Jesus said, “Be not afraid, go. I will be with you always.”
These words in Matthew, the 28th Chapter, have become a living reality to me. Sometimes God allows His servants to die. John the Baptist was beheaded. Stephen was stoned to death. Paul and Peter were killed in Rome. Yet, at other times God has chosen to spare his followers, like Daniel in the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Paul and Silas in prison.
The following experience in my life is one of those times where God chose to spare death in His own divine way. It is not to my merit that I was given this miracle. Many others more holy than I have had the honor to be martyred for Christ. It is simply the sovereignty of God. He chose to extend my life for His purpose. I shall not attempt to prove this story. At this writing all the people who are spoken of by name in this experience are alive. They, too, speak of this miracle in war torn Nicaragua.
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I carried the cross into war torn Nicaragua. Death was everywhere, all around me, and especially in Leone where I carried the cross through the lines of the Sandanistas and the Samoza government troops that were surrounding it. The cross is in war again.
As I carried the cross I met Don Price, a veterinary doctor from Key Largo. He had come to spend a two-week vacation with me on the road, interpreting and teaching me Spanish. He was walking slowly with a sober look, something was wrong. The truck and trailer were parked by a big tree. Mike Ooten who was driving for me stood at the door andDon spoke, “Arthur, you know we sprayed for mosquitoes last night. Well, El Salvador your parrot has been having respiratory problems. I did every-thing I could, but he overdosed on mosquito spray. El Salvador is dead”
Only children and animal lovers can know how I felt. Tears burst from my eyes. I don’t expect some to understand, but I had struggled through war all day, gunfire and death stared me in the face, yet a parrot had broken my heart. Maybe it was built up emotions and all I had experienced, but nothing could console me. Mike was crying and the veterinarian wasspeaking to us. I held El Salvador tenderly in my hands and looked at hislifeless body, then lowered him into the deep grave we had dug beside thetree. Don read a scripture, Mike sang in a broken weeping voice, and I prayed and wept. We covered the grave and erected a cross. Nothing else to say as tears poured down my face. I lifted the big 12-foot cross, set it gently on my right shoulder, and began to walk. The sound of fighting echoed in the air. El Salvador, my buddy is dead. I miss him. Soon the sweat mixed with my tears as I walked on in the way of the cross.
The Pan American Highway South of Leone, Nicaragua 1978: At the beginning of a
long day’s walk, I arrived where my four-wheel van truck was parked with our small camping trailer. Mike Ooten was driving the truck, which was filled with gospel materials, and the trailer was my daily bed. Don Price and Mike were parked by the roadside talking to a few people who had gathered. There were only a few scattered houses nearby with a few old people and children.
Don and Mike talked to them about Jesus before I arrived. The people were saying in Spanish, “Don ‘t At night everything on this road dies. Go on to the next town and sleep at the church. You will be safe there.” The civil war in Nicaragua was raging at the time with the popular Sandanista guerilla movement against the Samoza government dictatorship. It was a horrible and bloody war with terror everywhere. “I never run,” I said. “We will sleep where we stop with the cross. I have learned you must never run. You must face fear and overcome it, or it will haunt you.”An old man who spoke made the sign of the cross as we parked the truck and trailer under a tree. It is very uncommon for me to park under a tree, because birds often park in them.
We opened some cold canned food, ate and soon we were in bed. Mike was in the front bed, and I was at the back on the bottom, and Don at the back on the top bunk. I was too exhausted to think. Just after I lay down, I fell sound asleep. The night was hot and I was wet with sweat. A loud banging on the side of the trailer woke me and the voice of a man saying, “Narcotica policia!” I shook my head as I sat up in bed and pulled back the window curtain to look out. A gun was in my face. “Narcotica policia!”
I turned on the light, slipped into my pants and opened the door. There were guns pointed at me. One short, middle-aged man put a pistol directly in my face, pushing me back and stepping in. All were in khakis or blue jeans and plain shirts. Several had mustaches and most were in their late teens or early twenties. Several of them came into the trailer and looked around as if they were going to buy it. Don did not say a word, even though he spoke Spanish. Mike was sitting up in bed wondering what was going on. He could not find his glasses.
“What’s happening Arthur, what’s going on with all these guys?” he asked sleepily.
“Pray, Mike. Pray.”
The short man waved his pistol toward the door. They took me by the shoulder and arm and as I started out I reached up and took the truck keys. This was simply an impulse, for no particular reason except maybe I thought they might want the truck and they could have it. There was no doubt these were not narcotics police. The people would later say they were government troops, the government would say they were guerrillas. Never mind who they were, the problem was terror on the roads, to rob, to kill and to terrorize the land.
I began to witness in the little Spanish I knew, “Dios te ama.” (God loves you) Jesus will forgive you and come to live in your heart.
No one seemed to hear my words. I could see seven with rifles and pistols, plus two more lying on the back of the truck with machine guns protecting them. It was a beautiful, clear night. Maybe they want to rob us, I thought, but no. They took me beside the truck and stood me there with orders not to move. They lined up about 15 feet away, raised their guns and pointed them toward me. Suddenly I realized they were going to shoot me. I was standing before a firing squad.
The cross was on top of the truck and difficult to get to. What flashed through my mind was, “If I’m going to die I don’t want to die without a Bible.” These guns were all aimed at me as I suddenly turned to the right, took about two quick steps and reached forth my hand to put the key in the truck keyhole. I did it on the first try. I was thinking, even if they shoot I think I can get the door open before I die and grab a box of Bibles. The men were shouting, “No, no!”
I swung the door open, raised the front seat and grabbed a box of Bibles. They had no way to know what I was getting or doing. Only God knows why they didn’t shoot, but my thought was, if I’m going to die, what does it matter whether I get hit from the front or from the back.
I set the box of Bibles on the ground and turned to get it open. It was bound with strong tape with cords inside of it, making it almost impossible to open. I could see the feet of the men around me and feel their pull on my shoulders trying to get me up. After getting an opening in the box of American Society Bibles, I thought I ‘d give them all a Bible too, filling my arms as I stood up. No one was there!
What’s happening, I wondered. The glory of God was present, and then I saw the unbelievable. All the gunmen were on the ground, flat on their backs. The short man who seemed to be the commander was lying inside the trailer with only his feet and legs sticking out. As I walked toward them. They began to slowly get up in a daze. The man sat at the door, collecting himself.
I said in Spanish. “Do you want a Bible?”
“We won’t bother you,” he said.
I grabbed a water bottle and offered them water. All of them jumped up and raced away into the night with no lights turned on the truck. I stood in silence. What had happened? It was all so fast!
As I walked into the trailer Don said, “We thought you were dead”
“They were going to kill me, shoot me,’ ” I said. “But I opened the truck and got some Bibles. When I looked up the men were on the ground.”
“Arthur, we could hear the blows of meat against meat. We thought they were killing you. Then we heard them holler, ‘o-o -o-oh’ and they came falling back. One of the men fell into the doorway.”
We sat up talking and talking. At dawn as I prepared to leave, carrying the cross down the highway, the people of the houses were there. They were saying, “We saw a bright light. God was there and the gunmen fell to the ground.”
Days after the firing squad experience I reached southern Nicaragua. The crowds were gathering in each village and town to welcome the cross me and, and to hear the words of Jesus. All day the people were with me. Thousands and thousands; little children in their dirty clothes, teenagers, old men and women, all wanting to get near. I had no interpreter so I preached using all the Spanish I knew. At the end of the day I was exhausted. The heat was intense. The night before I had had no sleep at all as we were parked with the truck, trailer and cross in the center of a big gun battle. Soldiers were crawling about in the houses and buildings, firing. But no one shot at us. I sat on the hood of the truck and several times I preached. Mike and I talked so they could see whom we were.
Several times soldiers would dash up to us, get gospel materials, and
then run off to fight. It was now two days and one night without sleep and constant ministry. Even after dark I was walking. Every cell in my body seemed to ache and be weary. I could see the trailer ahead. When I got there I was totally exhausted but continued to preach. I was so sleepy and tired, I said, “Mike, go on up the road to a place where there are no people and stop there. I can’t sit here all night trying to talk. Help me, move on up.”
I lifted the cross again and walked into the darkness as Mike gave the crowd gospel material. Mike blew the horn as he passed by me. “Oh, Lord, help him find a quiet place,” I prayed.
Oh, it feels so good to be exhausted in the service of God! It was a dark night and difficult for me to see where to walk. Finally I could see the lights of a town ahead. I had hoped Mike would find a place on the roadside. I saw one of those little roadside restaurants with about 15 people in it. They saw me and started toward the door. I saw the trailer parked at a closed gas station ahead. I did not stop walking. I could only pray, “Lord help me make it a few more steps.”
Arriving at the trailer I leaned the cross against it, opened the door and just fell into my bed in my dirty, smelly clothes. I was breathing hard, pouring sweat, hungry, tired and weak,
“Oh, Jesus, help me,” I whispered, too exhausted to take off my shoes. “Mike” I whispered. “There are some people coming over from that restaurant, you witness to them.”
I heard Mike’s voice, filled with excitement and wonder, “Arthur, Arthur, you won’t believe it! Look!” I could hardly get up to look out the window. Coming down the road was an amazing sight. You could see from the lights of the gas station, a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people running through the night. Out of the town, toward us. The entire town was coming out to see the cross and hear about Jesus. I fell back exhausted, “Mike, you preach”
The crowd gathered outside the door. I could hear Mike in his few words of Spanish trying to tell the people about Jesus. My Spanish is so poor it takes the grace of God for me to lead anyone to Jesus, but for Mike it
takes a miracle, like Pentecost! I began to smile, then laugh. My heart
was overcome with the eager and hungry hearts. Tomorrow they may die in this war. I got up, stood at the door. Those beautiful faces were shining in the reflected light. My aching body was rejuvenated, my mind clear, my heart afire. Words poured forth in Spanish. I looked. These are my people; this is my home, the roadsides of the world!
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt