Arrived at the airport in Beirut. I had no visa, so I was detained at Immigration. Finally tthe immigration official allowed me to collect the cross when it arrived with my baggage. The PLO had told me that they would welcome me and there was no need for a visa. It was impossible to get one anyway. I was taken to the door and they were ready to put me back on the airplane. I had not made it!
Oh, Jesus,” I prayed. “I’m not afraid to die here but I don’t want to just get here and not get in. Lord please help me get in Lebanon with the cross.”
Suddenly there was a big commotion. Men with guns were facing each other, then I saw Mr. Bandack, whom I had met at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. They had found me! The Palestinian Liberation Army troops led us through the airport. Guns were more persuasive than a visa. Television and news reporters were waiting for us. Many children sang and welcomes us. What a wonderful welcome! Who would believe the welcome of the cross in West Beirut. I’ll never forget their words … “We welcome you with your cross. We also
carry a cross. We can understand you and Jesus.”
We were in an area of Beirut controlled by the PLO and
other Muslim forces. We had no problems, we were
received with open arms. I preached in freedom the gospel
of Jesus and carried the cross in most of the Palestinian camps, including Satilla (also known as Shatila and Chatila) and Sabra (which were to be massacred in 1982). We also carried the cross in Tyre where Jesus was, where one of the earliest churches was founded. Bombs had hit it recently but the dear followers of Jesus did not flee, as they had refused to do for the past 2,000 years.
I also went up to the Bedford Castle that overlooks Israel. It is a strategic military base and I could look out to where I had carried the cross in 1977 in Israel only a few miles away.
I also carried the cross into the Palestine Christian Refugee Camps. Many people think there are only PLO, but there are many Christians, they came from Christian cities in Palestine, Bethlehem, Nazareth and others.
A Catholic priest walked with us and translated as we preached Christ. Great crowds gathered to see and hear. They wanted to take us to another church in West Beirut several miles away. I wanted to walk there but the people thought it was too far.
“Oh, we will help you,” and a group of young soldiers grabbed the cross and put it on the jeep. It had a machine gun mounted on it, and ten young fellows from the ages of 13 to 17 carried it on the jeep, all with machine guns except for one midget carrying bullets. I leaped on the jeep as it took off.
I was raced through the streets. Only two of the boys were
uniformed. The others were in regular clothes. A 15-year- old
boy was driving… what a sight! The 12 foot cross, me and a Bible, with about ten armed teenagers of the PLO in a jeep, racing through the streets of Beirut. What away to die!
At one point the jeep almost turned over. It was on two wheels. The horn was blowing, the engine was racing at full speed. We almost hit a car. The midget lost some of his bullets. He wanted to get off and recover them, but the driver roared off at full-speed! We passed blown-up buildings, and numerous roadblocks of troops. The traffic lights did not work, so at intersections troops just waved their guns. The biggest gun won the right of way.
Finally we got to the church. We must have been quite a sight, me and the boys. The boys took the cross off the truck and carried it into the church. The stunned priest could not speak. There was a group of Muslim gunmen carrying the cross into a church with me, walking behind it. He welcomed me with a big smile.
* * *
I saw a large poster on the wall that seemed to be a “No Smoking” poster. I said to the head of the armed men who was with me, “What does it mean?”
They began to laugh.
“What does it mean?” I insisted.
“Oh, it says smoking may be dangerous to your health.”
“Why is that funny?” I asked.
“Well, when you are the bodyguard for Yasser Arafat, smoking is one of the safest things you can do. We won’t live long enough to die of cancer.”
I stood looking at the small man in Palestinian head-wrap. A pistol was strapped to his hip. His eyes were alive and sparkling. It was 2:00 a.m. Here was the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Commander- in-Chief of their Army, a hero and a patriot in the eyes of much of the world, and the world’s chief terrorist (in the opinion of others). I was looking into the face of Yasser Arafat.
We were somewhere in West Beirut on Sunday night, June 22, 1980, and here was a pilgrim of the world, carrying the cross. I was holding my Bible and a small cross. I knew of him and he knew of me. Some of his men had come at midnight and awakened me saying, “Yasser Arafat wants to see you.”
I dressed quickly and went with the gunmen in the car, with no lights, through the battle strewn streets of Beirut. Now we stood facing each other. I was the first to speak.
“It’s one fanatic meeting another,” I smiled.
He reached out his arms and hugged me and we exchanged kisses in the traditional Arab custom. What a meeting! Two radicals… one with a cross and the other with a gun.
“You are welcome here,” he said.
We sat down. I seemed to know him and feel his struggle, pain and hurts. We were both forged steel in our paths of life.
“Sir, it’s 2:00 a.m. You’ve had a long day and a long struggle. I want you to listen to the words of someone who loves you, understands you and can help you. He is the Way, The Truth, and the Life. His name is Jesus. I’m not here as a politician, a diplomat, or a reporter. You’ve seen plenty of those. I’m here as a simple man with a cross. I come as a man of God. I’m going to read you the Bible, the words of Jesus.
“‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God.”‘
On and on I read from the word of God, from the books of Matthew, Mark, John and II Corinthians. The Holy Spirit of God was so strong in that room Jesus had promised that any time two or three are gathered together in His name, He said, “There I am in the midst of thee.”
I took Mr. Arafat’s hand and said’ “Let’s pray.”
I knelt and for 15 minutes talked to God. I was crying. Arafat had taken my hand with both of his and tears filled his eyes. Finally I finished praying, then he spoke softly. “There is no doubt the Bible is more powerful than the gun or the sword.
The Romans tried to kill Christians and they both, imprisoned and murdered them. But slowly the believers, the Christians, took Rome and Rome became Christian. They took it by the heart. They did with the cross what no Army had done.”
For two hours we talked about Jesus and the cross and I explained how Jesus had died for us and why He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I gave him a small cross and he presented me with a two-foot high mother of pearl cross from the Holy Land. We discussed everything from war to Israel to love. I will not write about all our conversation as most of it was very private, but I will say this as a person, and hear me very clearly, he is one of the most gentle and kindest men I have ever met. We have many different opinions, but we are friends, just as I am a friend of many Jews in Israel and other people I have known in wars the world over. I left him at 5:00 a.m. My mind was full of the thoughts we had spoken about. We went back to our room. The fighting was so terrible around us we could not sleep. Shells were exploding around us and gunfire pierced the night, rattling our building. In the midst of war where is peace?
My mind was filled with thoughts. The Palestinians and Jews surely these people, who have suffered so much injustice, discrimination, suffering and death, could find peace. If any two people could understand each other, it should he these two. They are from the same father, Abraham. From the same persecution, trouble and displacement. But surely there is hope. At the cross there is a place of peace. Of reconciliation between God and man. A place of forgiveness, not revenge. Of love, not hate. as the dawn came, the fighting slowed and I could sleep and dream, for if we ever cease to dream of peace, of beauty, of love and life, we are dead even before we die.
* * *
The Battle of Lebanon. I would like to give a brief account of Joshua, my son, and my travels in and out of Lebanon and Israel during the war in the summer of 1982.
The first time we were there was from June 29 to July 7, renting a car at Tel Aviv, driving to Beirut, carrying the cross into West Beirut, then on to East Beirut. We put the cross on the car and drove to Tel Aviv and flew to the United States to try to talk to our government leaders, which proved futile. I then went to Poland to carry the cross. Joshua joined me in Greece and we flew to Cyprus, then got an old ship and sailed to Lebanon. We carried the cross from Juniyah to West Beirut, where we stayed until the siege of Beirut ended with the evacuation of the PLO by ship.
We then carried the cross on foot to Sidon, to Tyre and into Israel through the West Bank to Jerusalem.
In the summer of 1982, Joshua, Joy and I had been carrying the cross in Norway, and were walking from Oslo, Norway to Stockholm Sweden. Having just arrived in Sweden, we went to Gothenburg to rest for the weekend. I heard that war had broken out in Lebanon, but didn’t know very much about it.
On Sunday morning, June 27th, I saw a photograph of Yasser Arafat and other people that I knew on the front page of a Swedish newspaper. The Lord grabbed my heart, wringing the insides of me with a deep burden to go there with the cross. As I went to the airport to buy a Herald Tribune printed in English I was praying, “If You will have some other evangelist go, then I won’t have to go to this war. If I could read in the paper that Billy Graham was in West Beirut, or the Pope, or someone else,” but as I looked through the newspaper there was no evangelist in West Beirut sharing Jesus.
That night about midnight, Joy, Joshua and I were praying. Jesus spoke to Joshua. He looked up and saw Jesus standing in the room behind me as I was lying down praying, and Jesus spoke to him and said, “Joshua, go with your father to the other countries as far as you can.”
He told me his vision and we know that we had to go. I kept wrestling with the call. Oh, this horrible war. Taking my son, both of us with crosses, but, the Lord had spoken to me by a lakeside and there was no choice. I had to go to Lebanon. Here I was, in beautiful Scandinavia. The people in Norway were so wonderful and sweet. The people we had met in Sweden were friendly and eager, and I wanted so much to continue to Stockholm with the cross. But, war and death were raging in Lebanon and must be offset with the good news and life.
We went to Oslo and booked the first flight out to Israel. Joy flew back to Los Angeles.
* * *
The following story is so true it is almost unbelievable.
The newspapers and television have shown the world the story of Joshua and me carrying the cross through that incredible war in Lebanon. This is a story so full of miracles it would take an entire book to do it justice, but let me share just a few with you.
When we arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, we had to decide how to get to West Beirut. I felt the Lord wanted us to go to West Beirut and speak again to Yasser Arafat and the people there. The city was surrounded by the attacking Israeli Army that had swept through the south of Lebanon and was now pounding at the surrounded PLO and Syrian forces in the city. Joshua and I rented a small white Italian Bianchi car and tied the cross on top. It was really a sight. But how do you go with two crosses and a child to West Beirut in the middle of a war? All the news people traveling in the south had to have an Army guide. It was just not possible to travel around freely, but God used a few very different people to accomplish our mission. One, a young man from, “Youth With A
Mission,” an atheist girl from Norway, two Maronite Monks, an Israeli officer, and a Philangist Commander!
After a prayer meeting with the leaders of the Baptist Church and another prayer meeting with the staff of the Christian Embassy, Paul Crouch of TBN, and David Mainse of 100 Huntley Street Television in Canada, Joshua and I, set off for the north.
The roads were full of troops, tanks and armored cars, all going in a northerly direction. Joshua was 11 years old. The glory of the Lord was upon his face as I looked at him. Tears filled my eyes as I wondered what lay ahead.
We arrived at the border and tried to cross.
“Come back tomorrow with some of the Christians from the Christian Mission across the border. We will let you in a few kilometers!”
I met the Christian leaders, but they were very fearful of Joshua and me going to meet Yasser Arafat and trying to carry the cross around Beirut. They were afraid that our problems would reflect on them, and that the risk was too great. I was deeply hurt, all we needed was for one of them to say that we were their friend and we could cross into Lebanon. It was only about five miles, but it would be a start and then we would have to get permission to go further.
One young man had just arrived to help in distributing aid to the homeless in south Lebanon. He was on the staff of, “Youth With A Mission,” a worldwide outreach of thousands of committed youth sharing Christ around the world. His name was Homer Lanier.
Homer said to me, “I heard the great Bible teacher Joy Dawson speak on the island of Cyprus awhile back. She said you were a true man of God and if any of us could ever help you we were to do so.”
“I do love that lady,” I said.
“Well, I could not live with myself if I could help you and did not. I’ll go and say you are my friend, no matter what the other Christians say.”
We went together and in less than ten minutes had a pass to travel the five miles into Lebanon. It was at least a first step!
We went to the Israeli Army Headquarters in Lebanon to get the pink slip needed to pass through the lines. It was impossible, they told us. Joshua and I prayed and drove into a small town. There was a Christian radio station there, but the people there were some of the ones that were afraid to help us. I saw a little restaurant on a hill. There were other restaurants around, but I felt that this was where we should go.
Joshua had to put a rock under the wheel of the car to stop it from sliding down the steep hillside. I went in to get us a little something to eat and drink. I walked in and ordered a drink. There was a blonde girl standing over to the side, and she smiled.
I smiled and spoke to her as she stepped over to me.
“It’s strange to see you here.”
“Well,” she smiled. “I’m Norwegian.”
I told her that I had just come from Norway and had been carrying the cross there and around the world.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
I said that I felt the Lord told me to leave Sweden to come to West Beirut to talk to Arafat and the people in West Beirut.
“Shhh,” she said. “Don’t say that here. We are the ones they are fighting.”
Finally, I explained everything to her and that we needed to get permission to go on. She said, “My boyfriend is a bodyguard for one of the men you need to see one of the Commanders.”
She went and got him and he was very nice and understood our mission. He then took us to his Commander’s house and we ate with him. After eating, he then called the Israeli Commander to give us a pink paper with full freedom to travel all through Israeli territory.
The Commander was so moved with the presence of Joshua that he begged me to let Joshua stay with them and for me to go on alone, but Joshua said, “I will go with daddy.” The Commander said, “The PLO will kill you.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think they will kill us. They probably will say you would kill us.”
After giving us food and drink, I gave the man my sunglasses. They were so kind and wonderful to us. I guess most people would have been afraid, but we were only excited to have the pink paper of Permission. We raced off in the car, not knowing exactly which way to go. At one point we passed some soldiers that were waving to us. In a moment an Army jeep began to chase us and we stopped. We had passed the Israeli line and were almost into the Syrian line in the middle of the war zone and we had an Israeli tag on our car. We both turned around and raced away. We went through about 30 roadblocks on the way to Beirut. Over and over the troops would say, “How did you get this paper?” “Jehovah is my friend and He wants the cross in Beirut,” I would reply.
I was explaining the war to Joshua. We could see the city of Beirut just below and in front of us. There were huge tanks, artillery and rockets. This was war. Guns roared and flashes of fire filled the air. Joshua began to cry. I held him in my arms as we stopped on the roadside.
“Joshua, I will take you back and return alone.”
All his life, he had lived on the road with the cross. We had pushed him as a baby through the battlefield in Northern Ireland, where people were dying, and now, planes were dive dropping their bombs. This precious child was going into the face of death. We
were going to walk in to this war with two crosses, no wonder he wept.
“Daddy,” he said, as he wiped his tears away. “Jesus told me to go with you as far as I can I can’t turn back. I’ll stay with you. Jesus is with us let’s go, I’m okay.”
He gave me a little smile and looked ahead. I gunned the car and raced up the winding road without saying a word, but it was like a cloud of glory was all over us. I get out of the car and lay down in the dirt and praying This is God’s mission for us. We were under the orders of our Commander and maybe we would die… but we
would not flee.
Two monks stood by the road waving and wanting a ride. I stopped to ask the directions for a place to sleep. They got in the car and said they would take us to a place. About 100 yards ahead the Israeli Army stopped us and said, “You can’t go on with that tag on your car! Someone will shoot you.”
We turned the car around, and the Monks led us in another direction around the roadblock into the port city of Juniyah which was just north of Beirut. People were waving and blowing their horns. They had never seen an Israeli car tag there. We were given a place to stay and were fed in the monastery high on top of the mountains. It was the head seat of the Maronite Christian Church.
“Please let us keep Joshua tomorrow when you go to Beirut,” the monks pleaded “You will die. They killed one of our monks today.”
Joshua lay beside me on the single cot and went to sleep in my arms. A candle was my only light. I could see from the mountain top to the darkness below. Beirut was being pounded by land, sea and air. Flashes of light lit the sky. I was praying and thinking.
A mosquito began to circle my arm. I thought, “Well, tomorrow or in a few hours I may die. Why not let this mosquito get his fill? I’ll not hurt him, but let him suck until he is full.”
He soon lit on my arm and I waited as he put his beak through the hairs to bite my arm. As soon as he touched my skin he shook, then flipped over on his back, kicking his legs a few times until he didn’t move again. It was amazing. The mosquito was dead! I put him carefully on the floor and he was still there the next morning. The Lord told me when I saw that mosquito die, “My glory is upon you. Tomorrow night you shall sleep in West Beirut.”
Tears flooded my face. Wave after wave of God’s glory swept over me. It’s just beyond imagination. But God’s glory was so strong on me and on Joshua that the mosquito could not stand it. If there are non-stinging mosquitos in heaven, that is one mosquito that will surely be there!
SUNDAY, JULY 4th-We were up early today, as the priest invited us to a special Mass. “Today you die, we fear for you. Prepare to meet God.”
We were served Holy Communion, then drove to East Beirut, left our
crosses near the lines and lay down on the ground and prayed. We
felt we should go to the Museum Crossing along the Green Line
dividing East and West Beirut. The police came up to us and said,
“You will die.” Later, a man ran up to us, tore off his shirt and tied a
white strip of cloth on the top of each of our crosses. He was weep-
ing. “You will die if you go in there.” He made the sign of the cross,
and walked on.
I felt the covering of the glory of God, but I also knew that this feeling
might be preparatory for our entrance in to glory. We arrived at the
Israeli line. There were tanks parked and troops in position. The
sound of gunfire rattled the air. The troops stopped us and I
explained our mission.
“No! We have orders that no one enters West Beirut. Yesterday the last border crossing was closed. You will die if you go in there.”
“But, sir, we have come in peace in the name of Jesus. I know General Rafael Eitan, your Commander.”
“No one enters. We have orders not to let anyone in, especially the news media and people of God.”
They moved us across the street. We leaned the cross against a church and sat down to pray. “Tonight you will sleep in West Beirut,” the Lord was still speaking to me.
Some newsmen arrived and were photographing the battle line. They were accompanied by soldiers. They were near us and Joshua gave one of the men a Jesus sticker. The man looked at us and came walking over. “Did you carry that cross in the Sinai Desert in 1980?”
“Well, I photographed you for a news magazine and always wondered what happened to you. Why are you here?”
I explained everything to him and told him how the troops would not let us in. We realized we had a mutual friend in Doctor Wes Brown in Jerusalem, a wonderful follower of Jesus. He smiled, looked deep into me, and said, “There may be a way to get in. I’m also an Israeli officer. You can outflank our line and slip in between where we and the Philangists are. We slipped in one reporter that way yesterday.”
My heart leaped. His companions were calling him to leave. As he turned away I stepped up beside him and said, “Draw me a map, please, for God, for peace, for me on this mission.”
His eyes watered as he looked at Joshua and his cross. He drew me a map on a piece of paper.
“I have done all I can to help you. Keep your head down. God bless you and good luck.”
I thanked him and handed him a gospel tract. Just as he stepped into the car he whispered, “Keep your head down.”
I rushed to Joshua with the map. “We can get in,” I said.
We left everything in the car. I took only a small bag containing my money and passport. We took no clothes, food or water. We did not want them to think that we were trying to get into West Beirut. My heart was racing. I was so happy, we were nearly in. Live or die, the only thing was to get in. To sit at the border was not what we had come for.
I picked up the cross again to start one of my most dangerous missions. Joshua and I held hands and prayed. Two men, two crosses, two white flags, two Bibles in hand, and a host of angels, I’m sure. We walked along until we could make a left turn. Is this it?
There were troops. We were waved back, then we found the correct place. As we started between the buildings Philangist troops were there. They had moved to block this path. They called their Commander. In English, the Commander said, “You must get Permission from the Israeli Army and you have to cross at the Museum Crossing.”
“But God has sent us here to go inside with the cross.”
“They will kill you if you go into West Beirut!”
Again we heard the warning, but I pressed on. Maybe we die, but we are willing to die for peace. I could tell he was Shaken by the Spirit of God.
“But you must get Israeli permission.
I cut him off, “You are the Commander here. You are the Philangist. You are not Israeli. Don’t you have any authority?”
This shook him again and I saw him straighten up.
“My dear brother, we are here on a mission from God. You cannot stand in our way. Please, we have come through so much to get this far. Please, in the name of Jesus, we must go in.”
God’s power and glory was overflowing. He looked long into my unwavering eyes.
“You don’t have to say anything,” I continued. “Dear brother, just drop your head and and we will pass in Jesus Name, I whispered.
He gave me a last look, dropped his head, shook it, and with his hand waved us by. “God be with you.” He whispered.
I was filled with the glory of God.
With Joshua holding my hand we went forward to face what was before us. The area was totally devastated, buildings riddled by bullets and bombs, even trees were blown up. Soldiers began to holler at us to come back. They were waving us back, but we walked even faster. Some tried to run out, but we rushed past. This was war and to be exposed was to die. We turned a corner and were in a real, “No Man’s Land” in between five fighting armies . The Israeli, the Lebanese, the Philangist, the Syrian and the PLO. Two crosses and two witnesses in the hot spot and spotlight of the world!
“Pray, Joshua, pray! If you ever prayed, pray now!”
I was smiling and waving my Bible to all the hundreds of troops that were looking at us. Where do we step, where are the land mines? Huge piles of dirt and steel were in front of us with many tank barricades. We must truly walk in the Spirit. We chose one path and entered into the Syrian PLO lines. The soldiers were waving to us and smiling. We had broken the Israeli blockade. They were happy. A lady reporter/photographer from Time Magazine rushed to take photos. The Commander of that area stepped up and said, “What are you doing?”
“We are here carrying the cross. We have good news. God loves you! Jesus is alive!”
Various war photos taken during the cross walk
“We need all the good news we can get. Welcome to West Beirut!”
In a few minutes the news reporters began to mob us. Reporters from ABC, CBS, NBC, Polish television, British television, Swedish television, .”me, Newsweek, UPI, and AP. We were moving along this blown-up street and suddenly Yasser Arafat appeared coming from a building. He was approaching Joshua and me. It was awesome. All the world news and a man and a boy with Yasser Arafat. Who could believe it! His eyes were sparkling and he was smiling and happy. He hugged Joshua and we looked at each other. It had been two years since we had
last met and spent over two hours together. We hugged and kissed each other, then I told him how we had struggled to get there and how God had called us.
“I expected you would come,” he said. “You are welcome!”
We tried to turn away and whisper to each other for a few minutes. I shared the deep burden of my heart, again sharing the message of Jesus. We exchanged words that I don’t want to write about, then I said to the press, “We have come in peace. We want no more killing of Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese or Syrian people. We walk, we speak, we live or die for peace, love and reconciliation. God love all. Jesus Christ died for all. I want to pray.
* * *
Carrying the cross through the hotly disputed West Bank, the Arab people are so great to me. I spent the night at Jacob’s Well, which is the well where Jesus asked the woman to give Him water to drink. A priest gave me a room there and water from the well. It was my only food. Praise the Lord!
* * *
As I was walking up a mountain with the cross, an Israeli Army bus coming from Lebanon stopped. The troops were all trying to talk to me at once. It was total confusion! Finally they asked me to come into the bus. I left the cross and went inside. They all got quiet. There were about 80 men and women. Most of them still had their guns in their hands. I was so hot and tired, I just decided to get right to the point.
I said, “I carry the cross to share the good news of Jesus on earth, to show that He loves you and that God sent Him to live and die for our sins. He rose again and lives today. The way we can know God is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The temple has been torn down. There is no longer a blood sacrifice made in Jerusalem for the sins of the people, but Jesus Christ is without sin, and He is holy. He died on the cross. That was His sacrifice, and that is sufficient to pay for your sins. When you accept His death on the cross you can have peace with God and know Him as your savior.”
The glory of God came in that bus! I finished my talk with a prayer and then the soldiers burst into applause, then rushed off the bus, blocking traffic. They grabbed the cross and held it up into the air and took pictures. I was crying. Many of the soldiers were crying.
“Thank you for coming to us and for going to West Beirut. Please stay on the road! It makes the world a better place.”
They finally drove off waving and smiling. I was weeping. Oh, Lord. How wonderful! How wonderful!
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt