It was the summer of 1972 when I began the French crosswalk from Dieppe beside the English Channel.
I had to go through the usual first day or so of foot pain. After not walking for a week or so, my feet quickly get out of condition. So, with the seventy pound cross again on my shoulder, plus France’s July heat, my feet quickly blistered and broke and blistered some more, and bled in between. Then came the familiar numbness and the dread of stopping, because I knew I’d have to go through the pain at my next step. But those initial days quickly passed and my feet got back into shape.
France is beautiful, particularly in the summer. There is mile after mile of rolling hills and farms, wheat and corn growing in well-tended fields. I passed many fields in the midst of wheat harvest, and prayed for a great spiritual harvest in France.
There were small centuries old, but ageless villages all along the road. Each time I stopped to rest I praised the Lord for the splendor around me. Often I’d pass heaps of broken concrete, relics of World War II bunkers, and I’d find it hard to believe that this beautiful country had once held blood and death. I’d get sad, and think of Vietnam and blood and dying there, and of Belfast, and then I’d be filled with the realization of God’s mercy. Men battle. God heals. He had healed this land over and over through the centuries. And now it was beautiful again. I thanked God and hoisted the cross onto my shoulder and continued on.
I love my time on the road. It is always rich because it is time alone with God; time to talk to my Father and to read His word.
On the road, except for the times the children were with me, I am totally alone except, of course, for God. Often I’d stop in some beautiful spot and fill my mind with God’s manna, coming from the beauty he put in nature around me. I was joyfully happy. I’d walk along singing. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. I’d preach out loud, even to cows, trees and other things I’d walk past.
I was a free man on the road, with time to think, time to become aware of my freedom and to thank God for granting it so abundantly.
Often as I walked, cars would stop. It was then time to witness. I’d share Christ and pray with the drivers and passengers, sometimes for only a minute or two sometimes for half an hour. I witnessed as best I could, pointing out the Scriptures in my French Bible and holding them out for people to read. God was my interpreter in those first days in France. In the years to come I would find that He always managed to interpret himself, when He hadn’t provided a native interpreter for me.
Outside Rouen a newspaper reporter on his way to work spied me carrying
the cross. I was witnessing to an English couple that had stopped me on
the road. The reporter came over, and through this couple, who could speak French well, he learned what I was doing. He arranged for me to meet one of the photographers as I entered Rouen the next morning. After a lady reporter caught up with me alongside the Seine River the next morning, it was different. She even came close to receiving Christ as she interviewed me. The morning after the Paris-Normandy paper carried a front-page story and photo of our interview. From then on more people than ever stopped, many just to say hello, many to talk. People in villages all the way to Paris were waiting for me as I came through.
People asked me into their homes for a drink of water or coffee and as I’d pass bars in the towns, patrons would ask me in. After only a few days in this country, a total stranger with a cross, and a dilapidated luggage piled van, I was well known. Christ had opened the door for me in France in that short a time!
A Catholic priest in the village of St. Clair beamed excitedly as I came through town.
“Welcome!” he greeted. “We are thrilled to have you pass this way. People have been coming to me all day long to interpret the little red stickers you give out. I have spoken to more people today about Jesus than I ever have before in this village.” I thanked him, thrilled at his words.
As I walked on, he called after me, “Don’t change them to French! This way it creates more interest, because people have to come to me to get them translated!”
My family was with me on this crosswalk. We had a VW van that we lived in. It was a blessed time with the children, Gina, Joel, Joy and baby Joshua. I remember Joshua saying to me over and over. “Where you go Daddy, I go!”
Paris: The Arc de Triomphe stood in splendor in front of me at one end of the famed Champs Elysee. I was carrying the cross in France. Some ministers in Paris had come out on the highway and invited me to preach. They called the news media and planned to have a few friends meet me at the Arc de Triomphe. They gave me the date and time I was to meet them there.
I expected only a few people, but upon arrival, there were thousands of people and music was playing. I thought it must be the Salvation Army brass band. Every follower of Jesus in Paris had come to greet us.
Napoleon had begun building this memorial and now it was to be used for a Jesus rally. I was excited! We had difficulty getting through the crowd until we found a pass under the street. I pulled the cross by my side, as the underpass was too low to keep the cross on my shoulder.
As I started up the stairs to the Arc people crowded the way, but moved as they saw the cross. Up we went and then I saw soldiers in a long line from the street to the Arc de Triomphe. As I pressed near, the soldiers saw me and let me pass.
At this point I knew something must be wrong. A beautiful red carpet covered the stones and the soldiers were standing with guns at attention. Crowds of people were pressed together in excitement. My motto is, “If ever in doubt, do it!”
I stepped out on the red carpet. What a sight! A big cross, a man on the red carpet with soldiers in bright-colored uniforms. I smiled and raised my hand in the one-way Jesus sign, then called to the crowd, “Jesus t’amie! Jesus loves you!”
Photographers and television cameramen were crowding around to record the event. Then, as I arrived under the archway, plainclothesmen grabbed me, pinning me to the stone wall. People were yelling as though it was an assassination attempt. It was quite a disturbance.
“What are you doing!” a man demanded in his French accented English. “I’m carrying the cross around the world.”
“Well, where are you coming from with that thing?” “California,” I replied. “Is this the Jesus Rally?”
“The what?” “Is this the Jesus Rally?” “No! It’s a memorial service for the Unknown Soldier and President
Pompedieu is due here any moment.”
They finally turned around and put me back in the underpass. Later the pastors later found me.
“Oh, we are so sorry, we gave you the wrong day.”
For days after people were coming up to me and saying, “Oh, we saw you at the Arc de Triomphe.” “You were in the news!”
I walked south through Orleans, Tours, and Bordeaux on to Biarritz at the Spanish border.
I walked through several days of rain. The heavens would open up and pour, then turn hot again in an hour. It was thrilling. The big trucks racing past would spray me with water. I would close my eyes and hold my breath as the spray of water and oil hit me in the face, and then in a couple of seconds it would happen again. I was continuously wiping mud and praising God.
One night Joy was playing and kicked the door of the van and broke her leg! It was very difficult at the hospital, as we did not speak French.
Two men drove past me in a rainstorm. The driver cried out to his sleepy friend, “I saw Jesus carrying a cross.” They turned around and came back. They were University students and I led both of them to Jesus. They left praising the Lord.
One afternoon, a well dressed, middle-aged woman parked her car then ran up to me on the roadside. She grabbed my hand and began to cry. I put the cross down
and tried to console her. Then she began to speak in broken English. She knew only a few words, but she said, “Do you know him?” pointing to the cross. “Do you know anything about the Holy Spirit?”
I began to explain about Jesus and show her passages of scripture from the French
Bible I carried. I explained how Jesus came and died and rose again and that she could pray and know Him in her heart. Then I gave my testimony on being converted to Jesus. She was so eager, “I searched for someone who could truly say, `I know Him,’ and now I have found that someone. I want Him in my heart also.”
We prayed together and she cried so happily. I then showed her in the Bible how, when we are converted, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts and leads us and fills us with His spirit moment by moment. We rejoiced together by the roadside.
In the spring of 1983 I returned to carry the cross from Dieppe to Belgium. It was rainy and cold but I had some fruitful witness. My family was with me.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt