Egypt – Sinai – Gaza – Israel
Two of the world’s most fascinating cities are Jerusalem and Cairo. Combine these cities with carrying the cross through the awesome Sinai Desert and it is an awesome journey. My mission during February and March of 1980 was to carry the cross across this historic desert. This is the land of old caravan trade routes. Moses and the children of Israel, Jesus as a child, and Mary and Joseph had crossed this desert twice. On one end stands Egypt, graced with majestic pyramids and desert tribes. On the other stands Jerusalem, the heart of religion and now another pilgrim in modem times, this time a pilgrim with a cross and a backpack, has come to cross the desert.
February 26th was a historic date. Israel and Egypt exchanged Ambassadors and opened the border between their countries. I was there to be the first to cross the border with the cross. This was 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 and about my not causing riots with the Jews or the Muslims. The cross had historically offended both religions. Most felt that it would be a tough, dangerous journey through the Sinai Desert, yet God was to make the desert bloom.
Oh, the awesome feeling of Jerusalem. Unique in the entire world. I stood at the Garden Tomb just outside the old wall. I could see the place where many believe Calvary to be. Three years earlier I had arrived here and ended my first walk through the Bible area. Jungles, war and near death had faced me since, but now I was to begin another journey here. My deep desire had been to walk with the cross and preach in all the areas where Jesus had been taken across these burning sands. Now the privilege would be mine. He had left with His family as 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 that 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 back of the cross. Inside it 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 as we said our goodbyes. Then I lifted the cross and walked into the Old City.
Crowds of people including Arabs and Jews gathered to ask questions and 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 and Cairo, Egypt.
My major problems in crossing the Sinai were that I had to sleep in only one place at a time. All day people would want me to stay with them. I slept in a church in Israel, 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, and even tanks, packed with Israeli soldiers, would give me so much food and drink that it was hanging all over the cross. When I ‘d arrive at a village I ‘d give the food and canned drinks away. But as I left the people would come again with bags of oranges, meat and drink Thirdly, it was difficult to keep walking when everyone wanted to talk to me. It was just unreal. Often, in the middle of nowhere, there would be 10 to 20 autos and trucks parked 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 nicer to me.
A couple of days out of Jerusalem on the road toward Gaza I was invited to spend the night at the Kibbutz Revadin. The people gathered around for hours to talk about the cross and Jesus. The next morning about thirty young people came to see me off with the cross.
In the Gaza Strip the few church people were afraid I ‘d cause problems. They wanted to be friendly, but fear won out. They found me a hotel room and came to visit me. It was so strange that on this trip, as the trip before, the church people were often the most fearful.
I had a glorious night staying in a private home in Khan Yunis. The Gaya family was so kind to me and oh did we ever have a wonderful meal. People kept coming to the house to meet me and talk.
The people in Gaza and Khan Yunis we so wonderful to the cross and to me.
The next night I stayed at the Moshav Dikla. The people there were friendly and welcoming. They make me a huge steak for supper and we talked about Jesus.
I made it to the border of Israel and Egypt late on Monday February 25, 1980. I was tired but happy.
It had poured cold rain most of the day.
The Israeli troops greeted me with applause. I asked Captain David if I could sleep there and be the first in line for the border to open tomorrow. 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. This will be okay, ” I answered.
He looked at the other soldiers, 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 home of Prime Minister Menachen Begin.
“Well, he isn’t home. The troops are guarding it. The Commander said it would be fine. Take your cross.”
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 occupied by 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 wooden white 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 15 feet away and called, “Anyone here? Hello! Hello!”
I stood waiting looking toward the window. Out of the comer of my eye I saw a movement at the door. As I looked I saw a huge German shepherd leaping toward my throat with its mouth open and its teeth ready for my flesh. I raised my left arm in reflex and felt great pain as its 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 as he squatted to leap again. I was squatted, ready to receive his 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 in a life and death struggle from the most 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 turning my eyes from the dog.
“Yes.” came the reply, “The dog won’t move. Are you the man with the cross?”
“Sir, please ask 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.” 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 my arm to stop the flow of blood, and then I walked to the house where I was to sleep. Some soldiers asked if I had gotten a paper from the Commander saying it was okay for me to stay there.
“No,” I replied. “He said it’s okay.”
“We know, but we need written permission.”
“Then please, someone come with me.”
When we approached the house again the same dog charged out and headed directly toward me. “Jesus,” I cried, preparing for his second attack.
The soldier shouted a command and the dog froze. We got the papers and I carried the cross up to the house. All the soldiers greeted me with joy. There were five soldiers in the house. “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 Army guard dogs. All were eyeing me. It seemed every Army dog wanted to attack.
I had a small cot. In looking 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 to the bathroom and tried to repair my arm. I had two open cuts and could see the bone. My arm was throbbing. All the troops were so nice and lovely that I did not want to embarrass them by telling them I had been bitten by one of their dogs. I pulled the skintogether 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 late into the night about my journey and about Jesus. I lay on my bed thinking about today and wondering about tomorrow. I had made a special television program for Swedish TV and had been attacked by a dog and am sleeping in the Prime Minister house. Tomorrow I go to Egypt. Lord, I’m in your hands.
The Israeli soldiers at the border all greeted me with warnings. “Those Egyptians will kill you with that cross!” one man said. “I’ve fought them for five wars in this desert. We like you and your cross. You are welcome in Israel, but Egypt? God have mercy on you.’
A black limousine was waiting as I walked out of the immigration post. The driver gave me a note, “General Mohammed Hassan Sadek, Military Governor of the Sinai wants to see you.’ (Or perhaps his name is spelled Shawkat) I convinced him that I would walk with the cross rather than take the 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. I was led upstairs to a second floor office and I stepped in and saw a well-dressed man looking out the window. He slowly turned to 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 Palace. We were alone. Everyone had left. He greeted me with a hug and kiss in a common Arabic way. “Why did you refuse a ride in the air conditioned limousine, and why did you walk here?”
“Because Jesus has called me to walk, to carry 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 warshad bloodied these desert sands in history, now I prayed for forgiveness, not vengeance and that peace will prevail. I led him in a prayer to let Jesus live in his heart and be his Lord and Savior.
When we finished we arose. 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 and they will take care of you… food, drink, and a place to sleep. Welcome to Egypt. Egypt is your land.”
I stood looking at the big gold medallion. Tears flooded my eyes. Then the Governor spoke again, asking, “Could I have a piece of your cross?”
Moslems 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 before the cross and an imposter died on the cross. 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 do it.”
We walked downstairs and went to the cross. Carefully I took my pocketknife and cut two small pieces so he would have the shape of a cross. He placed it 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, hut I must go to Cairo now, so please have my dinner.”
“Well,” I answered. “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. I was led to the head table, sat down and looked at the food. Here I was, surrounded by food, in a T-shirt and short pants in this palace! Tears washed my cheeks as I praised God and smiled. My wife, children 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 Israeli Prime Minister’s house, today I received the Sinai Peace Medal and am now eating dinner in the Presidential Palace in Egypt! Hallelujah! I am welcomed and loved by the Israelis and Egyptians, by the Jews and Moslems. The words in Psalm 23 filled my mind. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint 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.”
I crossed the Suez Canal today. The people on the boat held the cross over their heads as we went across. Everyone was excited. I entered El Qantara like a hero, then I slept in a $2 room… can you believe it? Most men were happy, smoking from a big bubbly pipe with a long hose. Some put a bit of opium on the hot coals. Wow!
I tell you, it is unbelievable. The people are so nice to me. But I was arrested once by the Army and three times by the police… ‘All for my protection,’ they claimed. “People will kill you with that cross. You can’t walk on!”
I finally explained everything and they let me go on, “At your own risk! We don’t oppose what you are doing, but we can’t allow you to go on for your own safety. ” After they saw the response of the people, I proceeded on to Cairo with no difficulty.
Oh, I must tell you about Bilbeis, Egypt.
David Coe, a young man and dear friend of mine from Washington DC had come to Egypt to help me. He was staying in Cairo but would come out to see me on the road. On day he brought some food and drink and told me of the plans he had made in Cairo for the arrival of the cross. He was arranging for me to meet with some of the leaders there. He also told me he had arranged a hotel room in Bilbeis for me. I was so excited about the hotel because I was tired from the long walk from Jerusalem. I also knew that David has good taste!
He gave me the name of the hotel and the address. When I arrived with the cross about five thirty in the afternoon I was shocked at the outside. But the inside was even worse! Men were even sitting in the floor smoking and drinking tea. The cost of the room was seventy-five cents! Less than a dollar. But, that was a rip off price. Ha! The man pointed me to the room. I went in and there were four other men in it. I paid a dollar more to get a room all to myself. Sheets had not been changed in ages. I slept in my sleeping bag on the floor. Nothing like having good friends.
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 III presented me with his personal ivory cross that he used to bless the people. We discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ. I was kneeling beside him, reading Scriptures. It was just wonderful. He had been so 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 had already done it. He said, “You are blessed. You are like a Saint.”
Later that day the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Boutrous Boutrous Ghali, received me at the Capitol. We spent a half hour together and I explained that my effort was for peace and good will in the name of Jesus. He welcomed me with great love and respect. He was later to become the Secretary General of the United Nations. David Coe had made the arrangements and was with me on both these visits.
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 a living faith to share with the people who had gathered around. A man and a boy gave me their dinner to eat. Oh, such love.
The journey was finished. The cross was carried through the desert from Jerusalem to Cairo. Every need was met. Hearts were open, love was shared, prayers were offered, and a dream came true. Many came to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. 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!
I would like to add one footnote. As of the year 2004 the man at the Israel-Egypt border, Israeli Captain David is now a follower of Jesus and pastors a church in the state of Washington, USA! His name is Rev. David Yaniv.
I saw him again on a special TBN television program were we discussed our meeting and the witness of the cross to him. A few years after our meeting at the border he received Jesus as his Savior as he watched a TV program about Jesus.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt