1976 – 2000 – 2001
I am sorry but I have somehow lost all but one photo of the cross walk in Australia in 1976. I do have photos of the other trips below. I took three photos from faded newspaper clippings. Forgive the poor quality but the story of the walks is powerful.
1976: The island continent of Australia is often referred to as ‘Down Under’ yet when you are there, it’s the other world that seems down under. This land has such a vast outback it attracts the truly rugged independent type person. I found great welcome among these people who were always stopping along the roadsides to check on me, or drop off food and drinks.
Australia has wide-open spaces, fabulous ocean water, and splendid cities and one of the highest qualities of life of any nation.
Getting the cross through customs presented a problem!
“What’s that you’ve got?” the customs inspector asked, knocking on the wood.
“It’s a cross.”
“Is it wood?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Where have you been with it?”
“Well, I’ve been carrying it around the world. See all those newsmen out there? They’re waiting for me.”
“We have to quarantine wood products coming into Australia. Don’t want to let any plant diseases in.”
He called the chief inspector and after a few minutes he came back shaking his head.
“Sorry, we’ll have to quarantine your cross.”
My motto is: If ever in doubt, preach . “Listen, Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood and rose again and He’s alive today. God loves you, is the message, I’ve seen thousands of people saved who’ve given their hearts to Jesus at the foot of this cross. Should you impound it and keep it in customs here, every time you look up at it you’re going to get under conviction. You’ll remember that Jesus died for you and wants to save you, too. You’ll have a revival in this office before this cross gets out of here, and God’s gonna get you!”
The man looked at me anxiously and said, “Well, uh … that’s okay, you just take it on in.” And he waved us through!
* * *
We bought a car and a caravan (camping trailer) to live in and began carrying the cross at George Square in Brisbane. With me were my children; Gina, Joel, Joy, Joshua and Joseph. Australians could be very friendly but on the street they were a bit reserved. Along the highway cars and trucks were always stopping with food, drinks and to ask questions.
Surprisingly, it was one of the toughest, most grueling walks I’ve ever done. Australia’s roads are smoothly paved and well kept. But the roadsides where I had to walk were bad. The paved part of the road is narrow, with wide, rock-covered sides. The rocks are big – not boulders, but the size of golf balls. Walking on them mile after mile, all day long, was torture. Australia, in this respect, was harder even than Africa. Australians have big screens in front of the windshields of their cars to guard against the rocks being hurled through the glass by passing cars. Broken windshields are common. Australia’s good roads are hard on everybody, particularly walkers like me.
I carried the cross along Highway #1 on the east coast part of the famous Gold Coast, Newcastle, Sydney to the capital Canberra and on to Melbourne.
I preached in some wonderful churches in Australia. So many homes were open and great love poured out to us. All Glory to God.
There were many people who stopped to talk, pray and to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. Australians love travel and adventure. The walk fit their interests. But the cross was a bit of a problem. Ha. Many would ask about the trip around the world and try to ignore what I was carrying but of course I would always get to the greatest thing about the walk…Jesus! And the Cross!
I had some wonderful encounters with the wild animals of Australia. Truly do love the koalas.
I will never forget arriving in Sydney on a cold rainy day. I needed a place to leave the cross in downtown that night. I went into the huge downtown Cathedral on the main street. It took a while getting through to staff but a last got to the minister and he was not happy that the cross was there. He questioned me like I was a criminal or religious nut. The answer was, ‘No’ the cross could not be left overnight at the church. I left feeling a bit like Jesus when He twice drove the moneychangers and others out of the Temple in Jerusalem. I kept a sweet spirit and responded only in love and kindness. I walked outside saw a bar. I left the cross at the door and asked if I could leave it overnight. “Bring it on in!” the bartender shouted! My cross rested peacefully in the bar overnight. The bartender even came back at 7:00 am to open the bar so I could get the cross out. This true story has some powerful points but I’ll just let speak for its self.
James Kelly ran a massage parlor called “The Gentle Touch” in Melbourne’s Saint Kilda Road area. Newspapers called it one of the most exclusive among the city’s estimated 120 such parlors. Tastefully furnished with antiques and subtle lighting, The Gentle Touch employed about twenty girls and catered primarily to businessmen and apparently offered much more than massages.
The moment I saw the sign out front, with a man and woman sitting together in a tub with soap bubbles floating in the air, I knew that this was a place in which Robin Kerr and I must witness.
Robin, a student from the Baptist Bible College in Brisbane, had come to Melbourne to train in Christian outreach and work with me for two weeks. My walk with the cross in Australia included spending many evenings witnessing to people in bars and nightclubs. Robin and I would spend hours in the Saint Kilda Road area, presenting the gospel, sharing Christ, bringing dancers and patrons to the Lord.
Melbourne is like many cities of the world, having an area zoned for different types of businesses: a certain area for regular businesses, another for all the nightclubs, and another for houses of prostitution.
The night we found The Gentle Touch I had said to Robin, “Let’s go down to the massage parlor area. We ought to spread the gospel there, too.” Robin was all for it, but as we stood in front of the sign and I suggested we go in, he wasn’t so sure. But he finally agreed, so I knocked on the door.
A scantily clad girl answered in a sultry voice and invited us in. We walked into the dimly lighted lounge at about eleven o’clock at night and the place was packed. Every chair had a man in it waiting for his “bath.” No girls were around; they were all busy in the back somewhere.
I’d had my Bible in my hand as we entered, but the girl hadn’t noticed. Her eyebrows went up as I brought it into sight and took out my red Jesus stickers and started handing them around to all the men in the room.
Each time I gave one out I explained, “You see what it says, sir. ‘Turn on to Jesus.’ or ‘Smile, God loves you.’ You know what that means, sir? It means that God loves and wants you to understand what He did by sending His Son Jesus to die on Calvary for our sins. And we’ve come to share with you about Jesus.”
I had a lot of nervous men on my hands in just a few minutes. They fidgeted and didn’t know which way to turn.
Suddenly a side door opened and Jim Kelly stepped out. “Wha’s goin’ on in here?” He said to us, disgruntled.
He was a funny sight. He didn’t have a tooth in his head. A short little man, Kelly had false teeth but he didn’t like to wear them, so during his working hours when he wasn’t busy with people, he’d take them out for comfort.
He was frowning at us, when I stepped up to him and said, “Well, I’m a preacher and I’m here just sharing about the Lord.”
“Ge’ ou’ a here,” He motioned for us to leave, his toothless mouth slurring his words. But he made it clear that he didn’t want any part of us in his establishment.
“Sir,” I said, “we didn’t mean to upset you. We just wanted to share the Lord with you.”
It was really funny. Here was Kelly and all these men sitting around with stickers either on their fingers of their lapels or somewhere. You see, I always peel the backing off the stickers when I give them out, so that when people get them, they’re really, literally stuck with them. “Would you like to have a Jesus sticker?” I asked Kelly. He stared around at all these men trying to do something with the sticky stickers. “Ge’ ou’a here!” he shouted. And he went around pulling all the stickers off everybody.
I began to explain to him who I was, and that I’d been carrying the cross through Australia, had been on TV and in the papers. “I don’ ha’ time for all uh that,” Kelly yelled and motioned even more sternly toward the front door. Well, we started moving. As I left I told Kelly I thought he had a great sense of humor and that I was going to prove to him that I was who and what I said. I told him I’d bring the cross back about ten o’clock the next night. The next night we were back, me with the cross and Robin with more stickers. I knocked and the young lady answered. “Good evening, sir, come right in,” she said and came to an abrupt stop as I stepped through the door with the cross over my shoulder. “Just a minute, sir, just, minute,” she said, and disappeared. In a minute Kelly showed up. “Wha’s goin’ on ou’ here? Oh it’s you again.”
“Yes, I told you we’d be back tonight.” And he bent forward and peered at the cross. “Thay, tha’ is a cross, isn’ it? Well, bring it righ’ on in.”
He ushered me into the living room and introduced me to everyone in the room, customers and girls alike. “Thay, ” he says. “Yuh go’ any more of them s’ickers?”
I handed him a roll and he passed them around, telling everyone, “Here, take one of ‘ese… Here, ha’ one. Here….”
Soon the girls began coming out of the back rooms, wringing wet, with towels draped around them. Somebody had told them there was some guy out front with a cross. They had to see it to believe it. After a few minutes, Kelly waved at Robin and me. “Okay, tha’s enough. Ge’ ou’ a here. Go on. Ou’ the door!” And he backed me out the door. Which wasn’t easy. The cross was so big I couldn’t turn around, and I had to inch my way back.
Once I was outside though, Kelly shut the door and he and I stood out in the parking lot for an hour while I shared Jesus with him.
I learned that besides the massage parlor, Kelly was involved in a lot of the other questionable activities. Betting on the horses is legal in Australia, and Kelly was heavily into it. I never learned for certain if Kelly was involved with any of the organized crime which newspapers said controlled perhaps 15 to 20 percent of Melbourne’s massage parlors, but he was certainly a part of the city’s steamy side.
Kelly was extremely interested in all I had to say about Christ. He made a strange combination. So involved with the flesh yet so interested in the Spirit. He liked to run his massage parlor himself but he would spend hours with me talking about Jesus.
I told him, “Before we leave Australia I want to see you saved and let me baptize you in one of those bubble baths.” As we left, I urged him again to come to Christ, but he still held off. He was so close, but yet so far away. But if he hadn’t come to love Christ enough in his heart to receive Him as his Savior, he certainly loved us. .
“Arthur,” he said as we left, “Be sure to phone me from wherever you are in the world, long distance, collect, every three months. And we can talk for an hour or however long we want. I want to follow you on your walk. I’m interested in what you’re doing.” And I promised. We said goodbye and we left during the Christmas holidays. Once more I urged him to receive Jesus and I pray that he did, because while we were still in Southeast Asia I heard about the tragedy.
Melbourne’s newspapers on January 20, 1977, told the story in bold headlines: “Hired Gun Hits Parlor Man.”
The stories detailed Jim Kelly’s murder. An unknown assassin gunned him down at close range as Kelly left his home in Melbourne’s fashionable Kew district on Mary Street early on the morning of January 19. Four bullets passed through a screen door and hit him in the face and chest.
One of the most precious photos I have is of Jim, Robin, my son Joshua and me taken on December 26, 1976, the last time I saw Kelly alive.
I returned to Australia to preach and teach at large rallies and churches in the fall of 1979. This was truly a powerful time as thousands were trained in witnessing and then we would carry the cross into the streets and lead the people out in witnessing to others. We saw many churches leading their people out to share Jesus with others.
A friend, Jerry Swanson, from California was with me on this mission. We were in the cities of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. This was one of the spearheads of outreach evangelism in the nation. Many in these meetings and many of the churches involved in the meeting have gone on to lead out in evangelism and church growth in the years since then.
Australia December 2000 – February 2001
My wife and I went to Australia in December 2000. We carried the cross in Perth but went out from Australia to the Australian Island Groups such as Christmas Island and Norfolk Island and etc. The islands visited are listed under their own island name in my list of nations and island groups. You can read the reports and see the photos there.
During our cross walk in Darwin along the sea front the Aborigines were so welcoming of the cross. A group of men wanted to sing us songs about Jesus. I will never forget that music. They all prayed with us. We found another group in the forest where they were living. They welcomed us with great love and joy.
Denise was able to hold and pet a real live Koala in Australia. She had such a great time there too.
God bless Australia!
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt