1979 - 2002
The double-page headline across the centerfold of Great Britain's largest newspaper, the Daily Mirror, on September 1, 1971, screamed: "ARE YOU LISTENING, JOHN LENNON?" and a smaller headline below a photo of a mass of young people with upraised hands, and alongside a larger photo of me praying with my hands raised, declared, "Suddenly, Jesus Christ is more popular than the Beatles."
I've enjoyed that big story more than most that have been written
because there is another wonderful story behind it. When we had
left New York on the plane the night before, I hadn't known a
single soul in England. A few people in Belfast, from my visit in
the spring, but in England, nobody.
But the next day, I was national headline news! Our arrival in
London was incredible. Only the Lord could bring about such a
God had first told me to carry the cross across America.
Now He was telling me to carry it through Great Britain.
* * *
A few days before our last night in New York we had a rally in Duffy Square. John Smith, a reporter for the London Daily Mirror, came up and asked if he could follow me around and take some photographs. I said it would be okay if he took some pictures there on Jesus Corner. He hung around and after I'd finished preaching, we talked awhile and he asked, "Tell me, are you ever going to come to England?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact," I said, "I'll be over there soon.
"Oh?" he replied, "Do you have your flight and everything?"
"Yes. We'll arrive on September 2 "
He asked for our flight number and arrival time and said his paper might be interested in doing something on us when we got over to England.
"Where are you going to be staying?" he asked.
"Listen," I said, "I don't know even one person in England." Up to this time nobody knew we were planning to go there.
"Well," John said, "okay," and thanked me and left.
I didn't give him any more thought. We took off from New York on September 1. The next day, Heathrow Airport in London was fogged in, so we flew on to Amsterdam where we waited aboard the plane for a few hours until word came that we could now land in London. We were four hours behind schedule.
We were all tired and sleepy as it had been over twenty-four hours since we'd been to bed. It had been a bumpy flight and the children had been sick and vomiting and smelled terrible. All of us, my family, Jim and Cathy McPheeters and Dale and Sandy Larson, were a mess.
We landed at noon at Heathrow. We had a brief prayer and I led our little team out of the plane and into the enclosed walkway. I couldn't believe my eyes!
We were facing a sea of flashing cameras, reporters, and TV newsmen and a huge crowd of people who had been waiting for hours for our arrival! They all surged around us. One lady gave me some flowers and kissed me. Reporters deluged us with questions. What are the Jesus Freaks? Why have you come to England? Where are you staying? Are you going to Belfast again? Where is your cross? The questions came faster than I could answer. I spoke briefly in the airport lobby and we had a prayer meeting right there kneeling on the floor.
God was sending an awakening to England. It was starting right at the airport. I had a great time preaching to newsmen. The team, including the children, was putting Jesus stickers everywhere, all over the reporters and those in the crowd.
It took us awhile to get the suitcases through customs, but as we finished, one of the TV newsmen came up.
"I'll collect your baggage. We want you on 'Nationwide' tonight," he said.
"'Nationwide'? What's that?" I asked.
"It's the largest news program in all of Britain. It's on BBC at six o'clock"
"Oh, we're all so tired. Could we do it tomorrow night?"
"No, no! We want you tonight! And we want you to be on twenty-four hours."
"How many hours?" I gasped.
"Oh," he laughed. "`Twenty-Four Hours'. That's the name of our late night talk show."
The BBC man loaded our luggage into two taxis and soon we were weaving our way through downtown London. At the studio they unloaded everything and us and served us some food. Good old British tea! Then we lay down on the floor and in minutes were all fast asleep.
We were awakened to get ready for the "Nationwide" six o'clock newscast. We were all dirty and unshaven, but they wouldn't let us clean up. They wanted us "as is."
The newscast was quite a show. They had us all sing "God's Not Dead," and then Joel led in a Jesus cheer. During my interview I told the TV audience that we were in England to bring Jesus and His promise of Life, and that we wanted British followers of Jesus to move "out of the staid old buildings and into the streets and house-to-house sharing about Jesus and helping the needy. Jesus called us into the world, not out of it."
I didn't know it then, but Time magazine had just come out with Jesus on the cover of its overseas edition. That, added to the Daily Mirror's big story to its three-and-a-half million readers, plus the incredible two appearances on TV the night of our arrival made for the most miraculous welcome anyone could imagine. We hadn't been there twenty-four hours yet and we were known all over Great Britain!
God took one man who didn't know a single soul in the whole country and introduced him to the entire nation of 65 million people in a matter of hours!
The cross I carried across America in 1969-1970 had broken and the steel holding it together made it too heavy for the walk
around the world. Two people at a time had carried it in the States. But the roads in England and Europe would be too narrow to carry it sideways. I had to make another cross.
I went to a lumberyard in London and stood looking at the pieces of timber. I chose another four-by-four the exact same size as the cross I had in America. I took the wood and made a 12-foot long by six feet wide cross. I put a wheel on it to keep the pavement from wearing the wood away. This has been the cross that I would carry on around the world. The first cross I retired to Los Angeles and this one had become my road companion. I don't know what kind of wood it is made of, but I know the impact of the cross. I know the Christ of the cross and He is not dead.
* * *
Crowds gathered on September 11 at Trafalgar Square to see us off
heading north to Scotland. Much press was there also as I was
unfortunately labeled the leader of the Jesus Movement. Of course,
Jesus is the real leader.
The people of England were very warm in response to the walk. Almost
every meeting we preached had an overflow of crowds but along the
roads the people would only gather in ones or twos to talk.
We went through the traffic jammed streets of London up through the
Midlands beyond Nottingham, through Chesterfield, Sheffield and into
the coal smoke shrouds of Leeds steel-manufacturing center.
Jim McPheeters and Dale Larsen walked with me and helped carry the cross. They were on my staff at His Place in Hollywood, California. Jim had walked with me across America in 1969 and 70'. They were a great strength and powerful witness for Jesus.
The narrow roads lined with hedges were dangerous to walk except on some
roads there was a footpath. There were ancient towns mixed with modern
architecture. All along the way I saw many churches boarded up or turned
into barns and even nightclubs. Day after day we would stop to pray beside
some abandoned church. How sad, because people of faith had built them now only to fall empty from non-use. There is no shortage of people. We had a camper truck with a trailer that we all lived in. The women would drive ahead and Jim, Dale and I would walk. Britain has great beauty. We moved into very hilly country north of Leeds then along the seaside of the North Sea along Highway 1 to Scotland.
* * *
We took a train back to London where I spoke at a huge gathering called the 'Nationwide Festival of Light' in Hyde Park, London with about 70,000 people. It was Saturday September 25th and was an awesome event. After I was the last speaker and I closed by leading the crowd in singing “the Lord's Prayer'. People were weeping and praising God. What a welcome to England.
Two friends were accompanying me as I carried the cross along the road as a news reporter and photographer stopped me. They wanted to do an interview and after the interview the photographer wanted to take a photograph. He said, "Would you please stand with your cross and two disciples on either side?" " Oh, they aren't my disciples," I said. "They are the Lord's." "Oh, pardon me," he said with his British accent. "Would you have your two lords stand on either side of you!' ha.