Today we arrived at the “Hill of Crosses.” This hill is covered with tens of thousands of crosses of every size and material. Surely it has more crosses than any other place in the world. Five times the communists have used bulldozers to destroy it, yet this expression of the people rose up against atheism and suppression. When we arrived just before dark carrying the cross, an elderly lady that tends the grounds rushed up with a shovel for me to plant my cross! I had to show her photos that I was going around the world carrying my cross. She was so happy we had come. We gave her some food.
Tonight we are sleeping here. As we opened the zipper of our tent and looked out we could see the full moon just over the hill of standing crosses. We could only weep and marvel. How glorious that the cross, a symbol of death and rejection, has become through Jesus, the symbol of life, hope and acceptance. Many famous people have been identified with wars or politics, others have spent years playing with a ball in sports; basketball, football, tennis, baseball, volleyball, golf, billiards and bowling. Oh, how thrilled my life is to be identified with the cross! Loving the Jesus of the cross, knowing the God that so loved us he sent Jesus to the cross. I preach the cross, carry the cross, and glory in the cross. Thank You, Lord, You called me and now Denise to be simple pilgrim followers of Jesus, walking with the cross on all the earth. How could I trade places with anyone in world?
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Siauliai: The glory has come, awesome and explosive; the response in this country is very different from Latvia and Estonia. The people are literally mobbing us in love and eagerness. The Catholic people love Jesus and the cross. People in cars are waving, smiling, stopping for prayer. In the city center a huge crowd gathered as a young man interpreted. We moved on a block and preached again with a lady translating for us. The peoples’ faces expressed joy and a deep trust in God that the communists could not destroy.
Outside the city is the Hill of Crosses, but now a huge cross was being carried in their land. We were trying to give out the Jesus stickers to outstretched hands and people were filling our arms with apples, candy, flowers, cookies and smoked fish! Elderly ladies were giving me huge hugs as they cried; food was smashing into my coat and dropping in the street. The people would gather it up and pile even more into our arms. We were now in the center of the street with thousands about.
Denise asked where she could get some drinking water to put in the Land Rover. They explained the water in the city was too bad to drink it must be boiled. “We’ll get you good water to drink,” a lady said. It arrived in rusty buckets and a hair in it! Oh, well, we put it in our water tank, put in purifying pills and ran it through our filter. “Jesus, kill it all”.
A group of about 15 children joined me today aged from five to fourteen. They walked and gave out Jesus stickers in the cold rain. I taught them
songs and bout Jesus as one boy spoke some English. Finally I had to send them back home before it got dark. People came up kissing the cross and crying.
I tell you it’s a bit tough. My legs, feet and back hurt. It’s constantly cold. We can’t leave the engine running to get heat because it’s so difficult to get petrol. So the Land Rover is cold. Outside the wind in blowing and it snows, then
sleets, then rains. We have no place to dry anything. Denise cooks on the small stove inside but we must go outside in the cold and rain to to put up the tent and then climb a ladder to get inside. It’s freezing inside. Then we bundle up, try to sleep, then get out into the cold and wet to start the next day. But, Glory, it’s wonderful. Thank You, Jesus, that we can be here.
Praise God, we got a hot bath in Panevezys. We found a room payable in Russian rubles so it’s only a few dollars and we can wash clothes and hang them all about the room today.
We spoke at a new church and the people called the press. We were on national television twice and the newspapers are reporting our walk in great detail. All the news wanted to know when and where we would arrive at Vilnius, the capital. I told them Friday at noon in front of the cathedral. We don’t even know where it is or anyone there but perhaps a few people will meet us. The response over the last days is too much to describe. A big crowd followed us through the city of Panevezys. Often people are walking with us. Everywhere people want to pray. The stories of people exiled to Siberia for years and their struggles just breaks our hearts.
People are weeping, saying they never dreamed they would live to see a big cross carried in their land. So many hundreds and thousands trust Jesus and are committing their lives to follow Him. The people are giving Denise and me so many gifts and souvenirs that we must give them to others to have any room inside the Land Rover! Those we give gifts to then go and get something for us and it is now a growing pile that is so beautiful but making it impossible to live. Ha. Now this is honestly true, inside the Land Rover, I can’t even stretch my legs out. The people are so needy you can’t throw any food or clothes away, yet you get back much more than you give!
People are driving miles to see us. Cars, trucks, and buses, blowing their horns and people waving.
The weather is mostly wet and cold. So as vehicles pass, the water sweeps across me, as I must walk in the grass. The wind remains fierce but we move on.
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The days pass and the cold and wet is penetrating. Everything we have is damp or wet and all is cold. However, the people are overwhelming in their warmth. An old lady came last night where we were parked, kissed us, gave us warm milk straight out of the cow. She returned in the rain to bring eggs and black bread. This morning she arrived on a bicycle crying, wanting to carry the cross.
She was dressed all in black, a short stocky and weather beaten lady. She carried the cross as I walked behind pushing the bicycle.
Denise is so cold, how she suffers in the freezing Land Rover. Yet she is doing some great road cooking. We are having a great time in Bible study. Today, people brought us sausage, black bread and tea along with lots of love and encouragement.
Vilnius: Glory, glory, glory, as Denise and I neared the huge cathedral at noon in the city center we saw a crowd of people. As we approached people began running to us crying, and kissing the cross! There were waiting for the cross. The news had been on T.V. and in the paper and this crowd of Jesus loving people came to greet us and hear our words. Denise was given beautiful flowers and a hush of silence settled over the crowd as I began to speak. Having no interpreter I decided to pray first. I simply lay down face first on the stone courtyard and began to pray. The crowd all knelt in prayer, also. You could only hear my voice and weeping. I stood and they stood also. I began to speak. I was crying so I slowly spoke a few words. A voice from the back seemed to interpret my words. I went on speaking and so did the man. I said, “Do you speak English?” He replied, “Yes, I’ll try to interpret.” Soon another voice joined in, interpreting the words that the first man had difficulty with. I concluded speaking and knelt. The people knelt also and I led them in a prayer to repent, believe in Jesus and commit their lives to follow Him. Two men stepped to the front. An elderly man with white hair and a white beard began to read from notes as a distinguished bearded man in his forties began to interpret for Denise and me. They were welcoming us on behalf of those who had fought against communism and led the revolt here a year ago that led to the crumbling of the U.S.S.R. These were the key leaders of the revolution welcoming us!
The crowd wanted us to march to parliament and so we did. Men, women and children poured into the street blocking all traffic! The police helped clear
the way for us as hundreds of hands reached to touch us. My interpreter became Mr. Donatus. We finally reached a large concrete slab roadblock. It com pletely surrounded the parliament area trying to protect it from Russian troops nearby. They still fear the troops in the country. I climbed up to the top of the barricade and people lifted the cross up to me. Then I stood with the cross high and lifted it up as a triumph over suppression and atheism. The crowd exploded in cheers.
I prayed and preached, then we went onto the front of the parliament and again I prayed and spoke. We were all rebels in our own way. Standing up for our Lord Jesus Christ. Hours later we arrived back at the cathedral through the crowds. The head priest and bishop greeted us and had the cross taken into the beautiful ‘Chapel of Martyrs’, a special place in memory of those who have been killed for Christ in Lithuania. People filled the chapel and were inside the huge church waiting to go in and pray.
The chief priest said “I would walk twice around the world for an angel like Denise,” but he added, “But I’m a priest so I can’t marry.”
One of the interpreters came and got all our dirty and wet clothes. We got a room near the cathedral in an old cold hotel but we did have an electric heater and hot water. My wife, my love is clean and warm, she is an angel and everyone just alls in love with her. How blessed I am. Oh, Jesus, glory. What a day.
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Yesterday we rested. The story of the cross was the headline story in the newspaper. The cross was also featured on television.
Today was indescribable. One of the most moving experiences of my life. The cathedral was packed for the masses with thousands of worshippers. Denise and I were at the front with the cross standing upright. There was a children’s mass followed by a regular mass.
I was asked to speak to the audience and it was broadcast live to the
nation by radio and filmed to be shown later on television. I was informed that we were to march to the television tower out of town where 20 people had been killed and over 800 injured on March 19, 1991 as Soviet troops stormed the tower against unarmed people. I said okay, in Jesus’ name, we go. The crowd of thousands pressed in to touch us and kiss the cross. It was unreal. People were kissing both my hands, the cross and Denise, tears were in almost every eye. Finally we got out of the cathedral and crowds were filling the plaza and down the street as far as I could see. Hours ran together as time was lost in a sea of faces, tears, flowers, and the faces of deep faith in God. We went past the place where the statue of Lenin had been torn down, by a place where martyrs had been killed, by a still barricaded parliament and on down the street to the television tower. Thousands upon thousands were marching and lining the way. At the tower located on a hill, another huge crowd waited in silence and tears. I spoke again and led the people in prayer as I had done at all the other stops. I preached in great power, I was crying and so were the people. They all knelt to pray.
There were crosses erected where people had been killed. Some men came with a hammer and nails wanting to put a crucifix of Jesus on my cross for me to remember to pray for Lithuania. For the first time I agreed to adding something else on my cross. I felt honored to have their cross now with mine. Denise spoke to the crowd in great love.
We finally arrived back at the church at 7:30 p.m. and still there was a huge crowd following and filling the church. The two priests invited us in their office for tea. The chief priest explained how he had been in exile in Siberia for seven years in coal
mines yet even there he conducted underground mass.
They presented us with two scarves that the priest wore. We were all in tears.
Denise and I fell into bed in each other’s arms, in awe at the day’s events and so in love with Jesus our Lord.
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What can I say except to repeat the glory of yesterday, the day before and the entire time we walked across Lithuania? The priest and a large crowd gathered at the ‘Chapel of Martyrs’ to see us off. The priest made a powerful emotional speech about our love for the people, the cross and Christ. I also spoke with tears pouring. The priest gave me a book about crosses and I gave him a small piece of my cross to keep in the chapel. The people crying, kissing us, and giving us food, photos, cards, crosses, flowers and all kinds of gifts moved Denise and me. We had to ask people to help carry the gifts.
As we went down the street, it began to fill with people. There were outstretched hands of love everywhere. The people seemed to form two lines with an opening in the middle where we would pass with the cross. The weather is cold but the love
warm. When we got to the Land Rover there was hardly any room left for Denise to drive because of all the gifts. A man took her to a station and she got our Land Rover filled with the difficult-to-find gas. Outside the city a huge snowstorm came up and the cross and I were covered white. Everyone there said goodbye and were left alone on the highway heading south on the M12 toward Belarus.
During much of 1992 my wife, Denise and I carried the cross through Russia and all of the former USSR. The USSR was just breaking up after the fall of communism. We only had a tourist visa for two weeks in Russia and no permit for the Land Rover and no visa for any of the other countries! Jesus got us through all the borders and checkpoints with no visa or permit. We made it through over 250-armed roadblocks. God led us to places to fill up with gas, as only a few gas stations were open the entire trip. We went from extreme cold and snow to the desert heat all in one historic and glorious trip. The impossible had happened. The cross was carried in all the USSR. All glory to God. Many were saved as the cross was carried in all of these nations.
Denise drove the 4×4 Land Rover. She would drive up the road a few miles and wait for me to arrive carrying the 12-foot cross. I would have something to drink and eat and then walk on. In most of these nations we would drive part of the way and then carry the cross a few days or a week or so. We had Bibles and gospel material in Russian and local languages. The Land Rover was also towing a small trailer with food and the gospel materials. We carried many cans of gas on the Land Rover and inside was a stove. We slept in a pop-up tent on top the Land Rover. When we left England we drove and went by ship to Finland. We crossed over to Estonia and made a complete loop around the USSR and then drove back via Poland and back to England. We drove almost 11,000 miles and I walked many hundreds of miles in the USSR.
In order we carried the cross in the following countries:
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Trans-Dnestr, Moldova, Crimea, Abkhazia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Siberia and Russia.
Jesus did it. All glory to God.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt