WITH ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE
Israeli Egyptian Border
Oh, Father, you are amazing. My mind is swimming from the events of the last twenty-four hours. I couldn’t even script a movie with what has happened today. Last night I slept in the home of Prime Minister Begin, tonight I’m lying in this little bed in El Arish. Yesterday’s lunch was C rations from the Israeli army; today I ate at the presidential palace in the Sinai (although my arm still hurts from the guard dog that attacked me last night).
Today I prayed with the Egyptian commander of the Sinai to receive Jesus. I pray for peace between Israel and Egypt. No more war between these two countries in Jesus’ name. Jesus you crossed this desert as a child and it is incredibly harsh, even today. I can hardly see as the blowing sand gets in my contact lenses and scratches my eyes. It truly is a walk of faith. Oh, Lord, how my back aches from the cross loaded and heavy with my backpack tied on it. But, God, you know this Sinai well, and I know you will lead me through it. I wonder what the next twenty-four hours will hold and where I’ll be sleeping tomorrow night. I’m glad you don’t have to sleep, Lord. Good night, anyway.
I have walked with the cross in every nation. As a result, I have shared Jesus with individuals from all the world’s major religions, cultures and racial groups.
Sometimes when I tell people that, they seem surprised and they’ll ask me, “Don’t you run into problems?”
“No,” I respond, “the welcome for the cross has been wonderful from people all around the world. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t be alive!”
Some people don’t believe me, because they think of religion as something that creates conflict and tension. But while religion certainly may become a source of anger and animosity, Jesus doesn’t need to stir people’s anger. In fact, I find that people around the world like Jesus and want to know more about him.
I learned this lesson early on, during my ministry on the sunset Strip in the 1960s. I talked to many hippies who were opposed to all kinds of things, including organized religion. But they didn’t have anything against Jesus. They liked hearing about him.
I’ve seen the same thing in Muslim countries. Some people say there is a new global war between Muslims and Christians. But that’s not what I see when I talk to Muslims. Jesus is mentioned more than twenty-five times in the Qur’an. Although Muslims don’t easily commit their lives to Jesus, they love talking about him.
Today many people feel the same way Mahatma Gandhi felt. This famous Indian leader once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
I try to counteract these negative attitudes when I walk with the cross. Instead of talking about Christianity, I try to focus on Christ and the love and grace of God. Instead of inviting people to church, I invite them to a banquet that Jesus is hosting. It’s a wonderful banquet, complete with good food and good friends. The only thing you have to do to get in is accept the invitation Jesus has been sending for the past two thousand years.
In this chapter I want to focus on how followers of Jesus can talk to others about him without being caught up in arguments and dead ends. And as I have found in my life, sometimes you don’t have to do anything special; you just need to show up and be available.
The Man Who had Already Seen Jesus
Denise and I walked with the cross in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. This island nation is predominately Buddhist, but it also has a large population of Muslims and Hindus as well as some Christians. A man dressed in a business suit began speaking to Denise excitedly.
“I’ve seen this! He said, pointing to the cross and me. “I was sick and dying one night, but a man came to me and said I should follow him. Afterward I was immediately well. After that I began praying only to this man, but I did not know his name. Passing a store one day I saw a picture of him. He was hanging on a big cross like this. I said to the shopkeeper, ‘This is the gentleman who healed me!’ I bought the picture and took it home.”
The man had never even heard of Jesus. I told him my name was Arthur Blessitt but the man on the cross was Jesus. We told him that we would get him a Bible, which would tell him more about Jesus. We helped the man understand who Jesus is and how to receive him as Savior and Lord. We prayed with him as he welcomed Jesus into his life. What a joy to share with this man to whom Jesus had already revealed himself!
As we talked to other people in Sri Lanka we didn’t talk about Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism. We talked about Jesus.
Lifting Up Jesus
When I walk with the cross I don’t promote myself or my personal opinions about theology or anything else. I focus on lifting up Jesus so all can see him.
This is powerful thing to do, as Jesus himself said in John 12:32: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Jesus was talking about his crucifixion (and probably his resurrection and ascension) but he is still drawing people to himself today. Jesus welcomes all people to come to him; and our job as followers of Jesus is to let people know about that welcome in ways that make sense to them.
As the following stories from around the world show, that welcome is attractive to Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews everywhere.
Sharing Jesus with Buddhists
Some people say Japan is a difficult place to tell people about Jesus, but that was not our experience in the Okinawa Islands. In 2003, Denise and I – along with Junko, our interpreter; Pastor Dave Lukasiak and about fifteen people from Dave’s church – had a wonderful visit there.
I stood on the sidewalk with the cross on my shoulder in the main shopping district of Okinawa. The others handed out gospel materials (which were in Japanese) and Jesus stickers (which were in English). I began explaining to six young men who Jesus is and how he could be their Savior. As they were ready to pray to receive Jesus, I looked up to see groups of people lined up, waiting to come to the cross and hear about Jesus.
Most of these people were young. I needed to spend a lot of time with them because they knew so little about Jesus. After I prayed with a group, others on our team followed up and I would begin with a new group. This went one and on!
I will never forget one man. I had explained the good news of Jesus to him and after we prayed together, he asked, “Now is my name in that book in heaven?”
“Yes,” I declared and he was so happy.
Welcome to the new Japan!
Denise and I felt fortunate just to gain entrance to the Kingdom of Bhutan, located in the Himalaya Mountains, let alone to carry the cross there. The government heavily regulates tourism in order to preserve the country’s traditional culture and the environment. In addition to that, Buddhism is the state religion and proselytism is against the law.
We soon discovered that the guides escorting us had no idea who Jesus was or what the cross was about. Denise shared with them, starting at the beginning with Adam and Eve. She told the two young men, dressed in traditional knee-length, brightly colored robes, how Jesus died for their sins. Tashi, the interpreter, interrupted Denise and said, “This is horrible how Jesus had to suffer on the cross and die. I’ve never heard anything so sad.” He was in tears.
Denise led both of them in prayer to receive the risen Christ. Soon their tears of sadness ere replaced with joy.
Sharing Jesus with Hindus
The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of Hinduism. Still, India has been one of the most welcoming places on earth. When I travel there with the cross, thousands of people line the highway to see the cross, to touch the cross and me, and to have me pray the blessings of Jesus upon them. The people in every community would garland my neck with flowers, welcoming Jesus and the cross.
Hindus believe in reincarnation and this concept is very important to them. I used this concept as a bridge when talking to Hindu people on the Indonesian island of Bali about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
”I understand that,” one man said. “Jesus was reincarnated.”
“No,” I replied, “Jesus came back in the same body.” I explained how Jesus was resurrected, not reincarnated and how he showed his disciples his hands and feet that had been pierced.
Some of those we talked with began to understand the unique nature of Jesus and welcomed him into their lives.
Not all Hindus live in Asia. I talked to an elderly Hindu man in South Africa. He was excited to see the cross and invited me to come into his house. He took me into his bedroom where a picture of Jesus hung on the wall. He explained that just a few days earlier he saw a vision. As the cross rose from the ground, he approached it. He placed a great garland of flowers on the cross. Then he heard a voice from behind the cross announce, “Soon the Big Father will come to you.”
You can understand his excitement, since this day the cross did come to him! We prayed together and he welcomed Jesus into his heart.
Sharing Jesus with Jews
I walked with the cross in Israel when a man stopped his car, got out and said to his wife, “Meet a man who loves God, who loves peace and who wants nothing.”
We talked briefly and the woman became curious about my logistics. “Where do you sleep at night?” she asked.
“Wherever someone invites me to stay,” I answered.
We would love to have you in our home,” the man said. “But we are Jews, does that matter?”
I laughed and replied, “Well, I was hoping to meet some of those around here!”
The couple stood the cross by their front door and invited me in for an evening of food and conversation. They even invited their friends to come and talk with me. My hostess told me that she made jewelry, but wondered why some people would want jewelry in the shape of a cross. I welcomed the opportunity to explain the significance of the cross.
Later I was walking up a mountain with the cross when an Israeli army bus approached me. So many of the soldiers wanted to talk to me that they invited me to come onto the bus where I spoke to about eighty men and women. I shared about my walk with the cross and my love for Jesus. After I concluded with a prayer, the soldiers burst into applause and rushed off the bus – grabbing the cross, lifting it high and taking pictures. I was crying and so were some of the soldiers.
“That you for coming to us,” they said. “And please stay on the road; it makes the world a better place.”
February 26, 1980, was a historic date: Israel and Egypt exchanged ambassadors and opened the border between their countries. I felt the Lord wanted the cross to be one of the first things to pass through the border that day. I carried the cross from Jerusalem through Gaza into the Sinai Desert and on to the border, arriving February 25th.
The Israeli troops greeted me with applause. I asked the border commander, Captain David Yaniv, if I could sleep there and be the first in line to cross the border the next day. Captain David smiled and said, “Anyone who has walked from Jerusalem will be first in line. Why don’t you get a bed somewhere?”
“I have my sleeping bag, that will be okay,” I answered.
He looked at the other soldiers, and then said, “Just a moment.” He returned in a few minutes. “I have a bed for you, if you like.”
“Well, if you insist,” I replied.
“Tonight you will sleep in the desert home of Prime Minister Menachem Begin.”
“Well, he isn’t home. The troops are guarding it. The commander said it would be fine. Take your cross.”
That night, with my cross in the living room, I slept in the prime minister’s home in an Israeli settlement located in an area soon to be returned to Egypt.
The next morning, all the Israeli soldiers at the border greeted me with warnings: “Those Egyptians will kill you with that cross. We’ve fought them for five wars in this desert. We like you and your cross. You are welcome in Israel – but Egypt? Good have mercy on you.”
I told Captain David, “Jesus loves you and you can know Him.”
He said, “I’m Jewish.”
I responded, “Jesus was Jewish too and he loves you and died on the cross for you. One day you’re going to become a follower of Jesus.”
Several years after our meeting at the border, David Yaniv received Jesus as his Savior as he watched The 700 Club. Twenty-five years later we appeared together on a TBN program. “Captain David” is now the pastor of Roots Messianic Congregation in Lynnwood, Washington!
Sharing Jesus with Muslims
I did cross the border that day and carry the cross into Egypt. When I walked out of the immigration post, a black limousine was waiting to take me to El Arish. But I declined so that I could continue carrying the cross through the desert. When I arrived at the presidential palace in El Arish hours later, a red-carpet welcome was waiting for me. The military governor of the Sinai invited me into his office and asked why I refused the government’s officer of an air-conditioned limousine in favor of walking across the desert.
“Because Jesus has called me to walk – to carry the cross around the world and to walk from Jerusalem to Cairo,” I explained. “Sir, I’m a pilgrim on a mission from God. God loves you.
He asked, “But why the cross?”
“Because it is through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross that we can be clean. The cross is God’s message of redemption and salvation.”
We talked about Jesus for a while and then we knelt to pray. I led the general in prayer to invite Jesus into his heart, to be his Lord and Savior.
When we stood up, he went to his desk and picked up a medal. “This is the greatest honor I can give you – the Sinai Peace Medal. Show this to anyone and they will give you anything you need. Welcome to Egypt. Egypt is your land.”
A few months later I walked in Jordan with my sons Joel (who was fourteen) and nine-year old Joshua. It was the middle of summer so we were hot and thirsty. We had also run out of food. Some soldiers saw us, stopped and gave us water. Later we arrived at a Palestinian refugee village. The men there showed us wonderful Arab hospitality, kneeling down and washing our feet, dressing us in white robes and seating us on a patio covered with grapevines. We were treated like kings!
When a man who could speak English arrived, they asked me what I would like to do. I replied I would like to talk to them about Jesus. These Muslim men gathered around and for hours I shared the good news of Jesus.
Inviting Everyone to God’s Banquet
As Jesus explained in Matthew 22, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. The king’s servants invited people to the banquet, but none came. They were too busy with other things. So the king told his servants to look harder for potential guests: “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Matthew 22:9)
That’s what I feel I have been called to do. And in a sense, we all have. God wants each of us to share with others the message of his son. I share the following message with people at every opportunity.
The Message of the Cross
God created us and wants to communicate and fellowship with us. He speaks to us through the Bible and in our spirit and through the witness of others who know him. But since the sin of Adam and Eve, there has been a wall of separation between humanity and God.
God has worked to tear down this wall of separation and often this has required the shedding of blood. “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22)
Through Moses, the Lord instructed the people of Israel to put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes in Egypt. This protected them during the event known as Passover. Then on the Day of Atonement, the blood of a lamb was sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place to celebrate the forgiveness of the sins of the people (Leviticus 16)
Still, the Old Testament prophets pointed to a future day when a perfect sacrifice would be made for human sin. That perfect sacrifice was realized in the person of Jesus, who was born without sin and who never sinned throughout his life.
Jesus taught the good news and performed many miracles, fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah. He suffered and was crucified on the cross for our sins. God loved us so much that he gave us Jesus, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As Jesus explained to his disciples during the Last Supper, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
As soap loosens dirt and stains from a cloth so that water can wash it away, Jesus loosens us from sin and washes it away in his blood. It was only through his work on the cross that Jesus could forgive our sins. That is why the cross is so central to our faith.
Of course, the work of Jesus didn’t end at the cross. Jesus rose from the dead, appearing again to his disciples and giving them the Great Commission to spread the message of the cross throughout the world. Then he ascended to heaven.
The message of the cross is for the entire world, so we should go and share it. I think we will be more effective in sharing Jesus’ story when we do so in the following ways.
How to Share Jesus in Our Complex World
As I carry the cross around the world and speak to people about Jesus, these steps help me reach more people more effectively:
Step 1: Follow Jesus
I am a firm believer in the sovereignty of God. It was God’s will that the cross be carried in every nation; He brought it to pass and gave us favor, protection and health to do it. I always say, “Jesus did it!”
What is Jesus calling you to do? Who is He calling you to reach? As you listen to him and follow his will, He will make a way for you to do it.
Step 2: Try Smiling
Some Christians look sad and depressed. But when I go out, trying to welcome people to the banquet of God, I am smiling and joyful. I don’t go into the world to condemn people but to give them a message of love, hope and salvation.
Step 3: Love God and Love People
When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he replied, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
When I walk with the cross, I eat with people and enjoy their food. I sleep in their homes. Their casa is my casa, and their family is my family. Love them as they are, and the usually do the same with me.
Step 4: Proclaim the Good News
For many people, “Christianity” has meant bad news. For example, many Muslims and Jewish people remember persecution against them under the symbol of the cross. But when they see me with the cross and hear me share the good news, they understand a new and wonderful meaning for the cross. The cross is the sign of the love of God in sending Jesus. People the world over are very interested in this message.
Step 5: Don’t Stereotype People
I see all the people in the world as a big family. Before I visit a country, I take what I learn about its history, culture and customs with a grain of salt. That’s because I don’t want to carry the prejudice of history or the opinions of others with me. I want to encounter people one to one. As a result, I am free; and they can feel it. I love them and they know it.
Step 6: Focus on Jesus
I don’t use the word Christian to describe myself when I talk to people. Many have preconceived opinions of Christians. Some remember that “Christians killed my dad” or that “Christians took our land.”
When asked what I am, I say, “I am a follower Jesus.” Usually the reply is, “What is that?” That questions gives me the opportunity to share Jesus.
And when I am asked, “Why the cross?” I share about Jesus’ amazing role in our salvation.
Here’s how Denise summarizes these six steps. When someone asks her how we are able to talk to so many people about Jesus, she says, “Arthur talks the same way to people, no matter what religion they belong to!”
And that is true. I never put down other peoples’ religion. I just share with them about Jesus and let things happen from there.
Jesus and the cross are for all people of all religions. Everyone is welcome at the foot of the cross. My goal in life is to invite people to the cross. And if you focus on Jesus instead of all the issues that divide us, you can do the same.