OF THE CROSS
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Poland and the People Flocking to the Cross
I can see only streams of people. I can feel only love. I can live only in this moment of unexplainable glory. I can hear only the voices of thousands welcoming Jesus. I never want to live any other way.
If time could only stand still and this day would last forever.
Oh, Lord, how beautiful these people are. They are so hungry for you and your ways. I can think only that it was something like this when you, Jesus, were walking in the fields, streets and towns. The people flooded to you, touched and reached out to you. And they found life in you.
Help me Jesus to never forget the passion of these people. May I learn from them and carry their love in my heart always. They have risen above the oppression, they have loved the cross. They shall see a new day. I know it. I can feel it. Help me to see your beauty Lord and not the face of evil.
I can hardly contain the exploding joy of my spirit within my body. The road behind me helps me to better travel the road ahead. I am lying in this barn on the hay and look forward to the new day about to dawn. I can see the smiling faces and weeping eyes rushing to the cross!
The cross is perhaps the most well-known symbol in the world. From its origin as an instrument of suffering and death it has become – through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ – a symbol of life, love, hope and salvation. On the third day Jesus arose and ascended to the Father and now He lives to make intercession for us. The good news of the gospel is focused on the cross and the shed blood of Jesus for our sins.
I have had the humbling privilege of giving well over half my life to the calling of carrying the cross from nation to nation. I’ve walked tens of millions of steps. This has been a journey not just of walking, but of walking with a cross – feeling its weight and hearing people’s love or reproach for the cross.
Today, as I was thinking about this chapter, I took a walk with the cross. The sun was shining brightly, so I could see the shadow of me carrying the cross as I moved along the street. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered tough days in the jungles or deserts or war zones. I remembered walking in rain, in snow, in heat and in cold. I remembered people coming to the cross and finding new life and salvation. And, yes, there have been rejections, but I choose not to magnify those occasions. In the shadow of the cross I have lived, traveled the world, raised seven children and found welcome and love all around the world.
I am encouraged by what Jesus is doing today. After having carried the cross in every nation, I can say that the world is open to and hungry for the good news of Jesus and the cross. The only problem is that the laborers are few, as Jesus said.
As I complete this mission, I feel peace. Jesus is ruling and reigning in the world today. The church is triumphant, and the people around the globe are welcoming Jesus. In the shadow of the cross you can see firsthand the glorious kingdom of God all around the world. You can see the suffering and resurrection of Jesus that have the power to set us free and change our lives. As followers of Jesus, we face great challenges. But Jesus is with us and He has all the power.
I have also felt the agony of the cross as I walked among people suffering from war, hunger, injustice and oppression. Tears often wash my face as I walk. The weight of the burden of the lost and suffering is heavier than the physical weight of the cross. Yet I walk on…..
Pain and Passion
Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” gave many people a new understanding of Jesus’ journey to the cross and the horror of his crucifixion. As I’ve walked, I’ve often wondered what thoughts were in Christ’s mind as He walked toward his crucifixion. Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross he carried. l carry the cross to remind people of that incomprehensible sacrifice.
I also wonder what thoughts were in the mind of Simon from Cyrene, who Scripture tells us also carried the cross of Jesus, as he shouldered the wooden cross and made his way beside Jesus through the narrow streets and out the gate to the Place of the Skull. How did Simon feel as he walked beside the bleeding Christ?
While I don’t know for sure what Jesus or Simon thought, I do know that carrying the cross has shaped not only my life but also my physical body. The weight of the cross restricts the blood supply to my arm, so I have to give my right shoulder (my preferred side) a break by moving the cross to my left shoulder from time to time. After years of bearing the weight of the cross, my right shoulder bone has developed about one inch of growth.
Perhaps I’m the only person in history that who has been physically shaped by the weight of a cross. But the changes the cross has brought to my physical body are not important. What is important is how the cross has changed my life, and the lives of so many others, from the inside out. I pray that the spiritual weight of the cross has shaped my life according to the example of Jesus.
Poland: A People of the Cross
As I journey around the world, I find the cross to be a universal symbol of God’s love that can be understood in spite of language and cultural barriers.
One of the most wonderful responses came from Poland, where I carried the cross each year from 1981 to 1984. The welcome I received in Poland and the understanding the people had for me and this pilgrimage with the cross is one of the greatest I have ever known. When I looked into their eyes, we connected instantly. They could see the struggle, the hurt and the living faith in me and I could feel their struggle and hurt and see their battle for faith.
The Polish people understood the cross as no other nation I have been through. They were not ashamed of the cross; they were true friends of the cross. They have enriched my life and taught me so much.
At Heathrow Airport in London, England, I checked in my cross and they put a baggage claim ticket around it, not asking a word. It was as if everyone checked in twelve-foot crosses!
As I boarded the plane, I realized no one would meet me at the airport in Warsaw. Nobody knew I was coming. Yet, as I settled into my seat, knowing it was going to be just the Lord and me, I felt the glory of His presence. I felt an excitement and expectancy greater than any other in life. I love to live on the edge.
Many people say, “If I didn’t have security, I’d die. I want security.” But I don’t want security – other than the security of knowing that I love and am loved by both my Lord and my family.
I arrived in Warsaw and made it through the immigration check-point. This was my first visit to a communist country so when a person from the customs office approached me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. She looked at my cross and asked, “What is this?”
“It’s a cross,” I answered.
“Are you going to take it with you when you leave Poland or are you going to leave it in Poland?”
“I’ll be taking it with me.”
She then wrote on the back of my travel papers, in Polish: “Brought in one cross, can take out one cross.”
The Power of the Cross
What happened next has happened in many countries: people flocked to the cross. They ran and wept and stumbled along just to see it, to be close to it, to touch it. The wonderful people of Poland had suffered greatly – and were still suffering – for their faith under the oppression of communism, and they were thrilled to see the symbol of their faith being carried through their country.
I stood at a village church for two hours while a steady flow of people came in and cried. A sweet woman who helped the priest couldn’t speak. The priest told me the Nazis cut out her tongue when she was in Auschwitz. She cried and cried. The cross mean so much to her.
As I walked in a large open field, I could see people – thousands of people – coming across the field from all directions. They were running toward the cross. I couldn’t believe my eyes. People left their work; they came on foot, on bicycles, in cars, on horses and in wagons. They were crying, smiling and laughing. It was awesome.
At the edge of a wheat field, where the nearest house was at least half a mile away and the closest town farther away than that, a huge crowd gathered. Cars and trucks stopped on both sides of the road. The traffic jam must have stretched for half a mile.
Crowds of people just kept coming as I walked through Poland. They filled churches and overflowed into the streets. Some drove many miles to see the man carrying the cross. People kissed the cross and they kissed me! In the villages, people waited along the roadside for me to come to them. Word would spread and masses of people would run across fields to see the cross.
Crafting a Cross
No one knows the exact measurements of the cross upon which Jesus died. Since I did not have a precise blueprint, I experimented over the years with how best to create a cross that can fit on a plane and then withstand the rigors of travel on the road.
I felt the wood should be strong enough to hold an adult man, so beams measuring four inches seemed about right. I estimated that a man’s outstretched arms require a cross beam about six feet wide. The height of the cross needs to accommodate a man at least six feet tall. About three additional feet of height are needed to set the cross upright into a hole. I figured that a three-foot gap between a person’s feet and the ground would be appropriate. Therefore the upright beam of the cross needs to be about twelve feet in length.
So I designed a twelve-by-six foot cross made of four-by-four inch boards. At the crossbeam a two-by-four inch piece of wood is cut out of each beam to make it fit smoothly together. I used a metal plate to strengthen the crossbeam. The plate and the wood have holes drilled for a four-inch bolt to hold the crossbeam in place. This can also be unbolted for transport.
I ran into a problem taking the cross overseas. A twelve-foot cross was too long for checked baggage, so it had to be shipped airfreight on a separate flight. Unfortunately, there were many times I had trouble rendezvousing with the cross at my destination. It was lost twice, once for a month. So after six years, as I was about to go to the Pacific Islands in the summer of 1976, I cut the twelve-foot beam into two sections. Once I arrived at the airport, the pieces could be bolted together with a metal support on both sides, using the same type of bolts used for the crossbeam.
Before the first crosswalk began on Christmas Day 1969, I had no idea how far and fast I could walk with the cross in a day. Several weeks before the walk was to begin, I went into the California desert to walk with the cross. During this test we realized that if it was not protected, the wood at the bottom of the cross would wear away at the rate of about an inch a day. Put wood against pavement or rock and the wood will lose the battle every time! That is why I added a wheel at the base of the cross. After some experimentation, I determined that the best wheel is made from an inflatable tire about a foot in diameter. This size is common around the world since it is used on tricycles. Plus, in many locations worldwide you can now get puncture-resistant tubes to prevent flats.
The unbolted cross conforms to all international baggage regulations. The three four-by-four inch pieces of wood will fit inside a triple ski bag. I have a canvas shop make the wheel end a little wider to fit the wheel.
The weight of the cross varies according to the type of wood used. The cross I carried across America weighs 110 pounds. The second cross which I used until 1994, weighs 70 pounds. The cross I now carry weighs 45 pounds. I still have all three crosses.
Taking the Cross Off the Wall
The cross I made from wood, metal and a wheel is not holy. But it does represent a truly holy event: the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ! The cross is a dramatic symbol of that event. Yet while many people see crosses hanging on walls as decoration, my goal has been to get the cross off the wall and into people’s minds and hearts, where they can understand and experience its message.
Symbols are very important in the Bible. In the Old Testament, events such as Passover are full of symbols. In the New Testament, the bread and wine of Communion represent the body and blood of Jesus. Baptism and foot washing are other symbols used by believers. In the same way, the cross conveys a profound message when it is seen outside its usual context. Out on the road it touches the hearts of people who have worn a cross necklace for years. Churchgoers see so many crosses that they no longer made an impact; but if those same people leave church and see a person carrying a cross, they are shaken.
Some people have been critical of my walking with the cross around the world, saying, “Jesus has already done that.” Yes, Jesus did carry the cross; but after a short distance Simon was compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross. A sinner was qualified to carry the cross of Jesus, but he was not qualified to die on it for our sins.
Simon carried the cross to Calvary. Today we are to carry the cross to the world – maybe not in the literal sense, but as our Lord’s caring representatives.
Jesus spoke often about the cross and its meaning:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take
up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be
my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not
worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
It is clear from these and other passages that followers of Jesus must be cross carriers – probably not carriers of a physical cross, but cross carriers nevertheless.
In Jesus’ day the cross meant one thing: death. It was common for the Romans to use a cross as a way of suppressing occupied peoples. Jesus understood this before he was crucified. And His command that his disciples should carry their own cross implied that those who followed Him were prepared to follow Him to shame, reproach and even death.
Jesus called me to carry His cross at five o’clock on a September morning in 1969. That’s what I have been doing ever since. I carry a cross because He called me to do so and because that calling continues. I walk for Jesus because it is His will and plan for my life. That is why I am happy whatever happens. I walk with the cross in the rain, cold or heat; when loved or hated; when welcomed or rejected; in honor or dishonor.
When I was carrying the cross in Switzerland, a man rushed up to me along a city street and said, “You look like the cross.”
I was quite shocked, but dismissed his words by saying, “I know I look a bit beat up and rough from the years of walking around the world.”
“No, I don’t mean that,” he replied. “What I mean is that the cross fits you. If I took the cross and started carrying it, it would not look like me. But it does look like you.”
After he left and I was walking down the road, I thought about what he’d said and came to realize what he meant. I began to weep, praying that my life would indeed look like the cross.
I pray that having walked in the shadow of the cross all these years I look more like Jesus today then when I began.