Madrid, ‘The Plaza Mayor’: A cobblestone square surrounded by old, magnificent buildings, lies in the heart of Madrid. This place sent chills of fear throughout all Spain in the Fifteenth Century. It contains some of the most horrible stories in Christendom. It is said that every stone had at one time or another been covered with the blood of martyrs. Over 100,000 people had been burned at the stake or slain here because of their faith in Christ. Most of them were Protestants. To this day, it remains a place of feat to Protestants in Spain.
The National Television camera and crew was mounted on the rooftop. News media from around the world was here, thousands packed into the square waiting on Saturday, November 11, 1972, for “un hombre con la cruz” (the man with the cross). It had taken me six weeks to get there. I had entered Spain after leaving France. Thousands of people had greeted me along the way. I was arrested in Irun, Spain, and jailed in San Sebastian, but the government gave me permission to carry the cross through Spain and to give my testimony. I was in jail only part of one day but the cross was in jail for three days! I learned a lesson; don’t leave jail without my cross. The cross was the problem, not me.
The government gave me a permit to carry the cross on through Spain.
One must remember that Spain in 1972 was not a democracy but under the rule of dictator Francisco Franco. There was marshal law and no group could gather in public with over 21 people without a permit. Large crowds were an instant threat to the security of the dictatorship.
Through city after city, thousands of people mobbed me in their desire to see and kiss the cross and to touch me. The entire front page of Spain’s largest newspaper had carried my picture, declaring my arrival in Spain!
I carried the cross through Irun to a great reception in San Sebastian.
Then I carried the cross to Bilbao where many thousands gathered to welcome the cross at the Cathedral. The priest set up huge speakers for me to preach to the masses. I then spend several days speaking in Catholic Churches and schools as well as the Assembly of God church. This was the heart of Basque country.
The news media reported my progress in the national press on almost a daily basis as I carried the cross on to Victoria and Burgos.
We I arrived in Burgos there was a photo on the front page of the newspaper of the cross and me and saying we were to arrive in the downtown. I had an interpreter with me and as we entered the city center on a street called ‘Epsilon’ the crowds surged forward. I was surrounded by thousands of people. The police formed and circle around me and pushed me to a place called the ‘steps of the four kings’ where I had the cross lifted upright and I preached. There was no speaker system but I preached anyway. Most could not hear me but they cheered and welcomed the cross. The police said I must move on for public safety!
On this walk with the cross my family was with me including my children Gina, Joel, Joy and Joshua. We had a Land Rover that pulled a camping trailer in which we spent the night. It was a joy and blessing to spend so much time with my children.
The news media announced the date and place of my arrival place in Madrid. About a dozen people joined me on the walk into Madrid. Later on there were twenty, then hundreds, as I reached the city center. Thousands lined the sidewalks, all trying to touch me and kiss the cross. I had to get several men to join hands and help me push through the eager crowd.
Finally, I could see the Plaza Mayor, then my foot touched the first step and I began to climb the steps toward one of the many entrances. The glory of God covered me. The air was electric with the surging crowd about me creating an almost unstoppable momentum. I now stood under the archway. There was a sea of people before me. I was now walking where, in the past, the blood of my brothers and sisters had wet the stones. I froze. Six year-old son, Joel wrapped his arms around my legs. This little boy had witnessed more miracles of God than most adults do in a lifetime.
I whispered “Lord, Jesus, may you be glorified this evening.”
Then the people crushed upon us as I moved forward. Thousands of people were pushing, pulling, screaming, and fighting to touch the cross and me. All I could see was a sea of outstretched hands and weeping faces. An ear-piercing roar was heard. A few men fought to keep us from falling. I could not move the cross. The people were holding on to it, then there would be a surge and we would move forward in a wave, and then stop. This was repeated over and over, with us finally reaching the statue in the center of the Plaza. An impossible goal had become reality. As ReverendAlberto Arujo, my interpreter, and I climbed onto the base of the statue and faced the people, I lifted my hand and a welcomed silence blanketed the atmosphere. He had set up a public address system shortly before my arrival.
I lifted my index finger to the sky, “Un solo comino Jesus,” I cried out.
“Un solo comino Jesus,” they answered as one.
Then I began my famous Jesus cheer… give me a J! They answered
back, J, E – e, S -s, U -u, S -s. JESUS!
The crowd screamed.
“I am here to speak of Jesus. ”
The crowd echoed cheers throughout the Plaza.
“I want to tell you about Him. How you can know Him. And what He can do in your life as you live with Him day by day.”
Alberto’s translation seemed to be touched with fire as the power of the message struck at the inner soul of the crowd. Alberto was in his late 30s, tall with a thin frame and wire-rimmed glasses. He was the pastor of the largest evangelical church in Spain.
“Jesus came to die,” I pointed to the cross. “For you, for me, for everyone! With His death He paid for our sins. And with his resurrection He gave us abundant eternal life. Accept Jesus into your heart. Today is the day of salvation. Confess Him as your Lord and Savior and you will be saved.”
At this point, I noticed carloads of police emptying into the Plaza and approaching the cross. A rough-looking officer dressed in a dark blue suit shoved his finger into Alberto’s face and ordered him to turn off the public address system. “Now go!” he ordered.
“Why must we leave?” Alberto countered. “You have no permit. You are not allowed to gather a crowd of any size in Spain without a permit.”
“We do have a permit,” Alberto told him. He was momentarily jolted but remained as firm as ever. “Let me see it.”
The people seemed to respond with a beautiful voice that rose above the chaos. Thousands of the most beautiful voices began singing together in praise of the Lord and in defiance of anyone who would dare to stop their worship of Him. Their voices lifted up, so did their hands. Thousands were praising God. It was beautiful!”This meeting must stop,” the policeman said. “But I’ll call headquarters and tell them of this permit.” He turned and walked toward a waiting car, roughly pushing aside anyone blocking his path.
Alberto and I stood together. The government-controlled Spanish television and newspapers had announced my arrival in advance. They had promoted my arrival. It was due to them that this very crowd the police objected to had come in the first place. A scream, saturated in agony and fear, shattered the calmness of the Plaza and signaled an abrupt halt to the singing.
Wham – the screams, which followed, began one of the most tragic and glorious events I have ever witnessed. We had just been confronted with the regular police, but now it was the feared ‘civil guardia’, the most loyal of Francisco Franco’s storm troopers had come to do battle with men, women and children armed only with the love of God. Click, click, click – the face shields on the guard’s helmets snapped into place.
The next thing I heard were bones snapping… arms and legs. The clubs came crashing down again and again upon the people as they squirmed and shivered under the blows. There was no way they could move. There was no place to go. “No!… don’t!”
I saw one of the clubs flash down in a wide arch and careen off the scar-covered head of a poor old woman. She fell face down in a pool of blood. The cries of the children were horrible. “Lord, those little babies being beaten up. Protect them, protect them.”
The clubs kept pouring down on the immobile Spaniards. Yet the singing picked up again, this time louder and purer than before. Then, miraculously, the civil guardia stopped their beatings and marched over to us.
“Why did you do this to us?” Alberto demanded. “The people had no chance to move. You said you would call headquarters and get a decision about our permit! ” The plainclothes officer replied, “I knew nothing about the civil guardia attacking.”
He then turned and in hushed tones began to speak to his comrades. Then he turned to face us once more.”I have orders to clear the Plaza. Disperse now or face arrest.” The fire within me burned with renewed energy and I straightened up, my hand pressing against the cross, and I answered,
“You have attacked and beaten a helpless crowd of people, including old women and children. They came in peace to listen to me speak about Jesus, as you reported in your newspapers. They had no order to leave, nor opportunity to do so. They were brutally beaten. I cannot move on. I must take my stand with them and the thousands of others whose blood has been spilled in the past years in this place. I have permission from your government to carry the cross and give my testimony. But I also have a right that is given by God and cannot be interfered with. I shall preach, Alberto, you do as you must.”
When Alberto finished with the translation, the officer said, “I order you to leave.” I picked up the cross and placed it on my shoulder.
A man dashed through the crowd and grabbed Joel and hollered, “I’m taking him to safety.” We didn’t know the man and that was the last time we saw Joel until the next day.
“Arthur,” Alberto said. “I am your interpreter and that still stands.” “I’m Spanish and this is my country, and I will not bow to oppression.” “I’m by your side,” Dale Simpson said.
Dale had been walking with me all week. We all knelt in prayer. It was an awesome feeling. My mind was filled with thoughts of the others who had died here. Whether it was death that I faced, injury or imprisonment, I had to stand with the fallen. Blood had been spilled again. To leave was unthinkable. We took a few steps away from the statue. The crowd had moved back and a huge arc was formed around the Plaza by scores of policemen. Alberto, Dale and I stood alone in the center as thousands watched and waited in silence.
“Un solo comino Jesus,” I cried in Spanish. “We shall not bow our knees to the will of men, but we shall move at the impulse of God’s spirit, whether in death or in life. Our service is unto God. We must not be intimidated by fear. No bars can close in the truth. We are free, even in prison. Jesus said to go into the highways and preach the gospel to every person.” I saw the helmeted troops moving towards us once more. “Ask Jesus into your hearts,” I cried. “Give your life to Him. Do not return hate for hate, but love your enemies.”
My arms were whipped behind me by several pairs of strong hands. Then it was Alberto’s turn. He was preaching as loud as he could while being hurried off.
“Jesus ti amo,” I kept saying to the troops as I hugged the cross. “Dios te bendigo” (God bless you).” “Let go of the cross.” The Guardia tried to wrestle it from me, but my grip was one of tempered steel. I wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t let go. “I’ll carry it to jail! I won’t let go!”
I felt a club whack me in the ribs and I bent over in pain. Then my arm was clubbed and my elbows smashed in a series of blows. Again and again they clubbed me until they knocked me violently to the ground with the cross falling beside me. I tried to reach for it, if only to touch the familiar wood one more time. When would I see it again? Then my heels were jerked skyward and my body was dragged over the cobblestones. I made eye contact with the man who was twisting my leg and dragging me.
“Dios te bendigo!” I smiled, and out of surprise or conviction, he released me. Dale Simpson dashed through the fighting, unnoticed until he reached the cross. He grabbed it and lifted it up.
“Hallelujah!” the people shouted. Dale held the cross for only a few precious seconds then he was clubbed, kicked and finally thrown into the back of a police car.
I saw the cross lying on the ground. I could not bear to see it lying there. I dashed over, lifted it, put it on my shoulder and began to walk away. Again the clubs rose, waiting to crack my skull. The crowd was praying. The police did not hit my head, but attacked my body with such force, that again I was knocked loose onto the cobblestones. They dragged me by my feet and pushed me onto the floor of the police car.
Dale was in the car. He was a bit stunned by the blows he had taken, but nevertheless was fine. I looked out the car window at the cross. As soon as someone would dash from the crowd and lift it up, the troops would club that person to the ground. And each time the cross fell some one else would race to it, knowing that they faced the clubs of the civil guardia, yet they would pick it up, then wham! It happened over and over until the police car roared out of the Plaza and I could see it no more. The scene at the jail was indescribable. The place echoed with praise. About 20 Spanish preachers had been arrested. Everyone was hugging, smiling and singing. The Catholic Bishop of Madrid sent a personal representative to help obtain our release. The American Consular General came, embarrassed and demanding. His daughter had been at the Plaza Mayor to see us. Finally the cross arrived.
Back at the Plaza, the police had taken the cross and stood it against the statue with many of them standing at attention facing it. They had been apologizing to the people for what they had been ordered to do. The Plaza Mayor had exploded in awakening. Instead of me being the only preacher in the streets many people were standing and preaching in the streets. Singing was in the air throughout the center of Madrid. Finally, a big van came and took the cross away.
Several believers had spread the word for people to come to Alberto’s church, which was located only a few blocks away. After much discussion and debate, it finally was agreed upon to release us all without charges. All my papers were returned to me and I made sure all the Spanish pastors were free before I would go. I would not leave without my cross. Finally, the police agreed to return it, but it had to be driven to Alberto’s church where I would go tomorrow. We left with the cross tied to the top of the American Embassy car. Arriving at the church at midnight, it was just glorious! Like a page out of the Bible, out of the book of Acts. It was indescribable. The church was overflowing with people.
As I carried the cross into the auditorium, it was impossible to describe the scene. They had gathered to pray and had seen us arrested by the civil guardia. They had seen us all beaten and stuffed into police cars, not knowing how long it would be before we were free. Yet we stood free and with the cross. Again, the impossible was reality. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life as that crowd wept and shouted.
We stood and preached in Spain’s most feared spot. I had perhaps reached the most powerful moment of my life. We had faced the police and the civil guardia, had been beaten and arrested, and yet walked out free and unbent.
The people had known oppression. They had had their churches closed and pastors arrested. There was a surge of hope, victory and liberty. These followers of Jesus would not be defeated. They were filled with fire of the Holy Spirit and were going forth to shake Spain for Christ. Evangelism was released in Spain. It would never be the same again.
Alberto and I preached for an hour and a half.Â I asked at the church if anyone knew where Joel was. Someone knew the person who had him and where he lived. Tomorrow they would bring him to us.
The day’s events were reported in the press the next day. After a few days more
witness in Madrid I carried the cross west toward Portugal. The response remained
the same in city after city in Spain. Great crowds were waiting for the cross and for
me to preach to the thousands of people in the streets.
What a time of glory in Spain. We were breaking through with public witness and crushing the restraint on evangelism. It was a historic breakthrough. Soon Franco was gone and freedom came back to Spain!
God bless this nation and their welcome of the cross will live with me all my life.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt,