36. THE CROSS IN JAIL
MADRID, SPAIN – The Plaza Mayor, a cobblestone square surrounded by old, magnificent buildings, lies in the heart of Madrid. This place sent chills of fear throughout all Spain in the Fifteenth Century. It contains some of the most horrible stories in Christendom. It is said that every stone had at one time or another been covered with the blood of martyrs. Over 100,000 Christians had been burned at the stake or slain here because of their faith in Christ. Most of them were Protestants. To the Protestants, it to this day remains a place of fear in Spain.
The National Television cameramen and reporters were stationed on the rooftops. News media from around the world was here, thousands packed into the square on Saturday, November 11, 1972, waiting for “an hombre con la crosse” (the man with the cross). It had taken me six weeks to get here.
I had entered Spain after leaving France. Thousands of people had greeted me along the way.
I was arrested in Irun, Spain and jailed in San Sebastian, but the government gave me permission to carry the cross through Spain and to give my testimony.
Through city after city, thousands of people had mobbed me in their desire to see and kiss the cross and to touch me. The entire front page of Spain’s largest newspaper had carried my picture, declaring my arrival in Spain. The news had reported my progress in the National Press on almost a daily basis. They had announced that Plaza Mayor would be my arrival place in Madrid.
About a dozen people joined me on the walk into Madrid. Later on there were twenty, then hundreds, as I reached the city center. Thousands lined the sidewalks, all trying to touch me and kiss the cross. I had to get several men to join hands and help me push through the eager crowd.
Finally, I could see the Plaza Mayor, then my foot touched the first step and I began to climb the steps toward one of the many entrances. The glory of God covered me. The air was electric with the surging crowd about me creating an almost stoppable moment. I now stood under the archway. A sea of people was before me. I was now walking where the blood of my brothers and sisters of the past had wet the stones. I froze.
Six-year-old Joel wrapped his arms around my legs. This little boy had witnessed more miracles of God than most adults do in a lifetime.
I whispered, “Lord, Jesus, may you be glorified this evening.”
Then the people crushed upon us as I moved forward. Thousands of people were pushing, pulling, screaming, and fighting to touch me and the cross. All I could see was a sea of outstretched hands and weeping faces. An ear piercing roar was heard. A few men fought to keep us from falling. I could not move the cross. The people were holding on to it, then there would be a surge and we would move forward in a wave, and then stop. This was repeated over and over. I finally reached the statue in the center of the Plaza. An impossible goal had become a reality. As Reverend Alberto Arujo, my interpreter, and I climbed onto the base of the statue and faced the people, I lifted my hand, and a welcome silence blanketed the atmosphere. He had set up a public address system shortly before my arrival.
I lifted my index finger to the sky, “Un solo comino Jesus,” I cried out.
“Un solo comino Jesus,” they answered as one. Then I began my famous Jesus cheer, “Give me a J,” they answered back, “J,” “give me an E,” they yelled back “E,” “give me an S,” they said “S”, “give me a U,” “U” they responded, “give me another S,” they cried “S,” “JESUS!” The crowd screamed.
“I am here to speak of Jesus.”
The crowd echoed cheers throughout the Plaza.
“I want to tell you about Him. How you can know Him. And, what He can do in your life as you live with Him day by day.”
Alberto’s translation seemed to be touched with fire as the power of the message struck at the inner soul of the crowd. Alberto was in his late thirties, tall with a thin frame and wire-rimmed glasses. He was the pastor of the largest evangelical church in Spain.
“Jesus came to die,” I pointed to the cross. “For you, for me, for everyone! With His death He paid for our sins. And with His resurrection He gave us abundant eternal life. Accept Jesus into your heart. Today is the day of salvation. Confess Him as your Lord and Savior and you will be saved.”
At this point, I noticed carloads of police emptying into the Plaza and approaching the cross. A rough looking officer dressed in a dark blue suit shoved his finger into Alberto’s face and ordered him to turn off the public address system. “Now go!” he ordered.
“Why must we leave?” Alberto countered.
“You have no permit. You are not allowed to gather a crowd of any size in Spain without a permit.”
“We do have a permit,” Alberto told him. He was momentarily jolted but remained as firm as ever.
“Let me see it.”
The people seemed to respond with a beautiful voice which rose above the chaos. Thousands of the most beautiful voices began singing together in praise of the Lord and in defiance of anyone who would dare to stop their worship of Him. Their voices lifted up, so did their hands. Thousands were praising God. It was beautiful!
“This meeting must stop,” the policeman said. “But I’ll call headquarters and tell them of this permit.” He turned and walked toward a waiting car, roughly pushing aside anyone blocking his path.
Alberto and I stood together. The government controlled Spanish television and newspapers had announced my arrival in advance. They had promoted my arrival. It was due to them that this very crowd the authorities objected to had come in the first place.
A scream, saturated in agony and fear, shattered the calmness of the Plaza and signaled an abrupt halt to the singing.
Wham the screams which followed began one of the most tragic and glorious events I have ever witnessed. We had just been confronted with the regular police, but now it was the feared civil guardia, the most loyal of Francisco Franco’s storm troopers had come to do battle with me, women, and children armed only with the love of God.
Click, Click, Click, the face shields on the guard’s helmets snapped into place.
The next thing I heard was bones snapping, arms and legs breaking. The clubs came crushing down again and again upon the people as they squirmed and shivered under the blows. There was no way they could move. There was no where to go.
“No! My God don’t.”
I saw one of the clubs flash down in a wide arch and careen off the scar covered head of a poor old woman. She fell face down in a pool of blood.
The cries of the children were horrible. “Lord, those little babies are being beaten up. Protect them, protect them.” The clubs kept pouring down on the immobile Spaniards, yet the singing picked up again, this time louder and purer than before.
I laid little Joel on the ground. Then the preachers from that glorious crowd gathered around me and fell on top of us.
Then, miraculously, the civil guardia stopped their beatings and marched over to us. We got to our feet.
“Why did you do this to us?” Alberto demanded. “The people had no chance to move. You said you would call headquarters and get a decision about our permit!”
A plainclothes officer replied, “I knew nothing about the civil guardia attacking.”
He then turned and in hushed tones began to speak to his comrades. Then he turned to face us once more. “I have orders to clear the Plaza. Disperse now or face arrest.”
The fire within me burned with renewed energy and I straightened up, my hand pressing against the cross, and I answered, “You have attacked and beaten a helpless crowd of people, including old women and children. They came in peace to listen to me speak about Jesus, as was reported in your newspapers. They had no orders to leave, or an opportunity to do so.
They were brutally beaten. I cannot move on. I must take my stand with them and the thousands of others whose blood has been spilled in the past years in this place. I have permission from your government to carry the cross and give my testimony. But I also have a right that is given by God and cannot be interfered with. I shall preach. Alberto, you do as you must.”
When Alberto finished with the translation, the officer said, “I order you to leave.”
I picked up the cross and placed it on my shoulder.
A man dashed through the crowd and grabbed Joel and cried, “I’m taking him to safety.”
We didn’t know the man but that was the last time we saw Joel until the next day.
“Arthur,” Alberto said, “I am your interpreter and that still stands.” “I’m Spanish and this is my country, and I will not bow to oppression. I’m by your side,” Dale Simpson said.
Dale had been walking with me all week. We all knelt in prayer. It was an awesome feeling. My mind was with thoughts of the others who had died here. Whether it was death that I faced, injury or imprisonment, I had stand with the fallen. Blood had been spilled again. To leave was unthinkable. We took a few steps away from the statue. The crowd had moved back and a huge arch was formed around the Plaza by scores of policemen.
Alberto, Dale and I stood alone in the center as thousands watched and waited in silence.
“Un solo comino Jesus,” I cried in Spanish. “We shall not bow on our knees to the will of men, but we shall move at the impulse of God’s Spirit, whether in death or in life. Our service is unto God. We must not be intimidated by fear. No bars can close in the truth. We are free, even in prison. Jesus said to go into the highways and preach the gospel to every person.”
I saw the helmeted troops moving toward us once more. “Ask Jesus into your hearts, I cried.”Give your life to Him. Do not return hate for hate, but love your enemies.”
My arms were whipped behind me by several pairs of strong hands.
Then it was Alberto’s turn. He was preaching as loud as he could while being hurried off.
“Jesus ti amo,” I kept saying to the troops as I hugged the cross. “Dios te bendigo” (God bless you).”
“Let go of the cross,” the Guardia tried to wrestle it from me, but my grip was one of tempered steel. I wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t let go.
“I’ll carry it to jail! I won’t let go!”
I felt a club whack me in the ribs and I bent over in pain. Then my arm was clubbed and my elbows smashed in a series of blows. Again and again they clubbed me until they knocked me violently to the ground with the cross falling beside me. I tried to reach for it, if only to touch the familiar wood one more time. When would I see it again?
Then my heels were jerked skyward and my body was dragged over the cobblestones. I made eye contact with the man who was twisting my leg and dragging me.
“Dios te bendigo!” I smiled, and out of surprise or conviction, he released me.
Dale Simpson dashed through the fighting unnoticed until he reached the cross. He grabbed it and lifted it up.
“Hallelujah!” the people shouted.
Dale held the cross for only a few precious seconds, and then he was clubbed, kicked and finally thrown into the back of a police car.
I saw the cross lying on the ground. I could not bear to see it lying there. I dashed over, lifted it, put it on my shoulder and began to walk away.
Again the clubs rose, waiting to crack my skull. The crowd was praying. The police did not hit my head, but attacked my body with such force that, again the cross was knocked onto the cobblestones. They dragged me by my feet and pushed me onto the floor of a police car.
Dale was already in the car. He was a bit stunned by the blows he had taken, but nevertheless was fine. I looked out the car window at the cross. As soon as someone would dash from the crowd and lift it up, the troops would club that person to the ground. And each time the cross fell, someone else would race to it, knowing that they faced the clubs of the civil guardia, yet they would pick it up, and then wham! It happened over and over until the police car roared out of the Plaza and I could see it no more.
The scene at the jail was indescribable. The place echoed with praise. Twenty or so Spanish preachers had been arrested. Everyone was hugging, smiling, and singing. The Catholic Bishop of Madrid sent a personal representative to help obtain our release. The American Consular General came, embarrassed and demanding. His daughter had been at the Plaza Mayor to see us. Finally the cross arrived.
Back at the Plaza, the police had taken the cross and stood it against the statue with many of them standing at attention facing it. They had been apologizing to the people for what they had been ordered to do. The Plaza Mayor had exploded in awakening. Instead of my being the only preacher in the streets, many people were standing and preaching in the streets. Singing was in the air through out the center of Madrid. Finally, a big van came and took the cross away.
Several Christian leaders had spread the word for people to come to Alberto’s church, which was located only a few blocks away. After much discussion and debate, it finally was agreed upon to release us all without charges. All my papers were returned to me and I made sure all the Spanish pastors were free before I would leave. I would not leave without my cross. Finally, the police agreed to return it, but it had to be driven to Alberto’s church where I would go tomorrow. We left with the cross tied on the top of the American Embassy car. Arriving at the church at midnight was glorious! Like a page out of the Bible, out of the book of Acts. It was indescribable. The church was overflowing with people.
As I carried the cross into the auditorium, it is impossible to describe the scene. Worshipers had gathered to pray and had seen us arrested by the civil guardia (Spain’s most vicious troops). They had seen us all beaten and stuffed into police cars, not knowing how long it would be before we were free. Yet we stood free and with the cross. Again, the impossible was reality. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life as that crowd wept and shouted.
We had stood and preached in Spain’s most feared spot. I had perhaps preached the most powerful moment of my life. We had faced the police and the civil guardia, had been beaten and arrested, and yet walked out free and unbent.
The people had known oppression. They had their churches closed and pastors arrested. There was a surge of hope, victory and liberty. These followers of Jesus would not be defeated. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and fire, going forth to shake Spain for Christ. Evangelism was released in Spain. The country would never be the same again.
Alberto and I preached for an hour and a half. Finally, I had to go to bed. I asked at the church if anyone knew where I could find Joel. Someone knew the person who had him and where they lived. Tomorrow they would bring him to me. I was too exhausted to talk and I fell asleep at dawn.
Portugal – One afternoon as I was carrying the cross along the road, I saw a very thin old lady coming toward me with a big pot balanced on her head. It was a heavy load. Just at that moment a tour bus passed me, the brake lights came on and the bus stopped. Immediately the tourists began to pour out of the bus surrounding the old lady with their cameras. I thought, “Surely these aren’t Christians on tour,” but sure enough, someone spotted me with the cross and in seconds they were running toward me, getting the cameras ready to take pictures.
“Gee, you’re Arthur Blessitt, aren’t you the man with the cross. Isn’t that wonderful. This is the highlight of our trip. Can you believe it? Oh, these will be wonderful show people back home.”
I said, “Just a minute. I’m not just another picture for the Christian slide show in your living room back home.’
They were shocked.
“You met that poor old lady with a heavy load on her head. You didn’t give her a prayer, you didn’t give her a Bible, you didn’t give her a gospel tract, you didn’t give her a penny of money and no one offered to lift her load. All you did was stand around and photograph her. I don’t know what brand of Christianity you are, but whatever it is I’m on the opposite side. Whatever brand you are, I’m not. We haven’t been called to go around the world photographing the world, but we’ve been called by Jesus to go into the world and preach the gospel to every person, to care for the naked, the hungry, to visit the sick, those in prison, to be friends. This is an abomination. Photographing the world and doing nothing for God. Touring the world with Bibles in your pockets, having devotions in the hotel while the world around you is hungry and lost and on the road to hell!”