The Aland Islands are part of the Nordic Council of Nations. These islands are a part of Finland but Swedish is spoken. This Island Nation is a “no military zone”.
It is a beautiful and peaceful place on God’s good earth.
We flew into the airport from Stockholm, Sweden, and rented a car and got a hotel room in town. As I prayed over the map God told me where to carry the cross. Denise, my wife drove the car with supplies and I carried the cross. A young lady at a kiosk, who loves Jesus, talked to me as I got bought an ice cream and drink. She was so excited. Her brother called the local newspaper and a reporter came and did a story that was on the front page of the paper the next day. The father of the girl and boy came to see us and said their pastor wanted us to preach. All of this was a direct result of a 16 year old girl and her love for Jesus and her country.
Denise, my wife and I arrived at the airport in Burundi. We took a taxi into the capital city of Bujumbura.
We felt led to stay at a downtown hotel. We stayed at the Novotel where most of the news media was gathered to cover the raging war in Burundi. It truly was the right decision.
We carried the cross into the city center and around as people watched in amazement. Some stopped to talk but most seemed frightened. As we did not speak the local language or French we did not know what was happening.
At a market, people did start to become friendlier then we saw army trucks coming our way. The people backed away from us and the soldiers got out of their trucks and came to us. They were angry and demanding. Pointing to the trucks they were saying by their actions to get in. I did not want to be separated from the cross. As long as we had the cross it was clear what we were doing. Away from the cross we were just tourists.
I quickly said to Denise, “Follow me.” I lifted the cross and shoved it onto the back of an army truck. The troops were screaming, “No!’ Then I leaped on the back of the truck and helped Denise climb up. We sat with our arms around the cross, holding it. The officer in charge said something and other troops got on the truck with us. The convoy moved off as the crowd watched in silence.
Denise and I prayed as the trucks passed through the city and out to the edge of town and into a military compound. Troops and equipment were everywhere and seemed ready to move out.
The soldiers motioned for us to get off the truck, which we did and we brought the cross with us. They took us to an office and tried to interrogate us in French! They were very angry that we did not speak the language. We did have our passports. Denise is British and I am American. They were not impressed. On to another office and more of the same. I had a folder with many photos of me and the cross with world leaders. They took that and left.
We continued to pray and give Jesus stickers and gospel material to the soldiers. I told Denise, “It will take a bit of time but we will work our way up to the commander. These are not the decision makers. The will do nothing without permission.”
At one time two Belgian diplomats came to check on us. They could speak English and said they would keep checking on us.
After a while we were taken to a nice office area and waited. I knew the commander would be inside. After a few minutes we were motioned in.
The commander dressed in a uniform and medals stood behind his desk and greeted us and shook our hands. He was smiling and nice and he spoke English! Praise God.
“Don’t you know it’s dangerous here?’
“Yes,” I replied. “The cross is needed in the places of suffering and death and hurt.”
I then told him about the cross walk around the world. He asked me about the photos with people such as the Pope and Arafat, etc. Soon I was standing beside him pointing to various photos and telling stories about the cross and Jesus.
He said he too believed in Jesus and loved him but he had a war to fight. Why were we here?
I explained that we were carrying the cross in every nation and this was one of the nations where we had never carried the cross before. We were on a trip to Africa and felt we should do it now. It was that simple. War or peace our mission is the same.
He was deeply moved and warned us of many dangers but said we were free to go. He said they would drive us back to the hotel. I thanked him, but told him we would like to carry the cross back. I had a prayer for him and for peace in Burundi. I asked him to pray a prayer with me for salvation, which he did. We spoke more about Jesus and then I walked out. I picked up the cross, and Denise and I marched right out of the army camp and onto the city streets and back to the hotel. Cars and vans full of people were stopping to talk and get Jesus stickers and gospel material.
Denise decided to stay at the hotel and I felt I should walk a bit more in the city center. I had only gone a few blocks when some uniformed and plain clothes police surrounded me and forced me behind a gas station. They had guns drawn and were threatening me. Some were hitting the cross. I was sure they were going to shoot me on the spot. Then a police car drove up and the police began to argue among themselves. I guess it was whether to kill me or not. Some of the police had a radio and were talking into it. I assume they spoke to the army and after a time their mood changed and they let me go. I carried the cross back to the hotel, unbolted it and brought it to the room.
Denise and I talked about the events of the morning and I told her about the last problem. We were sitting beside the window. One of us noticed that the very busy traffic on the street had vanished. The streets were empty of people and cars. Only police and army vehicles were now on the streets. We decided to go to the restaurant in the hotel lobby and see if we could find out what was happening. We spoke to some reporters and sure enough it was what we thought. A military coup had just overthrown the elected president and he had run to the U.S. Embassy for protection!
We were confined to the hotel for several days along with everyone else. Of course we had a mini revival at the hotel and most of the staff was now saved! On the first day the curfew was lifted Denise and I went into the city to carry the cross. Crowds of eager people wanting gospel material, Jesus stickers and wanting to shake our hands mobbed us. Everyone was being so friendly. It was like a different city. We had people interpreting for us and the response was unreal!
When we got back to the hotel I told one of our new friends about the response. He asked,“Don’t you understand?” I answered, “No.” He then told us that the president of Burundi had announced on radio and television that he would not leave office. The only thing that could move him would be the coming of Jesus! The people are saying in the streets, “Jesus came!” A man and a woman and carried the cross in the streets; the president fled to the U.S. Embassy and the army had taken over! This is what they wanted. We were now heroes! Wow. We were treated like VIPs when we arrived at the airport. One officer wanted to know what was in the cross? Oh, It’s only wood,” I told him. “No,” he said, “there is power in the cross!” May God bless and give peace in this troubled land.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus
Arthur and Denise Blessitt