A person may see me walking openly and publicly down the main highway with the cross and yet there is another side to the cross-carrying adventures about which very little is known and which I speak very little about. And that is the personal relationships that I have developed with people around the world. Representatives of various governments, groups, organizations, be they popular or unpopular, and individuals be they famous or infamous. From the time I was in Nevada as a young preacher, to Hollywood where I learned to keep peoples’ confidences and to say nothing. During the years I’ve carried the cross around the world in war troubled places I have developed a relationship of trust with many people in every walk of life. Some of the most famous people in the world and some of the most infamous people are people that I know. Groups involved in drugs and terrorism as well as government officials. I have met many people in different places that I can’t and will never speak about, never discuss. Knowing this is why they trust me.
The following story took place in South Africa and is one of those many that must remain a partial mystery. I will relate as much as I can. It seems a little mysterious, no doubt about it. It was during a mysterious and awesome journey into Angola.
Just before I left Switzerland to fly to South Africa in the fall of 1988. I made a phone call to a person I knew to tell that person I was going to Angola to carry the cross. I told him the hotel where I would be staying and the conversation was left at that. I arrived in South Africa and I received a telephone call the message was simply this – “My name is Arthur Miller of a certain travel group and your charter flight to Jamba is ready to leave tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.” “I can’t say anymore, your trip is planned and prepared”. I asked, “Where is Jamba?” and he replied, “It’s where you want to go.” I asked, “Oh, how do I get there?” He said, “I will come and meet you at a certain hotel at about 12 o’clock and I’ll take you there”. “How will I know who you are, ” I asked. He said, “You’ll know.’ And then he hung up. That was absolutely all the information I was given. I sat in stunned glorious praise to God realizing that now I was headed into the area of Angola where civil war has been raging for years with Joseph Savimbi’s Unita Forces supported by the United States fighting against the government forces which were supported by Cuba and Russia. I called a friend of mine, Tim Salmon and asked him to go with me as he had been trying to get into the country. I was filled with excitement and wonder. The man, Arthur Miller (false name) from the tour company arrived and we drove to the Waander Bron Airport near Pretoria. Everyone was totally secretive. When we got to the hanger, we were served refreshments then we met the pilot and co-pilot. They said, “Are you ready to go?” We answered, “Yes” and were then loaded on the plane. We got in a Cessna 402 airplane and took off.
Tim Salmon is a pilot, so he was watching all the instruments as we could see right into the cabin. He said they never got clearance to take off and the pilot never spoke on the radio while we were in the air. We flew over South Africa, then Botswana, over the Caprivi Strip, which is in Namibia, then a bit over Zambia, and on to Angola. All of this with no clearances and no radio contact. We had left South Africa without immigration or customs clearances. We basically did not exist. We never left — we never arrived. In other words this was a totally non-existent flight. Flying in over a land of war was quite an eerie feeling. I had gone into war zones for many years and here we were flying right into another. There were no outside lights on the airplane. We flew in very low in the dark and made a pass just over the ground. Then we made a circle back. Little lights began to appear as soldiers held up flashlights along a dirt and sand runway in Southeastern Angola. The plane landed on the dirt runway. As soon as it stopped the pilot opened the door. There was a brigadier general and soldiers standing around. He asked, “How long do you want to stay here, one month, two months?” I said, “I’ll see how things go.” This area was sandy and flat with tall grass and low bush trees and the weather was hot. There were two or three small grass huts about and a lot of troops. We were treated to refreshments. The troops took our passports but put no stamp on them. A big army four-wheel drive truck arrived and we put the cross and two back-packs on the back of the truck. We rode for a long time down the bush roads of deep sand ruts. Even the four-wheel drive vehicle had a difficult struggle to get through. We were finally taken to a bush hut made of bamboo poles with a straw roof. There we again had some tea. After a few minutes we were taken to a little room over to the side and we were questioned about how we got here, what we are here for and what is our plan? They saw my passport with China, Russia and Libya on it and they are fighting the communists! I had a feeling we were in trouble. The officer who had questioned us was joined by others and they all seemed confused. They left saying they would return tomorrow. We were then taken to another small cabin with a living area and a fireplace and two beds. The toilet was a hole in the ground and it had some lights that only came on from time to time. We met a man who called himself a liaison officer. He said that he was going to be watching over us and also taking care of our needs. He said he given himself to Jesus Christ and was saved. The troops call themselves friends instead of brothers or comrades like communists. So everyone was a friend and yet nobody seemed to know what to do with us. Reading from my diary I quote these words:
“I lay down to sleep in peace, tired sleepy and happy to be here. Lord Jesus use me here. Let it be whatever you will. I still wonder at it all. What a mystery! The phone call, the man picking me up, the plane being arranged, the flight in and yet nobody here seems to know why we are here, or that we were coming. We told them that we were carrying the cross around the world. They said, “We will talk to you in the morning”.
* * *
Second Day: Its 5:00 p.m., it’s been a slow day. I awoke this morning; at breakfast I drank some tea and ate some bread and jam. About mid-morning a general came and spoke to us. He said that they hadn’t expected us, but he was sure that everything could be worked out. He said the brigadier general we’d met yesterday would visit us later. This afternoon a major came to say how sorry he was but the general was tied up in meetings. But they left a captain that would be staying with us for a couple of days. He finally told us that he was an intelligence officer and he thought that we would be cleared to carry the cross and not to worry.
* * *
Third Day: I’ve had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. Feel good and ready to go. The captain had gone into the camp at Jamba. Even at 2:30 p.m. he had not returned so we are still sitting here waiting and waiting just to get started. The captain finally returned and told us we could not leave until we have permission. So we are just stuck here in this small camp. I am now ready to get on the road, ready to get started. It’s as if we have been forgotten. Waited all day, still no word. The captain said that everything would be worked out tomorrow.
* * *
Another day: It’s 9:30 a.m. and again we wait. Oh God, how long! I do feel that it’s a great time of prayer and Bible study. I think that they are checking us out. I have never gotten anywhere so fast and then had to wait so long. Lord get us out!
I will fast and refuse all food, from now until we move out or start. I started fasting this morning. We have a new officer guarding us, Private Guerney. 11:00 a.m. How sad, about half an hour ago two brigadier generals came, Brigadier General Ernie and Brigadier General Muluta. In a nice but firm way they told us that they had not been informed of our arrival and that they had contacted their office in Washington D.C. and they knew nothing of us. The security here did not know of us, the South African security said that they did not know us. So no one knows how we got on that plane! No one knows who picked us up, no one knows anything about the airplane that brought us in. Someone is lying. So I guess they think I am a spy or something!
They said, “We will arrange a flight back but you cannot carry your cross here or leave the compound”. I said, “Sir, what do you want me to say to the news, to the television networks about not being able to carry my cross in the Unita area of Angola?” He was shocked. “So when I get out of here I am going to just tell the truth about not being able to carry the cross in your area. After all, you do get 15 million dollars a year from the U.S. Government!” He conferred with the other brigadier general and nervously they came up and said, “Tomorrow you can carry your cross to the church and after that we will talk”. And, we had been told that church and religion are completely free here. The catholic priest later came and I told him that we could carry our cross to Church the next morning but that is all. He seemed shocked that I was not given permission to walk with the cross but he could not protest. I feel like crying but I still hold on to the thin thread of hope that I can carry the cross here. All I can do is rest in the hands of God. I have decided to call this place “The Paradise Vacation Prison.”
It’s night now. Another day has passed. I am looking up at the stars in the sky. Tim Salmon has been a wonderful friend and real brother. We have spent so much time studying the Bible, witnessing to the guards. Tonight Dr. Joseph Savimbi the President of Unita is speaking nearby, you can hear him on the loud speaker.
Earlier I started to take a walk with the cross, I picked up the cross and the soldiers came to me and stood in front of the road, he took my arm and said, “This way,” and pointed me back. So we actually are confined to this place.
* * *
Well, it finally did come, Praise God, the Lord did it! It took God to do it, but I carried the cross four miles today. Tim Salmon and I finally got out of our bush prison and carried the cross along with our armed escorts to preach at the Catholic Church.
We arrived there about 10 o’clock and the priest was so wonderful to us and the people were so excited that we had come to their church. The place was packed with people as we preached. They all followed us over to the Protestant church where all the Protestants had gathered for a special meeting at 11.30 a.m. There were also about 15 pastors from other parts of Angola. We preached there with a great anointing and blessing from God. Then we witnessed all along the bush road as we returned to the camp. Truckloads of soldiers would stop and we would give them Jesus stickers and gospel tracts and pray with them. All along the way there were anti-aircraft guns implanted, it looked like anti-aircraft missiles around, there were troops high up in defensive positions in the trees. They were really fortified in that area. It was also very strange as we carried the cross even though it was only four miles we met a lot of different white men jogging. As they met us they would say hello in English but would not stop to talk. Now whether these were South Africans or CIA or whom we did not know, but they seemed to know who we were. We got back to camp and the guards took their positions so we are confined again. As I sit here writing, I am ready to go, ready to carry the cross, but if we’re not allowed to go on with the cross I am ready to just walk off, and see what happens. They can shoot me but I’ll walk until I die or they can handcuff me and I’ll fast until I die. I’ll I can never be kept longer than it will take me to starve to death. I told the guards that soon I would walk out of here with my cross. “You’ll have to shoot me.’
* * *
It’s another day in this prison. They still are trying to convince me to eat but I responded, “I don’t eat prison food I am a free man.”
When I told them that it was a prison they said, “Oh no, this isn’t a prison,” so I said, “Am I free to take up my cross and walk out of here.
“Well, no,” I was told. I answered, “Well you tell me what you would call it.” They didn’t seem to like that; it seems to have gotten worse. We get no word from anyone now, we are just confined to this place and a new group of soldiers that have come in are rude and inconsiderate. We are simple prisoners under guard. We cannot move from this immediate place. Today I gave the priest, Father Dimion everything that I have my clothes, toilet supplies, flashlight, blue jeans, Jesus stickers, shampoo, and a bag. He was crying and crying. I also gave one of the guards some of the things that I had because we had prayed with him and led him to Jesus. My not eating seems to make them afraid I’ll die or that I’ll take the cross and walk out and be shot. They don’t seem to want anything to happen to me because it would mean huge problems!
Word came that we may be leaving this afternoon. After talking and praying with the pastors, two army trucks came, soldiers got out and came up and said, “Go!” We thought it was to the airport but they didn’t explain anything. We put our backpacks and the cross on the trucks. They took off through the bush and the deep sand to the place where we first arrived. It was dark that evening at 6:30 p.m. and all of a sudden the soldiers went running out to the runway, turned on their flashlights. We could hear a jet flying in. A fan-jet landed, it was a beautiful brand new plane with eight seats, with a pilot and co-pilot. They rushed Tim and me onto the plane, stuck our bags and the unbolted cross in the aisle and the plane immediately took off. Again this was like a civilian flight, the pilot and the co-pilot didn’t seem to know anything except where they were flying. We flew to Npcha airport in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, which is in southwest Africa. It has a big South African Air Force Base, with airplanes and soldiers all around. We walked around the airplane for a while and talked to the soldiers. It was very hot even at night. We loaded back on the airplane and took off. Still there were no lights on the plane, no communication, no radio contact.
We flew to South Africa to the same airport that we originally left. When the plane finally taxied up to the little small terminal area to park, strangely, there stood our tour guide, Arthur Miller waiting with a big smile. We rode the same “Tour Bus” back to Johannesburg where there was a room waiting for us. He didn’t seem to know that we had been gone and he didn’t know how or why we got back. We asked, “How did you know to meet us?” He acted completely ignorant of anything! What a joke. Tonight I lay in my hotel room. Now out of the Angola Unita Prison wondering at everything God has done. It was really an answer to prayer. We saw people pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into their hearts. The cross was carried in Angola, that much was accomplished. Only four miles, but it was there. We brought the cross. We carried the cross. We preached in two churches, we shared Christ with many intelligence officers and a lot of soldiers and two airplane crews and with our “Tour Guide,” Arthur Miller. It wasn’t exactly the trip that I had planned in my mind about going into Angola, but it was an adventure. Glory to God! It’s all a part of carrying the cross around the world. What a life.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur & Denise Blessitt