piano player and Jessie Wise was a muscular, former black militant. This team would walk across America with me. And because I was pretty strong myself, I felt that together the four of us could take on this madman.
But Jesus had another idea. I heard the Lord speaking to my heart. “If you are going to carry the cross are you willing to live in the way of the cross?” As the man rushed toward us, these words rang in my ears.
“Fellows, we can’t touch him,” I said. “We’ve never used violence and we can’t start now. If we live, we live. If we die, we die. If you can’t take it, run as fast as you can, but we can’t lay a finger on this man.”
As the man started to hit me with the board, I cried out, “In Jesus’ name, in Jesus’ name,” but I didn’t move.
Jim stepped between the man and me, ready to accept the blows. Looking at the man, he said, “In Jesus’ name, I love you.”
The next thing we knew the man seemed unable to move his hands. He stood there shaking, his face a mixture of hate and fear.
“Fellows, let’s pray,” I said. We wrapped our arms around the cross and knelt there on the sidewalk.
“In the name of Jesus, let his man know you love him just as we love him,” we prayed.
“Lord, if we live, we live for you. If we die, we die for your.”
As we prayed and resigned ourselves to the will of God, I once again felt waves of joy washing over me, just as I felt when Jesus first called me to carry the cross. The next thing I knew, I heard the sound of weeping. The man was on his knees, the board lying at his side.
“Sir,” I said, “God loves you. Jesus died for you. Ask him into your heart.”
Get out of here!” he screamed. “Leave me alone!”
I tried to talk more, but he continued to scream. “Go on,” he yelled. “God is with you! Take the cross and go.”
We picked up the cross and started walking. We didn’t know what else we would encounter as we walked from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., but we knew we wouldn’t be bored! We ended up walking about thirty-five hundred miles between Hollywood and Washington, D.C., weaving our way there was we walked through many major cities and often used secondary roads rather than freeways.
Not long after we walked across America, Jesus led me to carry the cross from nation to nation. Then, in 1988, Jesus called me to give my life to carry the cross in every nation before the year 2000.
Make it Simple
Has God called you to do something for him? If so, don’t think about what everything will be like when your mission is accomplished. Start by thinking of where your first step will take you.
What did Jesus do when he came to reach humanity? He started small and simple. He called twelve unsophisticated fishermen to be his disciples and commissioned them to preach the gospel to the ends of the world.
Over the years I have made many television appearances on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Paul Crouch, the founder of TBN, built radios in his bedroom when he was a kid. When he attended college, he created an amateur radio station in his dorm room. Today, TBN reaches around the world. But if Paul had thought about that at the beginning, he probably would have been paralyzed by doubt and fear. Instead he took small steps, one after another.
You may never walk around the world carrying a cross. But I know God does have something he would like you to do. And the only way you are going to fulfill this calling is by starting out simple and following his call, step by step by step.