17. JERUSALEM TO CAIRO
Two of the world’s most fascinating cities and the awesome Sinai Desert. My mission during February and March 1980 was to carry the cross across the historic desert, the land of old caravan trade routes. Moses and the children of Israel, Jesus as a child, and Mary and Joseph had crossed the Sinai twice. On one end stands Egypt, graced with majestic pyramids and desert tribes; on the other side is Jerusalem, the heart of religion. Now another pilgrim in modern times would cross the desert. This time the pilgrim had a cross and a backpack.
February 26th was an historic date. Israel and Egypt exchanged Ambassadors and opened the border between their countries. I was there with the cross to be the first to cross the border.
This is my second trip to Israel and Palestine. In 1977 I had walked in a big circle around Israel and Palestine and into Jerusalem. As before, many Christians were concerned about my safety, about the possibility of my causing riots with the Jews or the Muslims. Historically both groups have been offended by the cross.
Most people felt this would be a tough, dangerous journey through the Sinai, yet God was to make the desert bloom.
Oh, the awesome feeling of Jerusalem. Unique in all the world. I stood at the Garden Tomb just outside the old wall. I could see the place where many believed Calvary to be. Three years earlier I had arrived here and ended my first walk through the Bible area at this site. I had faced jungles, war and near death since that time, but now I was to begin a journey here. My deep desire had been to walk with the cross and preach in all the areas where Jesus had been taken across the burning sands. Now the privilege would be mine. He had left His family like a refugee; Herod wanted to kill Him. Years later He returned and died on the cross for our sins. Now He was calling me to carry the cross through the desert with the message of true peace, love and salvation. Whatever it cost me in struggle and pain would be a small price to pay for the joy I would bring to others.
A small crowd of believers, modern disciples of the living Jesus, prayed for me and offered encouragement. I strapped my backpack onto the cross. Inside was my sleeping bag, toilet articles, a small camera, a few Bibles in Hebrew and Arabic, a few rolls of Jesus stickers, two pairs of short pants, some shirts, a Swiss Army knife and my personal Bible. I wiped tears from my eyes and said my goodbyes. Then I lifted the cross and walked into the Old City. Crowds of people, Arabs and Jews, gathered to ask questions and to hear the good news of Jesus. I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where many believe Christ was crucified, buried and rose again. I prayed there, went on through the Old City, then out through the Jaffa Gate into the New Jewish Jerusalem toward the desert.
My major problems in crossing the Sinai were that I could sleep in only one place at a time. All day people would ask me to stay with them. In Israel I slept in a church, in a Jewish kibbutz, in moshavs, in private homes and in Arab homes. Secondly, it was difficult to carry all the food and drinks people gave me. Cars would stop and people would give me refreshments. Army jeeps and armored cars, even tanks, packed with Israeli soldiers would give me so much food and drink that I’d have to give the canned food and drinks away. But as I left an area the people would come again with bags of oranges, meat and drinks. Thirdly, it was tough just to keep walking when everyone wanted to talk with me. It was unreal. Often there would be ten to twenty cars and trucks parked in the middle of nowhere with people crowded around. What glorious problems!
The Israelis were overwhelming in their love as were the Arabs. It seemed like a competition as to who could be the nicest to me. In Gaza, the few Christians were afraid I’d cause problems. They wanted to be friendly, but fear won out and instead of visiting me on the streets they would find me a hotel room and came to visit me there. It was so strange that on this trip, as on the trip before, the Christians were often the most fearful. However, there were some from Jerusalem who drove out and brought me food. John Anthony, as he had done in 1977, walked with me the first day. I must commend his courage and faithfulness.
I made it to the border of Israel and Egypt late one day. I was tired but happy. Israeli troops greeted me with applause. They asked Captain David if I could sleep at the border and be the first to open it the next morning. Captain David smiled, patted his gun and said, “Anyone who has walked from Jerusalem can be first in line. Why don’t you get a bed somewhere?”
“I have my sleeping bag, it 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’d like.”
“Well, if you insist.”
Tonight you will sleep in Prime Minister Begin’s house.”
“Well, he isn’t home and some troops are guarding it. The commander said it would be fine. Take your cross with you.”
Nearby was Moshav Sinai, an Israeli settlement in an area soon to be returned to Egypt. Prime Minister Begin owned a home there, but now it was only occupied by the troops who were guarding it.
I was told to go to the house across the street and tell the Commander I had arrived. The area was covered with one-story, white wooden houses, all in a cluster. I leaned the cross against a post and walked over to the Command House as the sun set. There was an open window and an open door. I stopped about fifteen feet away and called out, “Anyone here? Hello! Hello!”
I stood waiting, looking toward the window. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement at the door. As I focused on the door I saw a huge German shepherd dog leaping toward my throat with its mouth wide open and its teeth ready for my flesh. I raised my left arm in reflex and felt great pain as the dog’s teeth plunged into my arm.
“Jesus! Jesus!” I cried out. The dog had a death grip on me. As I squatted down and grabbed at its throat, he released me and for a long moment we faced each other eye-to-eye then he squatted to leap at me again. I was in a position to receive the new attack. With my hands open I kept whispering, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” I was in shock. Here I was in the Sinai Desert ready to sleep in the Prime Minister’s house and yet I was in a life and death struggle from an unexpected source. A most fearsome killer, an Army guard dog.
My arm was pouring blood. What a sight it must have been. A preacher with a cross and a dog in a bloody battle in the sands of the Sinai Desert! I heard a shout. The dog froze. “You speak English?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the dog.
“Yes,” came the reply. “The dog won’t move toward you. Are you the man with the cross?”
“Sir,” I asked, “please call the dog into the house.”
The man spoke again and the dog turned and raced inside. “It’s okay to sleep there,” he pointed toward the house. “I’ll come over in a little while and talk to you. See you soon.” Then he turned away.
The Commander never knew I was hurt as I put my arm behind my back when the dog left. I walked to the cross, got a piece of rag and tied it around the wound to cut the flow of blood and then I went to the house where I was to sleep. Some soldiers asked if I’d gotten a paper from the Commander saying it was okay for me to stay there. “No, he just said it’s okay.”
“We know, but we need written permission.”
“Then, please, someone come with me.”
When we approached the house the same dog charged out and headed directly toward me. “Jesus,” I cried, preparing for a second attack.
The soldier shouted a command and the dog froze. We got the papers and I carried the cross back to the house. All the soldiers greeted me with joy.
“Put your cross at the door. We will bring it in later. We’ll show you to your room.”
As I picked up my backpack and started to the door, I saw another large dog charging toward me. I couldn’t believe it! “Jesus,” I shouted as I threw the backpack in front of me.
The soldier shouted a word and the dog froze only two feet from me!
“Oh, Lord, help me make it through the dogs,” I whispered. Inside the house there were other guard dogs and all of them were eyeing me. It seemed every Army dog wanted to attack me.
I had a small cot. Glancing around I saw boxes of ammunition stored in the room and guns lay about. Two other cots were in the room where the soldiers slept. I went into the bathroom and tried to repair my arm. I could open two cuts and see the bone. My arm was throbbing.
All the troops were so nice and lovely to me that I didn’t want to embarrass them by telling them I had been bitten by one of their dogs. I pulled the skin together and tied a cloth around it. To this day I carry the scars of that attack on my left arm.
We ate Army rations and talked about my journey and about Jesus late into the night. I lay on my bed thinking about today and wondering about tomorrow. I had taped a special television program for Swedish TV and had been attacked by a dog today. Tomorrow I go to Egypt. Lord, I’m in your hands.
The Israeli solders at the border all greeted me with warnings.
“Those Egyptians will kill you with that cross!” one man told me. “I’ve fought them in five wars in this desert. We like you and your cross. You are welcome in Israel but in Egypt, God have mercy on you.”
A black limousine was waiting as I walked out of the immigration post. The driver game me a note, “General Mohammed Hassan Sadek, Military Governor of the Sinai wants to see you.” I convinced them I would walk with the cross rather than take their air conditioned limousine.
Hours later I arrived at the Presidential Palace in El Arish. I walked up a red carpet after I had parked my cross against the palace wall. I was led upstairs to a second floor office. As I stepped in I saw a well-dressed man looking out the window. He turned slowly toward me and we looked at each other. I was wet with sweat and dirty, my shirt and short pants were brown from the blowing sand and I held my hat in my hands. My hair was wet and uncombed as I stood in the office of the president at the palace.
We were alone. Everyone else had left. He greeted me with a hug and kiss as is the common Arabic greeting. “Why did you refuse a ride in the air conditioned car; why did you walk here?”
“Because Jesus has called me to walk, carrying the cross around the world. Sir, I’m a pilgrim on a mission from God. God loves you. I come in peace on this historic day.”
“Why the cross?”
“Because I believe that through the blood of Jesus we can be clean. He is the only perfect man to die for our sins. The cross is God’s message of redemption and salvation.”
On and on I explained the life of Jesus. Tears filled my eyes as we knelt to pray. Many wars had bloodied the desert sands, now I prayed for forgiveness, not vengeance and for peace to prevail. I led him in a prayer to let Jesus live in his heart and to be his Lord and Savior.
When we finished praying, we rose. He went to his desk and turned to me, “This is the greatest honor I can give you, the Sinai Peace Medal. Anything you need, just show the Army or the people this medal and they will take care of you; food, drink, a place to sleep or anything else you may need. Welcome to Egypt. Egypt is your land.”
I stood looking at the big gold medallion. Tears flooded my eyes. Then the Governor spoke again, “Could I have a piece of your cross?”
Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that He died on the cross. They believe that He was taken up to Heaven and an imposter died on the cross afterwards. We looked at each other and I nodded, “I’ve only given Pope John Paul II in Rome a piece of the cross, but if you will take it openly in front of your officers, I’ll give you a piece of it.”
We walked downstairs and went to the cross. Carefully I took my pocket knife and cut two small pieces so he would have the shape of a cross. He placed the pieces in his billfold in the form of a cross and said, “I’ll carry it all the rest of my life. Would you eat my dinner? It has been prepared for me but I must go to Cairo now, so please have my dinner.”
“Well,” I said, “if you insist”
After we said our goodbyes I was led to a huge hall. There were two long rows of empty tables. Then a head table piled with food as only Arabs can prepare. Men in white dress stood ready to serve me. I was led to the head table, sat down and looked at the food. Here I was, surrounded by food prepared for the president, in a T-shirt and short pants in this palace! Tears washed my cheeks as I praised God and smiled. My family and friends in the States must be praying, “Lord, please don’t let Arthur starve or thirst to death in the Sinai Desert.” Last night I slept in the Prime Minister’s house in Israel, today I receive the Sinai Peace Medal and am eating dinner in the Presidential Palace in Egypt! Hallelujah! I am welcomed and loved by the Israelis and Egyptians, by the Jews and Muslims. The words in Psalm 23 filled my mind. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, thou anointest my head with oil. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Today, I crossed the Suez Canal. The people on the boat held the cross over their heads as we went across the canal. Everyone was excited. I entered El Quantara like a hero and then slept in a $2 room…can you believe it? Most men were smoking happy bubbly from a big pipe with a long hose. A bit of opium lay on the hot coals.
As I sat drinking coffee at 6:30 in the morning with Egyptian troops stationed at a roadblock, I saw a car drive up. In it was my dearest friend from London, Graham Lacey. I tapped on the window and he awoke. He and other dear friends, Cecil McBride, from Ireland and David Coe from Washington, D.C. were also in the car. They had flown by private jet from London to bring me water in the Sinai Desert. Oh, what friends! We visited for two hours, and then they had to leave. But David stayed in Cairo to help arrange my entrance there.
It is unbelievable. The people are so nice to me. But I was arrested once by Army soldiers and three times by the police. All for my own protection I was told. They claimed that, “People will kill you with that cross. You can’t walk on!”
I finally explained everything and they let me go on, but, “At your own risk! We don’t oppose what you are doing, but we can’t let you go on for your own safety. ”After they saw the response of the people, I was allowed to proceed to Cairo without difficulty.
Bilbeis, Egypt – From my Diary: I made it here, wherever this is. I know people in the United States are praying for me, but his is ridiculous. It rained three times today in the desert. It’s wet and the wind is cold. I could hardly stand up and the wheel on the cross is hard to move in the sand. But David came to me today in a taxi and told me he had gotten me a room in Bilbeis. After days in houses, I was anticipating a hot bath and good food in a hotel, but it turned out to be a total dump! Everyone was smoking happy bubbly dope in the hotel lobby. The room cost one U. S. dollar, but David paid an extra quarter so no one else would sleep in the same room. Ha! One day I hope to return the favor to him. David left for Cairo in the same taxi as I entered the hotel!
Today I met with Pope Shenouda III, head of the six million member Coptic Church. We had a lovely visit in his office in Cairo. Pope Shenouda presented me with his personal ivory cross that he used to bless people. We discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ and I knelt beside him reading Scriptures. It was a wonderful visit. He was shocked to learn that I had already walked from Jerusalem to Cairo. The Pope had wanted to warn me that it would be impossible to do that, but I’d already done it. He said, “You are blessed. You are like a saint.”
Later that day I was received in the capital by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Boutrus Boutrus Ghali. We spent a half-hour together and I explained that my effort was for peace and good will in the name of Jesus.
Today I carried the cross to the pyramids and along the Nile River. The pyramids stand in awesome beauty in this red and burning sand. The Sphinx is a sight of wonder! History was all around me, yet there is a living faith to share with the people who gathered around. One man and a boy gave me their dinner. Oh, such love.
This journey was finished. The cross made its way through the desert from Jerusalem to Cairo. Every need was met. Hearts were opened, love was shared, prayers were offered and a dream came true. But this was not to be the end. More lay ahead. God had truly made the desert bloom. If life is like a pilgrimage through the Sinai, the grace of God is sufficient. Hallelujah!