Arthur Blessitt and the cross at Bronzal Pass at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan Arthur and Denise Blessitt in the mountains.
“A Walk Back in Time”
There was a time when people ate the food they planted and harvested;
when the family drank the milk they milked by hand from their own goats or cows,
made their own cheese and yogurt; when water came from the well or stream,
when foot or donkey was the means of transportation,
when open fire was used to cook and heat
when one’s word was one’s bond, kindness was for all and the stranger had a home when they arrived
Arthur and Denise Blessitt at Khyber Pass.
Well, I found this place in August – September 1997. The following is a true story a bit like from the pages of the Bible centuries ago. Denise and I arrived in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan . We went by car to the historic Khyber Pass, the main overland passage from Pakistan to Afghanistan. This heavily armed area was not open for us to cross. Our ultimate mission was to carry the cross there so we continued on in a plan God gave and only He could work out. We went to a remote part of Pakistan. We flew on a turbo jet to the ancient kingdom of Chitral. Chitral lies in a valley along the Kunar River flowing from the huge mountain Tirich Mir at 25,288 feet high, one of the highest mountains on earth. It was beside that mountain that we would make our climb into Afghanistan!
At the airport in Chitral I saw a bright smiling face and ‘knew’ it must be our guide, it was! There we met Syed who was to become my dear brother. He, Denise and I had a heart to heart talk as I explained my mission from God to give my life to carry the cross in every nation before the year 2000. We would climb and cross a high pass into Afghanistan. This sounded good to me but we did not bring any cold weather clothes and supplies. Then early in the morning Denise and I set off with Syed and a driver and a 4×4 jeep truck.
The climb was about 4 hours up and up on narrow stone roads cut out of cliffs with no guard rails, often wide enough for only one vehicle with just sheer drops of hundreds of feet into a raging river! We drove up the a valley in a winding loop toward Afghanistan. At a village we stopped, got out of the jeep and walked on the narrow paths of the village to a home where we sat in the garden under a tree. The children and women gathered about Denise as they were so excited to see her. We were served hot tea and dried apricot seeds. That, plus bread was to be our diet for days. We left after an hour and drove to the end of the road. There, we unloaded our gear and I took the cross out of the bag and bolted it together.
Now the true drama began, as the 12 by 6 foot cross was a sight to behold. Our two porters joined us there. With the two porters carrying the gear, Syed leading the way, Denise in hat and walking boots in front of me I followed them ecstatic with joy to at last get the cross on the ground and carry it for Jesus. The huge mountain loomed ahead of us in awesome splendor.
We had begun in Chitral at an altitude 4,000 feet and now began the walk at about 9,000 feet. We climbed along a narrow cliff, crossing a stream and across a rope and stone bridge. We continued along a path through wheat and corn fields and finally to the ‘last village’ beyond the road’s end and the last village on the Pakistan side. About 500 hundred people live there in clay, stone and wooden houses. As we walked down the paths people joined us. We went in a home to drink hot tea
There was a narrow steep canyon off to our right and that was the way to the top. The donkey could not walk this so they left him with the women until we returned. After a hard and dangerous climb along a steep cliff Denise realized she had to stay in the valley. With tears we kissed, it was to be our first night apart since we were married 7 1/2 years ago! But it would be daytime in America as night fell here, so really it would be only one long, long day! Ha! Syed went back with Denise and left one man to help her. They put up a tent and Syed hurried back to join me as the porters and I climbed on.
The cross where we spent the night
The cross carried over a glacier
Before we started up the cliff from the valley we had to unbolt the cross and carry it in the three 6 foot pieces. One of the porters carried it and my backpack. The way grew steep, narrower and more rugged. It was now truly a climb! My heart was missing Denise, my love, as I climbed on pausing to look back at the vanishing valley where she was now camped. Just before dark I put on four shirts, a light jacket, rain coat and rain pants over my blue jeans. The cold wind was penetrating to the bone as I shook. We found a place to camp, a stone hut about 4 feet high and 8 feet long. There was a place to build a fire but the smoke choked us so badly that Syed removed a stone to make a hole for the smoke to escape. We ate roasted corn, wheat bread and apricot seeds. Syed and I tried to sleep inside, while our two porters slept in a half moon sort of protected rock pile outside. I could not sleep as the rock bed was extremely uncomfortable with the cold wind blowing it made my neck cold. However, the night sky at 13,500 feet was clear and star-filled. I could see through the open doorway and the hole in the roof the glory of God’s heavenly creation. The painful rocky bed did not keep my soul from rising above the discomfort to visit with God through the splendor of the night.
Next Day ‘To the top’
Up at 4.45 a.m. and off walking as soon as we had our hot tea, bread and apricot seeds. The climb moved from very tough! to extremely difficult! to almost impossible! to only Jesus can get me to the top!!! I must truly declare I did not carry the cross to the top or back down, the two unbelievably tough porters did, plus all the equipment!! Syed and I could barely carry ourselves. Sometimes the steep climb was over huge rugged boulders and at others flat rocks that slid when you stepped on them and avalanched down the cliff. Then we would reach a stretch of small rocks that rolled under our feet. One slip could result in terrible injury or death. The way was tough. We ran out of water and tried to melt ice but with nothing to burn, melting it proved almost impossible although we did get a little to drink. There, before my eyes as we topped a rise, was a breathtaking glacier of ice and snow. The way we were going was cut by a massive glacier now in melting retreat. There was no other way … we must walk across it! Up and beyond was the rocky pass, the summit. Syed went ahead to check things out. This glacier has covered these mountains for thousands of years and is slowly melting, especially underneath. We had no ropes or supplies – only God. One of the porters walked onto the glacier slowly, slowly on and on then he was across. The other porter did the same followed by me stepping into their steps. Had the snow and ice given way we would have fallen deep into a canyon with no way out. We had to cross two different parts of the glacier.
The oxygen gets less and less as one goes up. Syed taught me to take slow small steps. At one point I was so exhausted I said to God, “I’m too tired, too exhausted to pray, I can’t even think clearly, only you can get me up there! You know all my needs, everything, I’ll just repeat the name of Jesus and you take care of me! You can give me pure oxygen!” God did, I do believe because I did not have a headache, or felt nauseated, only once in a while I’d have a wave of nausea but it would go away in a minute or two! Now the push to the top – sliding, stumbling, struggling …in Jesus name I made it!
The cross made it! On top of the world – Bronzal Pass at 18,200 feet! All glory to God!
The cross at 18,200 feet high on Bronzal Pass. We hugged, smiled, slapped each others backs and raised our hands in triumph! I quickly lay out the 3 pieces of the cross and bolted it together. I could carry the cross into Afghanistan now. The pass at the summit is actually only a few feet long and perhaps two feet wide; then it drops sharply into a steep rocky slope down on both sides hundreds of feet! The east side was looking down on Pakistan and the beautiful glaciers below. The west side was Afghanistan with a stunning view of another glacier down below. I have never seen a more beautiful 360 degrees view in the entire world. With the men helping me with the cross in case I got blown over by the cold wild wind I made the walk over the pass and down into Afghanistan!!! It was glorious! We went a short way in the crumbling rock. I did not want to go very far as I did not know how long it would take me to get back to the top! Ha. It was so steep I had to have help to push and pull me and the cross back to the top. We took photos. This was difficult as the cross would almost pull us down the steep incline. We sat and I showed the 8×10 photos of the cross around the world that I kept in a plastic folder. They saw the photos of me with people like Yasser Arafat, Mohmar Ghadafi, Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham and Boutrous Ghali. Then I explained the message of Jesus and His death on the cross. I lay face down on the ground at the top, laying in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and prayed. I prayed for peace, the blessings of God and love to fill every heart. Also for the salvation of Jesus to be received. I looked each of my helpers in the eye and prayed for them and their families. Tears poured from my eyes. Oh how I love them. They are Muslim men, who helped take the cross to the top. They put their lives in danger, faced death and never complained. These are real men. My brothers! They all wanted individual photos of themselves carrying the cross on top.
I’ll never forget what Syed told me when I was thanking him. He said “It’s my moral responsibility” I said “What do you mean?” He replied “You are on a mission from God to carry the cross in every nation, it’s my ‘moral responsibility’ to help you accomplish this for God! I gave my word, I would never consider changing it!” What a man. I could only weep.
We were a sight to behold. We looked tough, rugged and mean except for our smiles. I think any bandits or fighters might have run from us! Ha. This was another world cross walk record – the highest the 12 foot cross has been carried. We arrived at 1:30 p.m. after about 8 hours of climbing. Now the trip down! We left at 2:30pm after we unbolted the cross, strapped it together. With the porters carrying the cross and gear we began the most dangerous part of the climb! The weight pushes down heavily on the sliding rocks. It’s so easy to fall and slide into a hole or down a cliff. As we descended my legs got weak and like rubber. Often the porters had to help support me from sliding down. Each step was filled with danger, but we went down faster than going up. At approximately 5:30pm we made it back to where we had spent the night, had some tea and pressed on down to where Denise would be waiting. Just before it was dark I saw Denise waving in the valley below. I literally fell into her loving arms just at dark! We went to her tent and I sat down. Syed and the porters set up their tent in the darkness. We had gone up and back in one day. They said ‘it’s unbelievable’ that a person like me, not acclimatized and not a mountain trekker could have down this. I said I could not believe ‘they’ could do it with all the baggage and the cross! Denise told me of the lovely time she had spent with the shepherd women. Her guard had slept outside with his blanket directly in front of her tent and guarded the zippered door! Oh, how wonderful to fall asleep beside my glorious wife Denise. Oh how I love her. We fell asleep thanking God for His great mercy, grace and safety.
Awake in the cold but with Denise, Praise God. We got up, already dressed! I went to meet Denise’s lady friends, who even though they spoke no English came to know each other well. We crawled through their door and entered their one room stone house, sat down and drank tea. Denise gave them everything she did not absolutely need to get back to the U.S. All the women and children cam
The cross where we spent the night
The cross carried over a glacier
When we awoke that morning, for the first time on the trip turned on the radio and heard on the BBC World Service that Diana, Princess of Wales was dead – we were shocked and Denise deeply grieved and tearful. Diana had been killed days before. Denise is English so the news was very sad. With Denise once again riding the donkey we set off down the valley. First it was green grass by the stream, then corn fields in small patches in the canyon and then wheat in areas where it was wide enough to plant a small field. There, we walked the trail along sharp steep cliffs and over raging waters twice by rope and stone walk-way bridges. By mid-day we had made it back to the village where we had spent the first night. We went for tea in the house where we had slept. Most of the villagers were in the fields but almost all who happened to be in the village came to greet us.
The cross in the valley. I was exhausted as we sat sipping tea and eating bread with yogurt. The doorway to this one room home was jammed with people looking at us. Then in through the crowd came the man who had been sick with the possible heart attack totally healed! Everyone knew in the village that he was well!! He was smiling and happy with good color in his face. I told him with Syed interpreting to thank God and that Jesus did it! It was so profound for this village to see one of their own healed as a cross carrying follower of Jesus prayed for him. The crowd watched our every move as we ate. The bread is always served by a person holding it out to another, you break off a piece and then serve it back to that person. It’s like a bond of friendship. The man in whose home we had slept and was now eating arrived. It was explained to me that he had a blockage in his esophagus and could not eat or drink without regurgitating and he wanted prayer. I prayed for him as he sat on the floor and asked how he felt and he said the same. I then asked him to drink some water from a bowl. He hesitated but I told him to go ahead. He turned it up and drank it all! Breaking into a huge smile with everyone amazed. I tried to explain that Jesus did it but Syed did not translate much, only a few words. But I taught him Jesus in English. A crowd followed us to the edge of the village as we walked on.
We arrived at the narrow road where we had left the jeep. Then began the long drive back to Chitral where we arrived just before dark. Exhausted and dirty the guest house seemed like paradise but Denise and my hearts were still in the mountains with the beautiful people. Clean and refreshed we fell into bed praising the Lord!
This was a day of awesome glory. I should say that the men I spoke with today could speak good English with no need for an interpreter. After breakfast Syed came and we had a long talk about our trip, God and Jesus. He is so wonderful. We have a powerful bond in God’s love. Another man came to see me, a leader in the area, then several other prominent men also. Our discussion was the need of people for a ‘pure heart’ with correct motivations and no hypocrisy, but a real love for God and others and how to truly worship God. We talked for 2 1/2 hours. No arguments, just heart to heart seeking of how to know God. It was beautiful! At noon the a man, who is an unofficial leader of the people, arrived.
Arthur Blessitt with a honorable friend.I will never forget his first question. “What is the real meaning behind what you do? I’ve heard of your historic cross walk, tell me why?” We were sitting in two chairs facing each other, I looked at him and replied, “I don’t know so much about Islam but in America we have churches everywhere – most have a cross somewhere, it’s up on the steeple or on the wall, beautiful, perhaps gold. Jesus spoke to me in 1969 to take the cross off the wall of my building in Hollywood, California and put it on my shoulder and carry it on foot across America and now on around the world, to identify the message of Jesus with the people. To say Jesus is not on the wall, God is not just up there, He wants to be with the people! We can have the presence of God in us . We can know Him. He cares, He loves us.” “Yes,” he interrupted. “I have always believed that like a father has children he wants to talk to them, love them, be with them and teach them. God is much greater than a man – surely God too wants to be with His children, talking to them, loving them.”
I talked about how ‘pure’ Jesus was and His truth and way so clear, revolutionary and refreshing. Then as time went on, Constantine, the Emperor of Rome converted to ‘Christianity’ and declared all of Rome ‘Christian’ but hearts were not necessarily changed. Buildings were now built, they had to be defended and Christianity became a religion with buildings, organizations, hierarchy and wealth. Now about 2,000 years later ‘Christianity’ looks little like the wandering Jesus of Nazareth preaching and teaching in the houses and fields. Or the early disciples of His going in love, teaching and preaching in awesome power. “Yes, Yes, he said just like in Islam. After Mohammed we began to do the same. We need ‘pure hearts’ I’ve always felt we could pray anywhere, not just in a building.” He and I talked along the same theme as I did with the other men. We talked for a couple of hours. He is a wise, well traveled and educated man and my friend.
Denise and I took a short nap and she woke me sick and with a high fever. I got ice and a local doctor came and gave her medicines. I prayed for her but her fever got worse until the doctor came. Syed arrived with two of his children. They presented Denise with a gorgeous coat, the kind Chitral had presented to Diana, Princess of Wales when she visited a couple of years before! They also gave me a coat with a red cross embroidered on the chest with a Chitral hat. We were greatly honored. We went out on the lovely balcony with Mount Tirich Mir in the background to take photos in our Chitral dress.
Men were waiting there to talk! We took photos with many leading men and their children! I talked for hours with prominent men of the area about Jesus, God and ‘pure hearts’. Some of these men were experts in administering Islamic law in the area. We had the most enriching and profound talk. One of the leaders had a brother who had been ill for 5 years. I was asked to have prayer with him before going to bed. I led him in a prayer asking Jesus to please heal him. Denise went back to bed feeling a little better, her temperature reached about 102 degrees but was now coming down. I was exhausted from the walk and a day of almost constant talking but the ‘glory of God’ was beyond words and I marveled at the wisdom He gave me and how beautiful these men’s hearts were.
We’ve been in the Chitral area now eight days, but seems like a life-time. We came down for breakfast and there was a crowd waiting for us. The man sick for 5 years was completely well! It was dramatic. More talking and meeting leaders and then I was led to a room with women, they needed prayer too! With one of the ladies’ son interpreting, Denise and I prayed for them. They were so lovely.
We left for the airport at 10:00 a.m. Everyone working in the guest house came to the airport with us as we said goodbye in tears and hugs. We were leaving behind ‘family’. The air traffic controller came, took us to the VIP lounge and wanted prayer. Everywhere we went people were shaking our hands saying “We’ve heard all about you!” Everyone honoring us. It was difficult to comprehend. “How do they know?” I asked Syed. “Oh, everyone talks here, word spreads fast, there are no secrets!” Denise, Syed and I had a private time in the VIP Lounge too holy to speak of. He and I wept in each others arms and I carry my brother with me always. The propeller turbo jet flew out and we left in the flesh but not our hearts. The wonderful people, the family of love we knew! Oh God bless them in every way.
We flew to Peshawar and then by car to Islamabad and on back to New York. Jesus did it. We carried the cross in Afghanistan and Pakistan! There is a way – all glory to God. The people were warm and welcoming to us and the cross in every way. There is no barrier to ‘love’. Sincere people everywhere, in all religions are seeking a ‘pure heart’ and the real presence of God and are sick of professional, hypocritical, commercialized religion.
Through the giving of His Holy and perfect life on the cross for our sins and His resurrection by the Father, Jesus is able to cleanse us from our sins and fill us with the ‘Holy Spirit’. Thus we can come to know God personally through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God bless the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.. I received an e-mail from Syed and among other things he said, “All those people for whom you had prayed are perfectly OK.” Oh how I love that man, my brother. Denise and I will never forget Syed’s words as we were trying to get up the mountain.
“It’s only a challenge!”
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt