1. A WALK IN THE PAST
After many perilous walks, my mind often goes back to my early commitment to Christ and the later call to carry the cross.
I’ve had the most wonderful mother and father. I was born in Greenville, Mississippi, on October 27, 1940. My dad was in the Air Force when I was born. He had been managing a cotton plantation near Greenville before he was called into service. We were living in California when World War II broke out and my dad immediately went overseas. It would be four years before dad would return. He was stationed throughout the South Pacific and he came home a Captain. We lived in Port Niches, Texas, then New Orleans, Louisiana, Cleveland, Mississippi and then moved to West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, where we lived during most of the years I was growing up. My father had a serious drinking problem. It was very difficult for him to stop if he started, but he was one of the most wonderful and beautiful men anyone could ever know. I never saw my mother lose her temper or get angry in all the years I lived at home. She is the most Christ-like woman I have ever known.
We lived on a cotton plantation and then moved to the swamps and had a saw mill, where we sawed timber and farmed. When I was seven years old we went to a brush arbor revival meeting outside of the Good Will Baptist Church. There were poles that were sticking up and limbs lying over the top and there was a traveling evangelist preaching. We went to the meeting in our big truck and during the invitation I felt Jesus calling me to give Him my life. It was the first time that I felt I was lost and needed Christ to come into my heart, and I wanted to receive Him.
My wonderful mother held my shirt and wouldn’t let me go, saying, “You’re too young!” She said I had been squirming around all during the service and she didn’t even think I was listening. She said, “It is very serious.” “I know,” I said. “I want to give my life to Jesus.”
We were driving home and I kept pleading with mother and dad, telling them I wanted to give my life to Jesus. Dad turned the truck around in the middle of the road and drove back. All the lights were out except one light in the dirt parking lot, and there was the evangelist and the pastor talking to a lady. We went over to them and my dad said, “My son wants to give his life to Jesus.”
I was standing there in Big Mac overalls and the evangelist got down on his knees. He explained that I could let Jesus come into my heart and be my Savior. I knelt down and invited Christ to live within my heart, to forgive my sins and save my soul, and I knew that He did. I didn’t cry, I didn’t shout. I just knew Jesus was with me.
I began passing out gospel tracts in the bars where my father would sometimes be drinking. We experienced many things during those years. I’d listen for hours as people would talk in the bars, what they were talking about, what they were thinking about. One night when I was 13 years old, my dad came home drunk in the middle of the night. He said, “Son, get the Bible.” I got the Bible and mother and I gathered around him. We knelt on our knees beside the couch and dad said, “I can’t make it on my own. I’ve tried to quit. I’m giving it all to Jesus. We are going to have Bible reading and prayer in our home every night and I want Jesus to take control of my life and my home.” And my dad got up a brand new man, and he and I went back to many bars where he had once drank and we shared about Jesus to the men who were in there.
Lying in my room when I was 15 years old I felt the call of Jesus Christ to give my life to preach the gospel. I said to mother and dad, “Jesus is calling me to preach, but I don’t think I can.”
“Son,” Mother said. “If God wants you to preach, He will give you the strength to do it. If He doesn’t, then you need to do something else, whatever He tells you to do.”
The next night, lying in my bed, I gave my life to Jesus Christ to preach, and I have never had a desire to do anything else since. When I made the commitment to preach I felt the glory of God, and I went sound asleep. I was asleep within five minutes after making the commitment. The next Sunday I went forward in church and made my commitment public. My dad came to me after the meeting and said, “Son, I want to pray for you. When I was a young man, God called me to preach but I didn’t do it, and it is part of the reason my life has had so much unhappiness at times. It was because I was supposed to be preaching but never did, and I want God to give you a double portion of His Spirit to make up for what I didn’t do.”
About a week later, my Granddad Campbell got in touch with me. Granddad Campbell is my mother’s father. He also had a farm, but it was located in Mississippi. I went over to visit him. He took me in his pickup truck and we drove to the far side of a field to a place where there was a small patch of woods and there was cotton and corn growing. He said, “Son, let’s get out of the pickup.”
We walked out to the edge of the field and woods and he said, “Grandson, get down on your knees. I want to lay hands on you and pray for you. When I was a young man I felt God call me to preach but I didn’t do it, and I want to pray that God will give you a double portion of His Spirit to make up for what I didn’t do.”
“Granddad,” I said. “You’ve got to pray for me three times as much, for daddy didn’t do it either!”
After committing my life to preach, I preached my first sermon when I was 15 years old. Then I went to Mississippi College in Clinton. The Lord led me to Anaconda, Montana, to spend six months beginning a church there.
Gate Theological Seminary. I was only there for one semester because of my deep burden to start witnessing in nightclubs and bars, and reaching the hurting people of our time. I went to Elko, Nevada, and we began five churches in two years. I then did youth evangelism and preached in churches across the country for almost two years before going to Hollywood, California, in 1967 to begin a street ministry and open a Christian coffee house on the Sunset Strip.
I felt God speak to me, telling me to pray all night long. Oh, how I love to just be with God. When I was a child I would often sit in a big pin oak tree in our front yard and pray. Sometimes, all night. Mother would holler out to me, “Son, are you okay?” I’d reply, “Yes, Mother,” and my soul would thrill in fellowship and friendship with my Lord. I’ve always felt close to Jesus, never alone from Him. So, on that night, He was to alter my life forever.
I was preaching a crusade in Garland, Texas, the first week of September, 1969 at the First Baptist Church and at Garland Stadium. As is normal for me, I also went into a nightclub to share Jesus Christ. There was a chain of nightclubs called “The Cellar.” I first met the owner in Houston, Texas and preached there, then I had preached at “The Cellar” in Fort Worth, and now that night I was preaching on the stage at the club in Dallas. The Cellars are notorious for the dancing girls, drug addicts and the red necks the girls attracted. I had preached on stage for 15 minutes in the smoked filled loud and rowdy club, and then I talked to the customers until very late. First that day the church, then the club, then prayer until dawn. As I knelt by my bed with only the sound of the air conditioner in the small one story motel, I prayed. I was 28 years old, only weeks away from my 29th birthday on October 27th. For years I had traveled America preaching youth crusades in churches, parks, beaches, bars, parking lots, and then God led me to minister on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
The call to give my life to carry the cross around the world came on a warm Texas night. Like so many times in my life, it is late at night in the stillness that God speaks to me powerfully, life changing and glorious! This was one of those times. It was 5:00 in the morning and I had felt God speak to me, telling me to pray all night long. Oh, how I love to just be with God. I’ve always felt close to Jesus, never alien from Him. So, on that night, He was to alter my life forever.
Two members of my staff were there this very night in our Jesus nightclub, called “HIS PLACE.” I was praying for them, for the people in the bar, for the church meeting, when suddenly Jesus spoke to me … not in an audible voice, but in my heart and mind. I know His voice. In a clear revelation of witness to me, He said, “I want you to take the cross that is hanging on the wall in HIS PLACE and carry it across America.”
I was stunned. The words lingered in my mind and then wave after wave of the power of the Holy Spirit swept over me, from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head like ocean waves. It seems as though inside of me my inner being was aglow. I was immersed in that incredible call, bathed in the Holy Spirit’s lingering presence. Tears were pouring down my face, even as I was smiling, praising God and laughing, saying, “Thank you, Jesus, wow! Yes, Lord! Thank you, Jesus.”
The Lord spoke more. “I want you to take the cross onto the roadsides and streets of the world to identify my message in the streets with the common man. I am sending you into the secular world. By your walking, I am going to put the gospel on television, on the radio, in the news.I want you to bear witness of My life and My love, proclaim My peace in the streets.”
As I thought on these things it seemed the Lord was telling me, “When I was here I was in the streets with the common man, which is where my message has to be identified in the streets.” I didn’t question the call, only thrilled that Christ had spoken to me.
One night when I was a student at Mississippi College I was praying in my dorm room. As I lay on the floor I remember praying, “Lord, I may not be able to preach like Billy Graham, or sing like Beverly Shea, but I’ll be your garbage can. If there is anything someone else won’t do, I’ll do it. I volunteer.”
I think time and time again God has called the good, the mighty, and the best qualified, but then somehow they refused and He got to the bottom of the barrel and there I was and He’d say, “Blessitt, come on, boy,” and I’d jump out thrilled, happy and excited, just to do anything the Lord says.
I raced out of my motel room to the next room and began to pound on the door. “Wake up! Open the door!” I cried out.
I could hear stumbling toward the door and then it opened. “What in the world are you doing, Blessitt!” It was O.J. Peterson and Jim McPheeters, my singing group; they were on the staff of HIS PLACE in Hollywood. O.J. had been a nightclub piano player and was now converted. Jim had served with the Marines in Vietnam and had been converted at HIS PLACE. Both were in their early twenties. I turned on the light as they stood rubbing their eyes.
“Praise the Lord, God wants me to take the cross that is on the wall at HIS PLACE and carry it across America from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. and spread the word of Jesus across the land. Jesus is the answer. He is the way out of our troubles. He is the solution.”
“Blessitt, are you crazy?!” they ask, trying to get awake.
“Can we go with you?” they asked. “We can sing and you can preach across America.”
“Praise God!” I said. I knew it was right for them to go with me. I sat down at the foot of their bed and we began to plan the trip in the early morning hours. We’ll need a flatbed truck to preach on, a public address system, an electric generator, gospel materials, and a trailer to live in. We prayed, planned and were filled with excitement at the call to carry the cross on foot across America.
In all my wildest dreams I never thought my life would be indelibly imprinted with the cross.
Back in the mid-60’s God had led me to minister in Hollywood, California. First at “love-ins,” then to the Sunset Strip crowd of hippies that gathered each Sunday at Griffith Park in 1966-67. I talked to the young kids as the music played and they sat in the grass taking LSD and drinking. I would speak to them about Jesus. One Sunday as I spoke to a young fellow, he said, “Why don’t you say the message on stage?”
“Well, they probably wouldn’t let me,” I replied, looking toward the platform where a far-out rock group played loud screeching music.
“Oh, yes you can. I run the program. You can have five minutes.”
I spoke and invited those who wanted to hear more to meet me under a tree nearby. About 50 came over and the crowd applauded. This was my first big step in becoming known as the minister of Sunset Strip.
In Hollywood, I would walk the streets talking to the kids, feeding them and would sometimes have 20 or more sleeping on our apartment floor. We need a Jesus nightclub that is open all night in the center of this place. I had been preaching at Gazzarri’s on the Strip. Bill Gazzarri, the godfather of rock and roll, had first thrown me out, but now I was preaching on-stage on Tuesday nights, and then unknown singers who later became world-famous were helping me – Andre Crouch and “The Disciples,” Charles McPheeters and “The New Creatures,” Sharon Peck and “The Sunshine Sisters,” and the Jimmy Owens Singers.
We opened HIS PLACE in March, 1968, in the heart of Sunset Strip, an area of the 60’s sub-culture, where thousands of runaway young people, drug addicts, teenage prostitutes, Hell’s Angels, and other notorious biker groups, flower children, dreaming young actresses, music groups, the lonely, embittered, the lost, the hopeful poured by the thousands each week. Everything was on the Strip in West Hollywood, but a refuge, a haven, a Jesus nightclub was not there.
We rented a building next to a topless go-go club and prepared to open. Everything was ready. We had wild lights, fishnet ceilings, a stage, prayer room, pool room, and we would give away free food yet, something was missing.
I felt we needed a life size cross with colored lights hanging on the stage so everyone who walked in would be immediately impacted by the cross. Young people stoned on drugs or drunk would never forget the cross. We needed something visual to go with the spoken word, to point the way to life in Christ. We were getting cable spools to use as tables at an electric company in Santa Monica where we found cross beams for big light poles, four-foot by four-foot, soaked in creosote to preserve them. These would make the perfect “old rugged cross.”
Back in our building, I cut a piece out of the center of the beams so the two pieces would fit together and formed the cross. After drilling the holes and putting in the bolts, we realized that we had no wrench to tighten the bolts. Just at that moment I heard the roar of a Harley-Davidson. Looking out the front window I saw Tom getting off his chopper. I knew him from all my time sharing Christ with the Hell’s Angels. He was as tough as they come one of the old original charter members. Middle-aged, shorter than I, thick, strong shoulders, bearded and with long hair.
“Hey, Tom!,” I called as I walked out the door. “Do you have a wrench I can borrow? It will only take a minute.”
“Yeah, I got one.”
He reached down and pulled one out.
“I just want to tighten three bolts.”
“Hey, I’ll do it for you,” he said as he followed me in. “Over there…, “I pointed. The cross, 12 feet long by six feet wide, was lying on the floor. It was an impressive sight. “The three bolts right are there.”
He froze in his steps. His big, rugged face filled with shock. “What is it?”
“It’s a cross.”
“Hey, man, you do it.” He backed away from the cross. As I began to tighten the bolts, I was amazed at his response. The big, tough, fearsome fellow had encountered the cross. It had shocked him. Cut him to his heart. And he didn’t want to touch it. No, not the cross.
“Come back tonight and see it on the wall,” I told, handing him his wrench.
‘No, no. I’m not coming back,” he said, shaking his head.
“Well, come back sometime. Jesus loves you, Tom. This cross is not the message of death, but life. He died for you and rose again. You can have real life in Him. You can be free inside.”
“No,” Tom sighed. “I don’t want anything to do with the cross.”
“Hey, man, you are already a part of it,” I smiled, “because your wrench tightened down the center bolt.”
He dropped his head and turned to leave. “I’ll think about it,” he said as he slowly walked out the door.
After he left, Dale and I knelt around the cross, dedicating it to Jesus for His glory. We prayed for Tom. “Jesus, we claim this man for You, the first person to encounter this cross, that he will be saved. I pray that he will not forget what he saw here today. All day as he goes around, bring the cross to his mind. When he goes to sleep, make him dream of the cross. Draw him to Yourself.”
Tears filled my eyes and I wept as we lifted the cross to hang it on the wall. The thought of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, perfect full of love, beaten, bloody and dying. It seemed as if I could hear the sound of the hammer against the nails. Then He was lifted up between Heaven and earth to pay by His blood for our sins. To bring us to the Father, to bring us together with each other, to forgive our sins, and for me to experience building the cross and now lifting it up had brought home to me something I’d missed along the way. How much better now I could say with Paul in the Bible, “We glory in the cross.” As I lifted it up for Dale to tie it to the wall, I never dreamed I would be carrying this cross thousands of miles. I had no idea how my life would change. That one day I would go with the cross on foot around the world. This was only the beginning.
What you will read on the pages that follow is true, but more dramatic than fiction. It is an epic pilgrimage, shaping my life and the lives of others along the way, and perhaps your life too.
Four days later Tom walked into HIS PLACE and started staring at the cross hanging from the wall of the stage. “Tom, Jesus loves you,” I said softly.
“You know,” Tom said. “I just can’t get this cross out of my mind. Everywhere I go I keep seeing it laying down there on the floor. I even dreamed about it. It’s strange how I drove up just at the time you needed that wrench.”
“No, it’s not strange, Tom.” I said. “Because God wants you. He is drawing you to Himself. He brought you to the cross, now He brought you back. Jesus loves you so much. He suffered and died for every sinful thing you’ve ever done. Open your heart and you can know Him. Repent and He will cleanse you.”
After a short time we went up to the prayer room on the second floor, sat down, and I showed him in the Bible how to be saved and then we prayed together. He was born into the family of God. During the next two weeks I spent much time with him teaching him the word of God. Two weeks after his conversion he was killed on his motorcycle on the Hollywood Freeway. I preached his funeral with scores of Hell’s Angels attending. Five more bikers were converted there. The first person that had anything to do with the cross was converted and that has set a pattern ever after. People see the cross, hear the word, and meet the living Christ.
I preached at midnight every night at HIS PLACE, standing under the cross. People came to pray at our altar under the towering cross. I don’t have time to tell the story, but in the summer of 1969 after we were evicted from our second HIS PLACE building, I moved the cross out of the building and chained myself to it with a strong chain. We were having a big battle with the police, nightclubs and property owners who were trying to close us and drive the witness of Jesus from the streets. I had been arrested three times for witnessing on the streets, and now evicted by a landowner who claimed we were out of taste with the neighborhood. Chaining myself to the cross was the climax to that struggle. I refused to eat, fasting day after day there on the sidewalk with the cross leaning against a light pole, the chain locked around the center beam and coming down to where I was chained on the bottom for 24 hours a day. I had no idea how long I would have to sit. I was prepared to die. I would not let the witness of Christ be driven from the streets of West Hollywood. Radio, television and newspapers carried the fast nationwide. Believers and non-believers rallied forth. Others thought I was crazy. Hundreds found Christ around the cross. Now I saw the reproach of the cross in the minds of many, even many Christians, but I also saw the impact of the cross. First I made the cross, and then preached under it for two years, now I was chained to the cross. Christ was preparing me to live in the way of the cross, stamping me with the cross.
Bob Friedman, a news reporter for The Los Angeles Herald Examiner came one day to report the story. He was a Jewish non-believer, drawn back to the cross week after week by the Holy Spirit. Finally one night he was converted on the street. The very next day we got a new building, and I ended the fast and unchained myself from the cross, ending 28 incredible days of being chained to the cross in the center of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Only a few weeks later I was to receive another mission concerning the cross I had by now become so identified with.
The same Sunset Strip in Hollywood has seen many attractions: Schwab’s Drug Store, where Lana Turner was discovered and later became a star; the Classic Cat, that helped pioneer topless dancing; the Largo, largest burlesque show west of the Mississippi River; Whiskey-a-go-go, home of famous rock ‘n roll music; Pandora’s Box, from where Peter Fonda led that famous protest that exploded with the hippie movement on the Strip. But on the Sunset Strip at 10:00am on Christmas Day in 1969, the cross of HIS PLACE on Sunset Strip was to be put on the shoulders of a man who began one of the most dramatic and enduring pilgrimages in the history of man.
Before the historical first step with the cross was to begin, I was to get some news about my health.
Lying in a hospital bed in Glendale Adventist Hospital, I heard the doctor say, “Mr. Blessitt, you need brain surgery immediately. You have an aneurysm in your brain, an abnormal dilation of the blood vessel wall, a blood vessel blown out like a balloon. It is seeping blood, causing your problem.”
I was numb on much of the right side of my body. Four times in three years I had this problem. A stroke had landed me in the hospital. This time all kinds of tests were done to my brain, including an arteriogram, where they inject dye into the artery leading into the brain with a large needle. It is a serious and painful test. My neck swelled bigger than my head after the test. I had severe headaches and vomiting, and was not supposed to move. My neck was packed with ice. The test almost killed me, and now they were giving me the report.
“We need to operate immediately to repair the blood vessels. It is a very serious operation, but you should be okay in a few weeks or months, but there is also a possibility you could die or be paralyzed during the operation.”
“What if I don’t?” I asked.
“The blood vessels could burst at any time. If you just rest, don’t get excited, don’t preach, or lift heavy things. You may have six months to three years to live. The aneurysm must be repaired.”
The doctors say, “Operate,” and God says, “Carry the cross.”
Christmas Day was the time to begin. Do I obey the doctor or the call of God? I asked for time and left the hospital still sick and bedridden. I went home to our small rented house in Hollywood. The doctors had given me much medicine to take. I was surrounded by those I knew and loved, and all the little security that I had. Everyone was in suspense at what my decision would be. We had made plans for my staff to keep HIS PLACE open while I carried the cross across America. The cross still hung on the wall of our building.
I lay in bed praying, “Jesus, what do I do?”
No answer. In the middle of the night I realized Jesus had already spoken. Take the cross and go on Christmas Day I had already agreed and accepted the mission. Now, do circumstances affect the call? l was learning fast. A lesson that was to mark the years ahead. The call of God is not conditional; His call is not to be interpreted in light of circumstances no matter how adverse. I made this decision. I’d rather die in the will of God than live outside of it. By going, I could live or die in peace and joy. By staying, I would rot inside in doubt, fear, and the knowledge that I had refused the call of God. It was settled in that moment. I have never looked back. Joy flooded my soul. Every cell in my body seemed to explode in glory.
The words of Christ in my mind, “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
I poured all of the medicine into the toilet. The swirling water of the toilet washed away my last chord of human reason. Only faith was left. I would never look back.
December 25, 1969 – The first day carrying the cross. A crowd of about 200 people gathered to see us off. We had left HIS PLACE open all night and many of the crowd had slept on the floor. There was my pastor, Reverend Gwin Turner, in a suit and tie; braless runaway girls; motorcycle and street gang leaders, some from the underworld; several Christian workers; my staff, and Dale Larson, Walter Wagner and Maxine, who were helping me write a book Turned On To Jesus, about our ministry in Hollywood. A lot of young people stoned on drugs came to say goodbye. Pastor Turner laid hands on me, anointing me for the pilgrimage ahead.
We took the cross from inside the building, spoke to the crowd of news reporters that had gathered. They were ready to record my first step. I knelt and prayed again, glanced around at the faces, reached down, took the cross in my hands, and raised it firmly to my right shoulder. Jessie Wise, a close brother, did the same with the other side of the cross. I looked ahead as the news camera rolled and photographers took pictures. The crowd clapped and cheered. I led them in a Jesus cheer: “Give me a J!”
They repeated after me “J-E-E-S-S-U-U-S-S.”
“What does that spell?” “JESUS!”
“What does America need?” “JESUS!”
“What are you going to do with Him?” I shouted.
“GO! GO! GO!” they screamed.
I raised my hand toward the heavens and stepped off. The walk with the cross had begun. I didn’t know what was ahead, but I knew Who had called me, Who was with me, and in Whose power I trusted.
One would think that the physical struggle of the first day would be enough, just out of the hospital, much of my body numb, and the knowledge of the doctor’s word that I would need brain surgery and could die at any moment.
Walking along Sunset Boulevard heading east toward Washington, D.C., yet another drama of near-death was soon to unfold. At the corner of Sunset and Vine, a man rushed up screaming, “That’s my cross! Jesus is my brother! I want it back! It’s mine!”
He grabbed the cross and tried to pull it off my shoulder. Now, I knew Jesus said if anyone asked for your coat, give him your cloak also, but what about your cross? I just held on and tried to talk to him. He appeared to be in his late 40’s, plenty strong and yet mentally deranged and drunk. Finally, he stopped his struggle and said he would be back soon and kill us. He then raced down the sidewalk. I know I may sound strange, but when you come to Hollywood I may appear to be straight and conservative. We decided that the best place to be was any place but there, so we walked fast and zigzagged on different streets. Half an hour later, we had almost forgotten about him as we walked along Las Feliz Boulevard near Griffith Park. Then ahead of us, coming directly at us, was the same man with a big two-by-four with a huge nail driven through it. He was screaming, “I’m going to kill you!”
There we were: Jim, O. J., Jessie and me with a cross and a madman trying to kill us. This was my team to cross America. They would sing and I’d preach, and they’d help me carry the cross.
O.J. was a former alcoholic and nightclub piano player, strong and bearded. Jessie was a former black militant and tough. Jim McPheeters had been converted to Christ in HIS PLACE when his brother Charles was playing music there. Jim had just returned from Vietnam.
I had grown up on a cotton farm in Louisiana and worked in our saw mill in the swamps. I knew we could lay down the cross and take care of the man, but deeper than that, the man’s nail could pierce me. It seemed the Lord was saying, “If you are going to carry the cross, are you willing to live in the way of the cross? Are these wooden boards in the form of a cross or a life to live with the cross?”
As the man rushed toward us, the words of Jesus rang in my ears. I said, “Fellows, we can’t touch him. I’ve never used violence, we can’t begin now. If we live, we live if you can’t take it … run. If we die, we die … but we can’t touch him.”
The man started to hit me with the board. I was saying, “In Jesus’ name, in Jesus’ name,” and did not move.
Jim stepped between the man and me, ready to accept the blows. Looking at the man he said, “In Jesus’ name, I love you.”
The man was raging. He seemed unable to move his hands, just stood there shaking, his face a mixture of hate and fear.
“Fellows, let’s pray.” I laid the cross on the sidewalk, wrapped my arms around it and knelt. The others joined me, our heads bowed. We were in the hands of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus, let this man know You love him, we love him.”
I was suddenly praying in such joy. I know it may sound unbelievable to some, but as I prayed I said, “Lord, if I live, I live for You. If I die, I die for You.”
I was free. Joy flooded my soul. Peace was mine. The Holy Spirit bathed me in joy, love and gladness from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. I was weeping, smiling and laughing. I could nearly feel the nail sink beneath my ribs. No matter, I was free. In a few minutes I heard a sound of weeping coming from the foot of the cross. I looked up. The man was on his knees weeping, the spiked board on the sidewalk. I walked back to him. “Sir, God loves you, Jesus died for you. Ask Him into your heart.”
“Get out of here!” he screamed. “Leave me alone!”
I tried to talk more but he continued to scream. “Go on, God is with you! Take the cross and go.”
We picked up the cross and walked away, never to see him again.
Each part of this book could be a book within itself, so I must seek to share the things that will give you a brief but true description of life as it is on the road with a cross.
We left December 25, 1969, with plans to arrive in Washington, D.C. July 18th or 19th, 1970.
The walk would be 3,500 miles. The general eastward route leads from Los Angeles to Phoenix, then through the mountains to Gallup, on to Albuquerque, New Mexico and across to Amarillo, Texas, over to Oklahoma City, then through Tulsa to Springfield, Missouri and on to St. Louis. We would cross the Mississippi River into Illinois, Indiana, to Louisville, Kentucky.
Then move on to Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio on over to Wheeling, West Virginia. On the way to New York we proceeded through Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We walked south through New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore and finally reached Washington,
D.C. It took about six and one-half months. Of course, I had never done this before, nor had anyone else, so we had no idea what to expect. I’ll try to relate everything in short examples.
The first day I started walking in sandals. This had been my common footwear on the Strip, but at the end of the first day’s walk my feet were blistered. The next day they were worse. I had to buy some walking boots and, though they were better, my feet blistered, were bloody, and I was in terrible pain much of the walk across America. I wrung blood out of my socks several times; smiled, put my shoes back on and walked on down the road. It would be years later that I would find the best shoes.
The weight of the cross, pulling the cross and the cross banging along the rough roads had a great effect on my shoulders. After the first day, my shoulders were so sore they could hardly be touched, but I’d grit my teeth, put the cross on and continue. I bought some knee pads and put them on the cross to cushion my shoulder, but as I went on I prayed and asked the Lord to heal it. Before we got to Phoenix I threw away the pads and my shoulders have never blistered again.
“Jesus didn’t have a wheel on His cross.” How many times I’ve heard this. I’m happy to explain this. About a month before we were to begin our trip I needed to find out how far we could carry the cross in one day. We took the cross down from the wall, drove it to the Mojave Desert and on a small back road walked for a couple of hours with the cross. We discovered our speed was about four miles an hour. This way we could anticipate our arrival time in Washington, D.C. However, we discovered something else. The cross was wearing away on the pavement. Nearly every week we had to replace the long beam of the cross because it had worn off. Wood against pavement and rocks loses out every time. A wheel was necessary, not to make it easier, but to save the cross. We then mounted two wheels on the end and later I was to use only one.
Thirty-five hundred miles and 3,500 adventures later we arrived in Washington, D.C. It was my desire to have a great Jesus Rally. After a 24-hour period of prayer and fasting the rally was going to happen. The devil took another swing in my mission-a slight stroke, the only one I had since I started my walk. It left me numb and affected my speech. Friends urged me to go to the hospital, but God urged me to preach, so I began, haltingly at first, but then as if my obedience to Him was recognized, I began preaching with great power. Following this sermon God led me to fast and pray forty days, nothing to eat, only water to drink.
We set up home in the small grassy strip between the sidewalk and street, a place about four feet wide. We used the restrooms at the Department of Commerce Building that was next to us. At night we slept in sleeping bags. In the rain we sat on some boards we put down. Crowds of people began to visit us. The newspapers had told of our fast and reported our phone number. There was a public telephone just a few feet from us and I told the press that if anyone had a need they could call that number. If others wanted to help they could call and we would match the need with a provider. Soon the phone number spread and the phone was in constant use, praise God! Other people were coming to us in person. There was no time to sleep. We finally had to call for more workers so we could have 24-hour helpers in our ministry. Jim McPheeters stayed with us. Dale Larson came from my office in Los Angeles to help us and Leo Humphrey, my dear brother who worked with me in Hollywood years before, flew in from New Orleans to help me. It was a great team on the street corner and a wonderful time.
The hungry in D.C. came to get fed. We had parked our van nearby and gave peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to anyone who was hungry. The lost came to be saved and we saw many converted each day. The skeptics and atheists came to question or to debate. The Christians came to help in witnessing. Each night at 8:00 I would preach or teach, then share personally with people almost non-stop day and night. Again I was under the cross, not just preaching under it, or carrying it on my shoulder, but living under it.
Now let me say something about fasting. Many times I had fasted three days, once 28 days, and once 40. These are my observations:
The body is made for a perfect 40-day fast. I was in perfect shape during the entire fast. I lost about a pound a day. If a person is in good health, the human body has stored the proper minerals, etc., so that no harm is done to the body. After 40 days the body will begin to deteriorate rapidly.
Now, I’m not recommending a 40-day fast, nor am I a doctor. I am only speaking from my experience.
After about three or four days, the hunger pains go away. The stomach is coated with a chemical to protect it. There is slight bad breath. The worst time I have found in a fast is the first two or three days, and then it gets better. From about five to seven days there seems to be a great feeling or weakness mixed with strength, but after about 13 days the body has been cleansed of all the waste and it receives a freshness and cleanliness along with energy that is very constant and strong. The mind is clear, and thoughts begin to expand. With each passing day ideas intensify greatly and the human world around becomes less important. Thoughts get higher and higher. I can think on any subject as long as I want to without my mind wandering off at all. I can think, remember and explore all thought about any subject, and comprehend much better than normal. As a matter of fact, my two long fasts were the best time of Bible study that I have ever experienced in my life.
There are many strange stories people tell about fasting. They say your teeth will fall out… your hair will fall out. I’ve never experienced anything like that.
After my 28-day fast on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip I ate fried chicken for my first meal. At the end of my 40-day fast, I went to a restaurant and ate roast beef. No problem. I wasn’t sick. I felt great.
One must be careful, because the chemical change in the stomach produces hallucinations. Fasting is a spiritual experience. The body and mind are cleansed and cleared. The great spiritual leaders fasted for long periods. Moses on Mount Sinai for 40 days, Jesus in the wilderness, Mohammed, Buddha, Gandhi. If the person fasting is not totally anchored in the Bible, solid in Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit, I do believe the devil, by his demon spirits, can come in and possess that person. This is why so many of the world’s religions sprang out of fasting. Long fasts are so powerful I would never recommend it to the novice, only those of great spiritual maturity. My two long fasts were both public, so it kept me in contact with the real world and I was surrounded by strong believers.
The fast and the prayer time with the Father gave me a burning desire for America and my compassion for the lost was expanded beyond human reason.
This 40-day fast on the streets of Washington, D.C. at the seat of world power was enough to crush the heart. The burden of the lost world gripped my heart. The futility of human effort was so clear, the necessity of God in our lives is beyond doubt, but the laborers are so few. Who will care, live and speak the message and life of Jesus? I realized that God had expanded my capacity and vision for the trip. He had taken me into the heart of America. We had lived with the blacks, Indians, southerners, northerners, young, old, hippies, religious people, atheists and preachers all had become our friends. We were with the rich and the poor, the drug addicts and the drunks, the educated and the hateful. God had stretched me big enough to have America inside of me, to feel its dreams and pains, its hopes and despair. I had a taste of the entire church in America, not just the Baptist church of my past, but all the groups, cultures and traditions. I was now seeking the true lifestyle of Jesus without cultural distortions. God had freed me from provincial thinking and had hurled me out into the world and this was only the beginning. For many, to cross America on foot with a cross would be their ultimate highlight. To me, it was only one stage of an unfolding adventure of life with Jesus my Lord.
Other U.S. and Canadian Trips-I shall seek to share the experience in North America without regard to the exact time, except to say that I carried the cross in the United States and Canada in 1969-1970, and in the late fall of 1974, 1975 and 1976, and have returned for special outreaches in large cities in America periodically since that time.
I arrived in Key West, the southernmost part of Florida, after a long walk down the entire state. A small group of people were walking with me that day as we passed a tennis court. I heard someone yell, “Love 15!”
An urge came over me and I called back, “No, not love 15, but love John 3:16!”
I laughed, waved, and kept walking. The next day I was preaching at First Baptist Church in Key West. When I closed my message I asked for those who needed to receive Jesus into their lives as Savior and Lord to come to the front of the church and we would pray with them and help them to make the commitment. There were several who came for prayer. At the conclusion, a girl in her early twenties stepped up with her younger brother.
She said, “Yesterday, did you go by a tennis court and when they said ‘Love 15,’ you called back ‘No, not love 15, but love John 3:16?”‘
“Yes,” I said, wondering what she was leading up to.
“Oh, that’s you! Thank you, Lord,” as she grabbed me and hugged me.
Then she said to me, “My brother was playing on that tennis court. He heard you, then saw you with the cross. He came back home and told me what had happened and asked me, ‘What did he mean, John 3:16?’ I read it to him from the Bible. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ We talked together about Jesus for a long time and then he gave his life to Jesus. This is my brother.'”
And he stepped forward, crying and smiling.
I was carrying the cross in New Hampshire in 1976. As I was walking along the roadside on afternoon, a police car drove up and the officers were laughing.
“You won’t believe what we heard,” they said.
I smiled and stopped at their car.
“We had a phone call from a distraught lady who said, ‘there is an insane man outside my house.'” “How do you know that?” “‘Well, he is carrying a huge cross and he is singing.'”
While carrying the cross in Canada one snowy, cold day a lady stopped her very nice car and rolled the window down just a bit and asked, “Did you ever go to school?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“What grade did you finish?”
“I went to high school, I finished college and went to graduate school for a while.”
She looked amazed, then said, “Don”t you think you can get a better job than this?”
Live Oak, Florida-November 18, 1974-I had preached at a church on Sunday morning and that Sunday night I had driven to Lake City and preached at another church. I had left the cross at the First Baptist Church in Live Oak, and spent the night in Lake City with some friends I had met, driving back for my cross about midmorning on Monday.
As I came over a hill I was shocked to see a man coming down the highway carrying a big cross. As I got nearer, I could see it was my cross.
I stopped and said to the man, “What are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m carrying the cross for Arthur Blessitt. He left it at First Baptist Church and didn’t come to get it this morning, so I decided I’d help him.”
I could see he was a bit slow, and I loved him dearly. “I’m Arthur Blessitt.”
He looked at me hard then rushed over. “Oh, yes, wonderful to meet you,” he said, pumping my hand and hugging me.
“I hate to do this, but we have to go back to town and start all over again. I told everyone I would walk every step around Florida and the people in town are waiting for me to say goodbye. Thank you so much and God bless you, but let’s load the cross on the van and drive back.”
Later I started off from the church after saying a prayer with everyone. As I walked along the street, there were some men working in a manhole underground and as I approached they were watching me. Before I could speak, one man called up to me, “Hey, what’s happening!”
“Jesus,” I replied.
“Well, we just wondered. I’ve lived here all my life and have never seen one cross on the road.
This morning I’ve seen two. The first one is about two hours ahead of you and if you walk hard you can catch him before dark.”
I arrived outside Orlando, Florida, the day Fannie Fox, the famous stripper, was to dance at a nightclub in Castleberry. She had caused a sensation in Washington, D.C. with Congressman Wilbur Mills. I was outside the club with the cross and spoke to Fannie about Christ when she arrived. The people at the club had tried to drive me off, but I refused to leave the public sidewalk. A friend, Carl, from Sanford, Florida, was with me. We received several threats on my life and after a time, as I stood on the sidewalk by the street, a car drove up with two men in it. The man in the passenger seat yelled, “Hey,” at me.
I turned, facing the car that was beside me. I bent over to speak to the man. Just then he pointed a 357 Magnum pistol directly in my face and opened fire. I was stunned. My ears were ringing with a loud roar, the blazing gun in my face. I had stood holding my head as the car’s tires burned rubber and raced off. Carl had fallen to the sidewalk, unhurt. I was fine.
Only God and those men knew whether those were blanks in the gun or whether the bullets had missed me, or if an angel had deflected the bullets.
We stayed until 4:00am sharing Christ in a drizzling rain. I would not be driven off.
Another time in Florida I walked along the roadside when a pickup stopped just in front of me. Two men raised up in the back of it; one with a rifle, the other with a shotgun and opened fire in a siege reminiscent of war. I leaped over a ditch into high grass and fell, still holding onto the cross. The truck sped off leaving me dazed, but alive and unhurt.
A few months later in New Hampshire a man stopped his car beside me. I had seen this man around for several days as I walked through that lovely countryside. As I leaned in his open side window, he put a revolver directly against my forehead.
“If you don’t stop this now, you are dead. Go past that tree up there and you die.” He slowly drove off, parking just ahead.
I may die, but I will not bow to intimidation. There is only one way with the cross and that is straight ahead.
We had faced this threat before and learned you must face fear, not run from it, or it will haunt you forever. We prayed together, bound Satan in Jesus’ name. I lifted the cross to my shoulder and started off. The man was watching me in his rear view mirror as I approached.
I yelled to him, “Jesus loves you, sir. Bless you.”
He was pale with rage and seemed to be trembling. Then he gunned his car and drove off, tires squealing and making lots of smoke.
I saw him several other times, but he never bothered me again