The Cross Chapter 11





Arthur-images-18E_Books~TheCross~Cross_Page22~~element93Earlier today I was wet, standing in this city with a wooden cross; crowds were cheering for a hockey team. The cross seemed invisible. The church didn’t want it and the preacher felt uncomfortable. I felt lost in this city. But thank you, Jesus, you were with me! You sent the African man to help my pain, the small woman to bless and strengthen me and that teenage girl to show me why I’m here. So tonight as I walked back in the dark to get my van, I thanked you, Lord and asked you to bless those disinterested people, the church and the preacher. They broke my heart as I saw your cross rejected and ignored, but I pray it made me a bit more like you. You suffered so much and gave yourself for our sins. Yet today, so many missed seeing you and getting to know you. I know your heart must break with the pain. Help me to see the world through your eyes as lost and scattered sheep without a shepherd. You, Lord, are teaching me more about how to be a true pilgrim. May I be to others the blessings these last three people were to me. Show me how to be ignored. Perfect my heart as I live every moment to the fullest. It was you they were ignoring and rejecting, not me.

It’s your cross, not mine.
But you did have the few and they were enough. Keep my heart tender and full of love.

People often ask me, “What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen as you’ve walked with the cross?”
I respond, “People!”
One of the privileges of carrying a cross around the world is meeting all kinds of beautiful people. And just as Jesus related to all people, I have tried to do that myself as I carry his cross.
In our world today, it seems few of us desire or are able to relate to various kinds of people. Some seem comfortable interacting with rich people but not with the poor or homeless. Some like talking about sports with Arthur-images-85others who are into sports, but they’re not as comfortable talking to musicians or artists or dancers.
My goal, as I serve as one of Jesus’ ambassadors to the world, is to relate to all people, to communicate with them and to share the love of God with everyone I come across. That means showing love to a politician even if I disagree with his or her policies. That means sharing coffee and conversation with someone who might be considered a terrorist. I want to tell you about a few of the most memorable encounters I have had with people over the years. Two of these situations involved world-famous people, while the other involved people you have never heard of. But in God’s view, all are equally valued and equally loved.

An Audience with the Pope
In 1969 three wonderful single women, the Dorack sisters, read in a newspaper about the cross and me and began praying for me every day. Ten years later I was scheduled to preach at a Presbyterian church in Santa Monica, California, their hometown. They heard about my speaking and came to meet me. I loved these Catholic women at first sight.
The Dorack sisters then wrote a letter and sent one of my books to their good friend, Father Maloney, saying “why don’t you have Pope John Paul invite Arthur to come with the cross to celebrate ten years of his carrying the cross around the world?” I didn’t know anything about this until I received a letter from Father Maloney extending an invitation on behalf of Pope John Paul II to go to Rome to carry the cross and to meet with the pope on December 19¸1979. I called the Dorack sisters and we praised the Lord together.
I carried the cross from the seaside into Rome and then to Vatican City. What a thrill to carry the cross past St. Peter’s Basilica, considered the largest church in the world, and the Apostolic Palace, which contains the Sistine Chapel with its renowned ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo.
I left the cross at the rear of the Paul VI Audience Hall, where the pope speaks every Wednesday when he is in Rome and was escorted to the front of the auditorium. About twenty people were there that day to personally meet and speak with the pope. Audience Hall was filled with people as John Paul came down the aisle, shaking hands and smiling. After speaking on the subject of marriage, he walked over and visited with about seventy-five children and adults with disabilities. His compassion was beautiful to see. Then he looked at me and walked across the aisle to where I stood. It was an awesome moment.
Two priests were on either side of John Paul and they introduced me to him.
“Oh, yes,” said the Pope, as he smiled and took my hand. “Bless you and thank you for carrying the cross around the world. “Thank you for bringing Christ to the people. God bless you.”
I thanked him for his blessing and shared a bit of my mission of carrying the cross. Then I said, “Now here I am in Rome, the city of St. Peter and St. Paul, after all these years on the road. And I’m so happy to meet you. You have a mighty voice testifying of Christ in our time. We must help everyone understand that it is not form or ritual, but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, through repentance and faith that saves a person.”
“Yes, yes,” replied John Paul. “It’s in the heart that we believe.”
Then I asked the Pope a question. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
He seemed startled and looked deep into my eyes.
“What did you say?” he asked.
Arthur-images-17We were speaking in English and I thought he didn’t understand me so I spoke more slowly. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No one ever asked me that. They always ask me for something.” Then he smiled and said, “Pray for me as you walk to Assisi, the city of St. Francis.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I will pray for you as I walk to Assisi with the cross. And perhaps one day I’ll go to Poland.”
The Pope grinned since Poland was his birthplace. “Poland! Yes, maybe I’ll see you there. I pray you shall go to Poland.”
Then he pulled me toward him and embraced me. As his strong arms wrapped around me, I wrapped my arms around him. Tears filled my eyes as I prayed aloud, “Jesus bless him. God, bless him and protect him.”
“Thank you,” he said as he prepared to leave me and greet some of the others in Audience Hall. “God bless you, watch over you and use you.”
“Thank you,” I said.
As his escorts moved him along, I heard the Pope say to me, “Bless you; bless your cross; bless your mission.”

A Prayer of Salvation with a Future President
I carry a small journal with me wherever I go and every evening I write down what happened that day.
Here’s what I wrote in my Journal on the evening of April 3, 1984:

Midland, Texas
A good and powerful day. Led Vice President Bush’s
son to Jesus today. George Bush Jr.! This is great –
glory to God!

Today we know George W. Bush as the forty-third president of the United States.
I was in Midland preaching at an evangelistic meeting called Decision ’84 at the Chaparral Center. The meetings were broadcast over a local radio station so people not able to attend the meetings could hear what we were saying. One of the people listening in was George W., who asked his longtime friend, Jim Sale to set up a meeting with me to talk about Jesus. Jim is a dear friend of mine and was helping organize the meetings. The next morning the three of us met at the local Holiday Inn.
After shaking hands and exchanging small talk, George W. looked me in the eyes and got right to the point. “Arthur,” he said, “I did not feel comfortable attending the meeting, but I want to talk with you about how to know Jesus Christ and how to follow him.”
I was shocked. Few people I have met over the years are so clear about their spiritual needs and so direct about addressing them.
I whispered a silent prayer: Oh, Jesus, put your words in my mouth and lead him to understand and be saved.
Then I slowly leaned forward, lifted up the Bible and began to speak. “What is your relationship with Jesus?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” George W. responded.

“Let me ask you this question: If you died this moment, do you have the assurance you would go to heaven?”
“No,” he replied.
“Then let me explain to you how you can have that assurance and know that you are saved.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
I then began to share some Bible verses that talk about sin, our need for forgiveness and Jesus’ death for us on the cross so we can know him and be saved. (You can read the verses on your own if you like: Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:8; Romans 6:23; Romans 5:8; Romans 10:13; John 14:6; John 1:43; Mark 8:34; Matthew 11:28; and John 14:27)
“The call of Jesus is for us to repent and believe,” I said. “The choice is like this: Would you rather live with Jesus in your life or live without him?”
“With him.”
“Would you rather spend eternity with Jesus or without him?”
“With Jesus.”
“Mr. Bush, I would like to pray a prayer for you and then lead you in a prayer of commitment and salvation. You can become a follow of Jesus now.”
George W. listened closely the entire time, asking a few questions along the way. It seemed he was ready so I reached my hand to him and said, “I want to pray with you now.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
He held my hand in a firm, but tender grip. Jim also joined hands with us as I prayed that George W. might know Christ and become a true follower of Jesus from that day forth. Then I asked him to repeat a prayer after me, praying with all his heart and considering each word to make it his own. His grip tightened as we prayed together.

“Dear God, I believe in You and I need you in my life,” I said.
He repeated after me, “Dear God, I believe in You and I need you in my life.”
“Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“Lord Jesus, as best as I know how, I want to follow You. Cleanse me from my sins and come into my life as my Savior and Lord.”
“Lord Jesus, as best as I know how, I want to follow You. Cleanse me from my sins and some into my life as my Savior and Lord.”
“I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and desire to be a true believer in and follower of Jesus.”
“I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and desire to be a true believer in and follower of Jesus.”
“Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’ name I pray.”
“Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’ name I pray.”

“There is rejoicing in heaven now!” I said. “You are saved!” Then I shared Jesus’ words from Luke 15:7; “’There (is) more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance’” (NKJV).
The three of us rejoiced together for a moment and then I gave George W. some gospel literature and encouraged him to share with his wife and his friends what had happened. “You need to give your own testimony of what Jesus has done in your life,” I told him.
We talked some more, prayed together and said farewell.
Over the next year or two George W. and I spoke on the phone a time or two. But I did not see him again until 1999 at a campaign fundraiser in Fort Myers, Florida. When I heard he was coming to the area where I was living, I felt led to go meet him again. I paid the required one thousand dollars for admission but thought it was worth the cost to see George W. again in person.
At the event I stood in a line of people who wanted to say hello to the presidential candidate. I was the third person to shake his hand.
“I am Arthur Blessitt,” I said, “we met in Midland…”
George W. interrupted me. “Yes, you carried the cross,” he said pulling me toward him and giving me a big hug.
“Do you remember when we met and talked about Jesus and we prayed together and your invited Jesus into your life?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied as others nearby listened to our conversation.
“I am very proud of you and your testimony for Christ,” I said quietly. “I would like to have a brief prayer with you again.”
“Sure, “George W. said, “I would like that.”
We held hands and prayed together like we had fifteen years before. Then he arranged for a photographer to take a photo of the two of us together. And after he speech, he leaned over some other people to reach out to me. “Arthur,” he said, “God bless you.”
We shook hands and said goodbye.
I have prayed for George W. many times as he went on to become the president of the United States for eight years.

VIPs in God’s Eyes
The pope and the president qualify as very important persons in the eyes of most folks. Three people I met in Montreal, Canada, in 1976 were anything but famous. Nevertheless, these people were VIPs to God – and to me.
The Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley cup and this was the day the city welcomed home its beloved hockey team. Crowds lined the streets, cheering and waving. No one spoke to me as I eased my way with the cross through the masses of people. As I walked on St. Catherine Street through the center of Montreal, the weather grew cold, windy and rainy.
I wanted to leave the cross in a safe location overnight so I approached a large church across from the central city square. Looking inside, I saw a big wooden cross about the same size as the cross I was carrying. When I knocked on the door, a woman opened it. I explained what I was doing and asked if I could leave my cross at the church overnight. The woman turned to the minister to ask, but I could see him shake his head.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but we wouldn’t be able to do that.” She started to close the door.
“Please,” I insisted, “it’s just a cross. I’m not asking for money or anything, just a place to put the cross.”
“We can’t just keep everything people want to leave here,” she said.
”But, it’s a cross!” I said, frustrated and shaking in the cold. I gazed at the tall church steeple, picked up the cross and walked back into the celebrating crowds. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the cross was ignored and rejected.

While I stood waiting for a stoplight to change, a black man tapped me on the shoulder. Speaking with an African accent, he said he remembered seeing me carry the cross in Nairobi, Kenya. Being a follower of Jesus and recalling the big crowds gathered at the cross there, he said he was shocked to see everyone passing it by here in Montreal. The man was on his way to the airport, but he held me in his arms and we prayed together. The love I felt from him encouraged my heart as I continued walking down St. Catherine Street.

After a while I saw a small woman, likely a little person, coming straight toward me. She was wearing an old dress and a torn coat.
“Mister,” she said, “God sent me to lay hands on you and pray for you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, bending toward her.
“I was in my house and God gave me a vision. He showed me a man carrying a cross on the sidewalk. Then he told me to come down to St. Catherine Street and lay hands on this man and bless him. Would you please kneel so I can put my hands on your head?”
Her love was overwhelming. “Ma’am, you sure can lay hands on me,” I said as I got to my knees.
She laid her little hands – hands that were rough and calloused from hard work – on my head and prayed with great power.
“There, now,” she said, I’ve done my job. You keep walking with that cross.”
I stood and looked at her gentle face, which was old in years yet radiant with a love that knows no time. Then I spoke to her. “Well,” I said, “God has told you to come and lay hands on me, now I feel God telling me to give you all the money in my pocket. God told me to give you everything, so here it is.”
She began to weep and told me how much she needed the money for food. We both were crying and paying as she walked away and disappeared into the crowd.

Once again I went on my way. As I entered a residential area near a park, a lovely young girl who looked to be about sixteen years old came rushing up to me. She had long blond hair and deep blue eyes with which she looked straight into my eyes.
“You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “There is a glow around your whole face.” Then she handed me a flower.
I was too amazed to say anything. I put the cross down and leaned against it.
Then she spoke again. “I’m an atheist. What are you doing with that cross?”
I told her my story of carrying the cross and how the people at the church had turned me away from leaving it there overnight.
“Where are you going now?” she asked.
“I need to find a safe place to leave the cross. Then I will go sleep in my van.
“Oh,” she said, “you can leave the cross at our house just around the corner.”
I left the cross in the living room of the girl’s house and walked to my van.
The next morning I drove back to the house to get the cross. The girl gave me breakfast. As I was about to leave, I asked if I could pray for her.
“I know you don’t believe,” I said, “but I do. So let me pray for you. If there is no God, it won’t hurt.”
“Oh, yes,” she said, “last night it felt so good to have the cross in the house. I put a blanket under the cross and slept there. Please do pray for me.”
As we prayed together, she opened her heart to Jesus.

In less than twenty-four hours in Montreal, I had been ignored by uninterested crowds on the streets, rejected by people at a church, comforted by a black man from Kenya, blessed by a little person and welcomed by a young girl who went from atheist to believer! And as I said, while none of these individuals were celebrities, they are loved by God and are on his list – and mine – of very important persons.

All People are God’s People
When Peter spoke to Cornelius and his relatives and close friends, it was the first time the gospel was presented to Gentiles. Peter knew this was a big event, since he said: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35)
If God doesn’t show favoritism, neither should we!
The Lord loves all people. And as difficult as it is to follow this divine example, that is what God wants us to do.
By reaching out to the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, popes and presidents, little people and teenagers, we show God’s love for all people.