Northern Yemen: No churches at all have been allowed. In South Yemen there had been churches when the British were there but when they withdrew all churches had been forcibly closed. This area of the world is closed to churches and evangelism, God brought us in Glory.
We arrived in Sana, the capital of North Yemen. At the airport God completely confronted the custom officials when they wanted to know what it I had (the cross). I pointed up saying, “Allah.” They smiled and waved us through. Much of this country is like going back in time. The architecture is Arabic and so are the clothes.
Permits were needed to leave of the city of Sana. We got a tour company to provide us with a four-wheel drive truck and an English speaking driver. We set no itinerary. We just said we would move about the country camping out or staying in local hotels. The officials thought the cross was our camping equipment! We first drove a couple of hundred miles out of the city to near the Red Sea. The roads were narrow and the driving insane to put it mildly. Everything is dry and hot.
The following is taken from my diary.
“It was hot, temperature about 120 degrees as I walked through the fabulous, dry, beautiful desert, heading toward the Red Sea. The terrain was going slowly downward and, the ocean came into view far in the distance. It is the Red Sea between Yemen and on the other side is Ethiopia and Djibouti, both of those countries in which I have walked. I sent Denise and the driver up to the next town, not realizing that it would take me several hours to walk there. It seemed nearer than it was. I had one canteen of water, but soon it was gone and it was oh so hot. I had to sit down under a thorn tree twice rest in the little bit of shade that it provided. I’ll never forget sitting, looking out at the heat and praying for the beautiful Glory of God to descend upon the small town and villages that were along the Red Sea in front of me. Trucks and cars that would stop with practically every vehicle offering water and food, cigarettes, rides, and the best hospitality one could imagine. Here with all of these people completely and fundamentally Islamic, they were so friendly and welcoming to the cross and me. Several times, I had to firmly insist that I would walk lest they take the cross and put it on the truck and drive me to town. It was hard for them, even though they had lived in the desert all their lives, to think of someone walking, carrying such a heavy load, through the desert. No one seemed upset at all, but everyone was welcoming.
Just before I got to town, Denise and the driver appeared. I was never so happy to see anyone as she had brought me a couple of cold drinks from one of the stores in the town. I walked on into this village and sat down at a little roadside drink place where they served cold drinks. It was boiling hot in the shade and I was dripping sweat. I felt very dizzy and light headed because I had walked too much in the desert sun. The driver told us that there was a place where we could stay in another village up by the Red Sea. He said it was very beautiful, so we decided to continue on to there. Children came running out to walk along beside the cross. Denise walked with me during this stretch of several miles. There are no paved roads in this area, just sand. The people were coming out from everywhere, under the palm trees, the small little huts along the trail, and through the sands. The carrying of the cross through this area had spread to everybody far and wide. People were shaking my hands, everyone that is, except the women. Women were all about; all of them had their faces and their arms covered, even wearing gloves on their hands. You could see no skin at all, so you had no idea whether the person was young or old. But the women would let Denise approach and give them Jesus stickers.
We finally arrived at one special place along the beach, where beautiful palm trees and palm branches that made an enclosure where there was an open fireplace and straw beds. We were to sleep under the open skies. The driver, Ganim was very excited. The people from the village began arriving. The local doctor and school teachers came. One of the teachers had an English class, so he brought his entire class of boys to practice their English on me. Of course, our subject was Jesus and the crucifixion of Christ and how he had died on the cross for our sins. They were completely full of interest and eager to hear more about the good news of the Gospel. The local doctor was quite fascinating. It seemed that his main remedy for every problem was to chew ‘gat’. Now, gat is a form of drug. It’s a plant that is grown in Yemen and has a narcotic like effect upon those who chew it. You take the leaves and stuff them inside your mouth, chewing one leaf, then another, but not swallowing them, only sucking the juice until the side of the mouth protrudes, like you had swallowed something about half the size of a baseball, pooching out the side of the cheek. The chewing of gat began about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. It is the national pastime of Yemen. It is actually legal inside the country and I would dare say that 95% of the men chew gat everyday. It seems to be quite expensive. So, everyone was chewing gat and trying to get us to chew it. They didn’t view it as a drug; they simply viewed it as their way of life. A man came just before dark. He cooked beans, rice, and fish and we sat under the beautiful moonlight and stars, eating this fabulous Yemen food. It was awfully hot inside the enclosure. There was no way to get a sea breeze.
We moved our little mat beds out by the sea side to blow away the mosquitoes. It was just the greatest. Denise and I lying there under the beautiful sky along the Red Sea, with the cross, in a completely Muslim land. The nation is the home of the Queen of Sheba, a place of absolute fabulous culture. What greater place and more awesome place could we be with the good news of Jesus Christ than in this place tonight. The bed was uncomfortable, but praise the Lord, we did have a place to lay our heads. And, we lay there holding hands, as the water of the Red Sea washed up on the shore. It is so glorious to end the day, tired, sleepy, with a smile, after a long, hard walk, and a long hot walk, and this, the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Hallelujah.
Today was another glorious day in North Yemen. Ganim was so excited about us carrying the cross in the flat desert, then along the Red Sea, that he wanted us to go into the mountains. He said the people in the mountains are different. “These are my people there in the rugged desert mountains of North Yemen.” Many invaders had tried to capture this area and it is almost impenetrable by outside forces. The men in Yemen all have or wear a big crooked dagger that is kept right about where you would put your belt on. These knives are very, very beautiful and really a sign of a Yemen man. The men are allowed to carry guns openly and publicly and these are almost always machine guns. Here in these mountains, it is dry and basically barren until you notice in certain areas in the valleys there is cultivation. In some places there are streams running down from the mountains.
These valleys are very fertile and people are very good farmers, with the land terraced, growing all types of luscious vegetables, and of course this is also where the gat is grown. The people harvest gat and then take I down to sell in the cities. Ganim’s family is from this area. His mother and father, his wife, his children, his aunts and uncles live here.
He said, “They must see you carrying the cross. You must come to my area.” So, we drove in the four-wheel drive vehicle for a day far up into the mountains and when we got to the area where his chief and his family lived, we unloaded the cross and began to walk. Before we could actually take a step, crowds had begun to gather. Vehicles were very few and rare here, and they all heard the vehicle climbing through the mountains, his friends were already gathering. Ganim has now become my interpreter. As we explained about the cross and our trip around the world, Ganim would say, “Show him the pictures, show him the pictures.” And we would have to get out our book where we had all the photographs from around the world and we would share the Gospel. As we walked all day, there were people walking with us. Children would come along. Denise walked with me most of today. Today’s walk was about 17 miles and it was absolutely fabulous. As Denise walked along, Ganim would go ahead and gather the crowds and they would be waiting for us. A few children could speak a few words of English they had learned in school. We taught them all how to say Jesus, and then we would point at the cross and they would point at the cross and say Jesus.
We would sing them songs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” and they would learn these little songs and sing the songs into the village, clapping, singing and laughing. As we would arrive in each small village, everyone would greet us. The women would all stay back in the distance, but the men and the children would be come up to shake our hands and to welcome us into their village. They gave us food and drink and we would give them Jesus stickers with the cross on them and tell them the good news of the love of Christ. Finally, we arrived at Ganim’s house. Everyone in his family was there to greet us. All the neighborhood women were standing back. We expressed our gratitude for bringing us into his home. We went into a large room. There were only cushions around the room with carpets to sit on. You would lean against the cushions. Soon the entire room was filled with men with daggers, all joining us for tea. A man brought in food, put the food on the floor and all the men sat around. You eat with your hands out of common bowls. This was fabulous food and wonderful hospitality. For Denise, it was an unusual experience to be eating in the homes of the Arab people. No place in Yemen did men and women eat together, especially in public or in homes when there were strangers. But they always welcomed Denise to eat, even when we were in public places and only men around. Denise was wearing a scarf that wrapped her head and around her neck. She wore a long dress or she wore long baggy pants when we were walking. After dinner, the chief of the entire area came to greet us. He welcomed us and he welcomed the cross. He wanted to hear the story of the cross and we told him. He sat in deep, deep interest listening, as we explained the good news of Jesus. We did not need an interpreter because he spoke English very well. After we had explained the Gospel, he looked at us and said, “Now, we welcome you. We are happy you have come with the cross and with the news of Jesus. We have never heard this before. We have never had a follower of Jesus in this area. We welcome you and as an expression of our welcome, I want to invite you and your wife this afternoon, to chew gat with us.” I thanked him for the welcome and told him we wanted to give him a little Gospel material and a large Jesus sticker with a cross on it. I explained to him that like Muslims who do not drink alcohol, because they consider it ungodly, and I have a great respect for this. “ I would like you to respect the fact that we do not chew gat and this is a religious conviction of ours. We thank you for the invitation, but I just don’t think that we could handle it.” And he laughed and we laughed. When an Arab offers you something in hospitality, whether it be tea, or something else to drink, water or anything, it is a great humiliation if their offer is not accepted. It is almost an affront. But due to our gracious and loving way of communicating and sharing, he completely understood and was not embarrassed at all. Finally, with the chief waving goodbye to us, we left that village and continued onto the next.
All the people in this area had knives and guns. In one of the homes, they brought out one of their machine guns for Denise to handle. The gun was loaded and I kept urging her to keep it pointed toward the ceiling. We had the most wonderful time.In one area where we were walking today all the children were following along with us. Finally, we arrived in a village and there was a group of men standing by a school house. They were school teachers from Syria and Egypt and they were working teaching school in Yemen. They spoke English perfectly and were so excited to see the cross and to welcome us into their home and they were telling us that in Syria there were churches and that in Egypt there were churches. But in Yemen, there were no churches. They very clearly understood all that we were saying and sharing about Jesus Christ. We had tea with them and long conversations. People filled the room, actually people were standing in the windows, jamming every corner as we spoke and someone would interpret to all the people filling the house. It was just an incredibly beautiful thing, to see these wonderful Yemen people welcoming us and the cross into their homes and into
the area. All day we went from village to village with no problems. People were waiting to see us, wanting to see the cross, wanting to touch to cross. Ganim was beaming. He was so excited. Finally, Ganim said, “I want to walk along with you.” Now, this was radical, unbelievable because he was a very devout Muslim. So, Denise drove the Land Rover on this very narrow, mountainous road along a steep cliff. As Ganim walked, I asked him if he wanted to carry the cross. He said, “Oh, no, it’s fine, I just want to walk along with you and let the people know that I am proud that you are my friend.” We had wonderful conversations and I spoke more and more and told him all about the life of Jesus. Finally, God told me to give Ganim my sunglasses. I wear contact lenses and in the bright sun it is very necessary to wear sunglasses. Also, it is a protection to help keep out the blowing sand. I started to momentarily argue with God and say, “Lord I need these sunglasses to protect my eyes. I’ll give them to him when I finish the trip.” But the Lord said, “Give him your sunglasses”. So, I gave him my good sunglasses and I felt so excited as he put them on. He was the only one in the entire area that had a pair of sunglasses. The altitude is 6,500 feet in the area where we were walking today. The air was thin but the people were so friendly. How happy I am to be here. Denise is so unafraid. She is so courageous and such a blessing. Finally, darkness came in the mountains. Tonight, we have fallen asleep and the peace and Glory, the cross is being carried in Yemen. History in the homeland of the Arab people, the big cross has come for the first time.
Today was one of the greatest walking days of my entire life. Since I was a young kid studying history in Louisiana, I was always fascinated with the city of Aden at the very tip of the Arabian Peninsula. For years Aden was one of the major ports of the world. Ships coming around Africa on the way to India would stop for water. The British had used it as a base and made it into what became the country of South Yemen. After a long and bloody war, the British finally withdrew from Aden and it became the first communist Arab nation, South Yemen. As a matter of fact, it has been the only Arab nation that ever had a hard-line communist government. The Russian fleet and a Russian airbase were also located there. Aden is a beautiful city to look at with most of the buildings having been built by the British. There were churches in Aden but every church building was closed. Many of them boarded up. Inside you could see hymn books still laying in the pews, with dirt and dust, overturned chairs and knocked over pulpits. With tears streaming down my face, I thought how many times the Gospel of Christ had been preached in this city and now all the churches were closed. As we walked with the cross, we saw a tremendous response from the people. Just a few weeks before, South Yemen and North Yemen had agreed to merge into one nation, and with that union came a more market orientated society, so people could now buy and sell.
Going through the city with crowds of people all around, my driver looked at me, reached over and Ganim put his hand on the cross. He said, “Soon our walk will be over. May I please carry the cross?” I looked at him and I said, “You know what it means.” He said, “Yes, but don’t ask me to pray.” I smiled, put the cross on this shoulder and he began proudly walking down the streets.
This was an unbelievable moment. As this Yemen man carried the cross in the land where there are no churches, in a land where everyone professes to be Muslim, he was bearing the cross of Jesus with pride and joy. I watched in silence as people would approach us and began speaking to him. He would say, “Where is the book, the book with the pictures, I must show them.” Then I would bring out the photographs where the cross was all around the world. The people would look and they would be excited. Finally someone would arrive that spoke English so they could try out their English on me. We would stand conversing about the love of Jesus Christ and the joy of bringing the cross to Aden. Finally we reached the seaside, the end of a long, beautiful, glorious time in North and South Yemen. All I can say is God did it. In the midst of the Gulf crisis, with war looming in the Gulf, with people there very supportive of Iraq, and very firmly against the Saudi Arabians, and the American presence in the Gulf, they welcomed the cross of Jesus with love and great respect. All Glory to God.
Pilgrim followers of Jesus
Arthur and Denise Blessitt