1979 – 2002
The double-page headline across the centerfold of Great Britain’s largest newspaper, the Daily Mirror, on September 1, 1971, screamed: “ARE YOU LISTENING, JOHN LENNON?” and a smaller headline below a photo of a mass of young people with upraised hands, and alongside a larger photo of me praying with my hands raised, declared, “Suddenly, Jesus Christ is more popular than the Beatles.”
I’ve enjoyed that big story more than most that have been written because there is another wonderful story behind it. When we had left New York on the plane the night before, I hadn’t known a single soul in England. A few people in Belfast, from my visit in the spring, but in England, nobody.
But the next day, I was national headline news! Our arrival in London was incredible. Only the Lord could bring about such a turnaround.
God had first told me to carry the cross across America. Now He was telling me to carry it through Great Britain.
* * *
A few days before our last night in New York we had a rally in Duffy Square. John Smith, a reporter for the London Daily Mirror, came up and asked if he could follow me around and take some photographs. I said it would be okay if he took some pictures there on Jesus Corner. He hung around and after I’d finished preaching, we talked awhile and he asked, “Tell me, are you ever going to come to England?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” I said, “I’ll be over there soon.
“Oh?” he replied, “Do you have your flight and everything?”
“Yes. We’ll arrive on September 2 ”
He asked for our flight number and arrival time and said his paper might be interested in doing something on us when we got over to England.
“Where are you going to be staying?” he asked.
“Listen,” I said, “I don’t know even one person in England.” Up to this time nobody knew we were planning to go there.
“Well,” John said, “okay,” and thanked me and left.
I didn’t give him any more thought. We took off from New York on September 1. The next day, Heathrow Airport in London was fogged in, so we flew on to Amsterdam where we waited aboard the plane for a few hours until word came that we could now land in London. We were four hours behind schedule.
We were all tired and sleepy as it had been over twenty-four hours since we’d been to bed. It had been a bumpy flight and the children had been sick and vomiting and smelled terrible. All of us, my family, Jim and Cathy McPheeters and Dale and Sandy Larson, were a mess.
We landed at noon at Heathrow. We had a brief prayer and I led our little team out of the plane and into the enclosed walkway. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
We were facing a sea of flashing cameras, reporters, and TV newsmen and a huge crowd of people who had been waiting for hours for our arrival! They all surged around us. One lady gave me some flowers and kissed me. Reporters deluged us with questions. What are the Jesus Freaks? Why have you come to England? Where are you staying? Are you going to Belfast again? Where is your cross? The questions came faster than I could answer. I spoke briefly in the airport lobby and we had a prayer meeting right there kneeling on the floor.
God was sending an awakening to England. It was starting right at the airport. I had a great time preaching to newsmen. The team, including the children, was putting Jesus stickers everywhere, all over the reporters and those in the crowd.
It took us awhile to get the suitcases through customs, but as we finished, one of the TV newsmen came up.
“I’ll collect your baggage. We want you on ‘Nationwide’ tonight,” he said.
“‘Nationwide’? What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s the largest news program in all of Britain. It’s on BBC at six o’clock”
“Oh, we’re all so tired. Could we do it tomorrow night?”
“No, no! We want you tonight! And we want you to be on twenty-four hours.”
“How many hours?” I gasped.
“Oh,” he laughed. “`Twenty-Four Hours’. That’s the name of our late night talk show.”
The BBC man loaded our luggage into two taxis and soon we were weaving our way through downtown London. At the studio they unloaded everything and us and served us some food. Good old British tea! Then we lay down on the floor and in minutes were all fast asleep.
We were awakened to get ready for the “Nationwide” six o’clock newscast. We were all dirty and unshaven, but they wouldn’t let us clean up. They wanted us “as is.”
The newscast was quite a show. They had us all sing “God’s Not Dead,” and then Joel led in a Jesus cheer. During my interview I told the TV audience that we were in England to bring Jesus and His promise of Life, and that we wanted British followers of Jesus to move “out of the staid old buildings and into the streets and house-to-house sharing about Jesus and helping the needy. Jesus called us into the world, not out of it.”
I didn’t know it then, but Time magazine had just come out with Jesus on the cover of its overseas edition. That, added to the Daily Mirror’s big story to its three-and-a-half million readers, plus the incredible two appearances on TV the night of our arrival made for the most miraculous welcome anyone could imagine. We hadn’t been there twenty-four hours yet and we were known all over Great Britain!
God took one man who didn’t know a single soul in the whole country and introduced him to the entire nation of 65 million people in a matter of hours!
The cross I carried across America in 1969-1970 had broken and the steel holding it together made it too heavy for the walk around the world. Two people at a time had carried it in the States. But the roads in England and Europe would be too narrow to carry it sideways. I had to make another cross.
I went to a lumberyard in London and stood looking at the pieces of timber. I chose another four-by-four the exact same size as the cross I had in America. I took the wood and made a 12-foot long by six feet wide cross. I put a wheel on it to keep the pavement from wearing the wood away. This has been the cross that I would carry on around the world. The first cross I retired to Los Angeles and this one had become my road companion. I don’t know what kind of wood it is made of, but I know the impact of the cross. I know the Christ of the cross and He is not dead.
* * *
Crowds gathered on September 11 at Trafalgar Square to see us off heading north to Scotland. Much press was there also as I was unfortunately labeled the leader of the Jesus Movement. Of course, Jesus is the real leader.
The people of England were very warm in response to the walk. Almost every meeting we preached had an overflow of crowds but along the roads the people would only gather in ones or twos to talk. We went through the traffic jammed streets of London up through the Midlands beyond Nottingham, through Chesterfield, Sheffield and into the coal smoke shrouds of Leeds steel-manufacturing center.
Jim McPheeters and Dale Larsen walked with me and helped carry the cross. They were on my staff at His Place in Hollywood, California. Jim had walked with me across America in 1969 and 70′. They were a great strength and powerful witness for Jesus.
The narrow roads lined with hedges were dangerous to walk except on some roads there was a footpath. There were ancient towns mixed with modern architecture. All along the way I saw many churches boarded up or turned into barns and even nightclubs. Day after day we would stop to pray beside some abandoned church. How sad, because people of faith had built them now only to fall empty from non use. There is no shortage of people. We had a camper truck with a trailer that we all lived in. The women would drive ahead and Jim, Dale and I would walk. Britain has great beauty. We moved into very hilly country north of Leeds then along the seaside of the North Sea along Highway 1 to Scotland.
* * *
We took a train back to London where I spoke at a huge gathering called the ‘Nationwide Festival of Light’ in Hyde Park, London with about 70,000 people. It was Saturday September 25th and was an awesome event. After I was the last speaker and I closed by leading the crowd in singing “the Lord’s Prayer’. People were weeping and praising God. What a welcome to England.
Two friends were accompanying me as I carried the cross along the road as a news reporter and photographer stopped me. They wanted to do an interview and after the interview the photographer wanted to take a photograph. He said, “Would you please stand with your cross and two disciples on either side?” ” Oh, they aren’t my disciples,” I said. “They are the Lord’s.” “Oh, pardon me,” he said with his British accent. “Would you have your two lords stand on either side of you!’ ha.
After carrying the cross in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland in 1971 I returned to preach large meetings all over the U.K. and Ireland in the summer of 72′ and 73. These were huge meetings. These were held most of the key cities in the football fields and other large parks. Tens of thousands attended with thousands receiving Jesus as Savior. There was truly a national awaking at that time in Britain. The Jesus movement swept the nation. I consider it to be one of the most powerful events I have ever known.
Westminster Chapel, London
During the 80’s I preached many times at Westminster Chapel. My dear friend Dr. R.T. Kendall was pastor. We had powerful meetings there and led in outreach evangelism. I dearly love Dr. and Mrs. Kendall and the beautiful people there.
South West England 1987
I carried the cross from London to Wales in the spring of ’87. Joshua my son was with me. The following is just one day in this walk.
A day along Highway A1: This is a typical day of how things were as I carried the cross from London to Wales. Today car after car stopped, every few minutes another car would stop.
1. A church group greeted us, they gave us tea and I preached to about 75 people – it was really great. It was early morning but they were waiting for us at the cross.
2. A lady and her husband came out with a walkie-talkie.
3. Some Indian people came to us so we could tell them more about Jesus.
4. A Baptist pastor invited us to lunch and we carried the cross along a river, two miles out of the way to have dinner with him.
5. A drunken man came up laughing at the wheel on the cross but he also wanted money, he accepted a one-pound note.
6. Another drunk man got off a bus with a pint of beer in his hand. He came up to us deeply moved and under conviction.
7. An old man with a long cane came up to us eager to know more about Christ.
8. A team from London came out to walk with us and share Christ.
9. A lady with beautiful twin girls came up and brought us tea for refreshment on the road-side.
10. A couple came to witness and share Christ with us.
11. A fellow at a bus stop received Christ before the bus came.
12. A man with a broken arm received Christ after we talked to him. I told him how I had broken my arm several times.
13. All day we prayed with many, many people.
14. Everyone said good-bye and left.
Now, it’s just me and Joshua, and Rev. Phil Cheale, an old friend who helped me in West Africa. Joshua and I had dinner at Rev. Cheale’s house. After dinner we played ball in the back yard and then went to bed. Walked about 18 miles today with the cross.
Kensington Palace, London 1996
Denise and I had a wonderful visit and prayer with His Royal
Highness Prince Michael of Kent. It was my second visit with him,
this time he wanted to see the cross. I had dinner with he and
his wife several years earlier
Cross Walk — Westminster Abbey to
Canterbury Cathedral 1998
This walk from London to Canterbury is the ‘Old Pilgrims Way’,
made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. There is nothing
quite like an English walk. In the city double-decker buses, traffic,
sweet shops, barber shops, Indian Restaurants, fish and chips, old churches and rows of dull houses. The streets are
narrow made worse by cars, vans and trucks parked in the streets. Vegetable markets and small shops are everywhere
giving it a special English feeling.
But the countryside is something else… winding roads lined with
hedgerows surrounded by green fields. The early morning coolness is
refreshing, covered by a heavy fog. Sheep graze on the hillside in a
pasture surrounded by ancient trees. There are parks and apple orchards with the fruit now ripe. In the distance you can see the next village with the church spires. Oh, don’t think I suffer on the road! No, I love it.
A car stops, half in the narrow highway and half on the footpath. The well-dressed man comes over to talk. He saw the cross, turned around and came back. “What are you carrying this for?” I explain the call, the mission and purpose. “Oh, this is wonderful” he says, and then tears burst from his eyes and he weeps leaning over the cross. We pray and a new life is born!
I am tired and sit down on a village bench along the footpath. A man pushing a baby in a baby carriage comes by; we greet each other and begin to speak. His daughter is on drugs and has left her 3 children with him and his wife to raise. They are poor and struggling. “People don’t care, God doesn’t care. How could God create a world in such a mess?” When I spoke of Jesus, he said “As a child the minister molested me, I hate church and preachers!” We spoke for a long time about life and God. I prayed for him then gave him the money I had in my wallet. “Just remember sir, I care, God cares, here, take this and help the children. They are my family too. I don’t have all the answers but I do love and more than that God loves you, I will keep praying for you”. He almost refused to take the money but at my insistence he did. With tears filling our eyes, we parted, me picking up the cross and he pushing the young child. Another holy moment along the roadsides of the world. It was beautiful to see the stones of the historic Abbey and Cathedral but it is the people that are the most beautiful. It is the encounters with the real people that make the pilgrim’s life so full and blessed. There is a fresh stir of the Holy Spirit in England and a new excitement and focus on Jesus. God bless England
Hadrian’s Wall, June 2002
Denise and I carried the cross along ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ built by the
Romans starting in AD122. A Roman Biographer of Hadrian
states that the Wall was built to “separate the Romans from the
Barbarians’. It stretches across northern England and Southern
Scotland. It was a wonderful witness and walk. I will never forget
that a huge rainstorm came as Denise and I were carrying the
cross. We stopped in a place for something to eat and drink.
A man overheard us talking and he asked to drive me back to our car.
On the drive back I told him about Jesus and the cross and when we stopped he prayed and give his life to Jesus. What I did not know was his wife was telling Denise that her husband needed Jesus and they were praying for him. Praise the Lord.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt