AT THE CROSS
Was my ministry finished?
Could a third His Place rise somewhere along the sin-swollen lanes of the Boulevard?
Was there room for a tower of faith amid a slum of sacrilege?
Was there room on the Boulevard for God to compete with the godless?
More than ten thousand souls, young people and many straights, had been saved and pointed toward Heaven since I had come to the Boulevard. Yet there were legions of others who needed the life-changing experience of being carried over God’s threshold. Without His Place, who would get them high on Jesus instead of junk, cleanse and heal them as Christ had cleansed and healed the leper?
Would the combined power of the straights and their supporting shock troops from the sheriff’s department prove insurmountable?
The kids vastly outnumbered the straights on the Boulevard, but they prevailed only in body count, not influence. Could I somehow keep working with the majority and yet make peace with potent minority?
Would the kids themselves in this showdown witness for Christ stay the course? Would they care enough about a new His Place to make the run for the roses with me and give me their moral support?
Even with the support of my dropout flock, could the heart of even one property owner be moved to rent us a building?
Though I put it all in God’s hands, the questions nagged at me.
I decided to take the adventure at the cross a heartbeat at a time. praying constantly for Him to sustain me and lead us to victory, as David had been led to triumph over Goliath.
What ensued at the cross cannot be recounted minute by minute, hour by hour, nor even day by day. It was too panoramic, a cyclorama of swirling, constantly shifting events, people, and patterns.
The emotional reactions to one of God’s ministers foursquare on a sidewalk along a border of gutter, sitting, standing, or sleeping against a telephone pole with a garbage can a few feet away, ranged from the sacred to the sacrilegious. There were those who understood, and there were those who considered the stand at the cross the obsessive act of a crank or a madman.
Time yawned, time fled swiftly. Time was a watched pot and a winged chariot.
My memories of the experience are like slides flicking on and off in my brain, stereoscopic snapshots, captured photographs, many still in perfect focus, unforgettable and alive, many blurred and fuzzy. Some, but by no means all, of the slide.
I managed a short nap during the first night at the cross, and when I awoke early on the morning of June 28, summer heat was already scorching the pavement, and a giant swatch of smog quilted God’s blue-white skies.
I hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella to protect me from the furnace-hot sun.
An elderly lady in a Thunderbird drove up beside me with a squeal of brakes.
“Brother Blessitt,” she said. “I’ve got a surprise for you. I shopped all day for it.”
From the trunk of her car she removed an expensive, adjustable lounge chair, a large beach umbrella, and a table.
This will make you more comfortable.” She smiled.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I don’t think it would be proper for me to sit out here with all the frills of a movie star at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel.”
Three friends, Mrs. B.J. Edwards and her sons, came by and nailed a hand-lettered sign to the top of the cross: “DOES ANYONE CARE?”
My appetite was ravenous as a result of my fast. The hunger pangs were so great that I was beginning to feel weak and dizzy. As the day wore on and the merciless sun beat down, I began to feel sick. I could barely stand on my feet. I dropped off to sleep for a few hours.
The first night turned into a street revival, though the staff was careful to keep the sidewalk clear. Two sheriff’s men were standing a twenty-four shift a few yards from me near Sneaky Pete’s restaurant. My staff was also working in shifts, and O.J., Dale, and Jim McPheeters were strung out along the street witnessing to passers-by. They had already won dozens of people for the Lord.
Thousands of reds, our symbolic stickers, had been dealt to the passing throngs. I laughed seeing half a dozen reds gummed on a frisky black French poodle.
A nurse from the UCLA Medical Center stopped by. “You won’t last two days,” she said.
Roy, the young boy I had rushed to the hospital as an OD, turned up and knelt on the sidewalk. He asked me to bring him to Christ. Then he showed me his Army enlistment papers. He was scheduled to leave the next day for boot camp.
Another old friend appeared, the college student I had talked down from his STP trip. “I never thanked you,” he said. I led him to the Lord, too.
Dale brought me the first of many rumors that a new location for His Place was available, this one an abandoned motel across the street. Man, what a spot for a church. We could turn them on to the Bible instead of the Bunnies. When Dale checked it out the next day the location was suddenly “unavailable.”
A moonbeam-faced girl from Miami, in Los Angeles on a tour sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ, told me she was saved.
“Before I came to Christ,” she said, “my parents would have bought God for me if it was possible. Now I’ve got the Lord’s manna instead of my dad’s money.”
Little Britches, a diminutive ex-addict that I had led to the Lord some time back, said she was planning to get married and live in a hippie commune in New Mexico. In order to obtain a license, Little Britches had to undergo a routine blood test.
“You know how it is with a clean head, Arthur. I’ll blow my mind if they put a needle in me.”
I prayed with her to have the strength to handle the needle. “This one’s harmless, just a little blood out instead of a lot of speed in.” I knew God would strengthen her to face the needle, a mental block a lot of former dopers have.
By the third day, I was no longer hungry. Now even the thought of food repelled me. A man can survive much longer without food than without liquids. I’d been drinking non-bulk liquids water, orange crush, and Cokes. Some wonderful Christians came to the cross with gallons of soft drinks, more than I could possibly consume. Among them was Hazel Colson, a serene, God loving, titian-haired widow from Kansas, who voluntarily called one of the television stations, which resulted in the news of our witness at the cross being broadcast over the local ABC channel to all of Southern California.
Joe Pyne sent one of his aides to ask me to appear again on his TV show. “Tell him,” I said, “I’m all tied up.”
On the fifth day there was another rumor that a building was available, not one hundred yards from my perch. But this, too, proved to be hearsay.
It was difficult to believe a week had swept by. It was even more difficult to believe that the sheriff hadn’t hassled me once. I’d seen squad cars cruising by a dozen times a day. Either the sheriff’s men had come dramatically under conviction or were waiting me out until I starved to death or until my strength had ebbed to the point where I’d have to be carried from the cross.
Visitors at the cross included preachers, ministers, deacons, evangelists, churchmen from all over the country. Jess Moody, pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida, a tall, confident conscientious man of God, sat with me for hours. Jess stormed through a half- dozen real-estate offices on the Boulevard, lending his prestige to my witness and ministry.
His passionate pleas to brokers and agents for a site for His Place resulted in soaring hopes and promises, but Jess, too, learned the hard lesson of what it meant to be an outlaw minister on the Boulevard. Jess and I prayed together for continued strength.
I was urged by friends to take vitamins to keep going. but in my mind vitamins were encapsulated ed food, and that would be breaking the fast.
“You’re fantastic!” said a girl with dark roots at the crown of her blond hair as she handed me a daisy.
“You’re a nut,” said a straight early on a Sunday morning. “If you’re a minister, why aren’t you in church where you belong?”
“Sir, if you’re a Christian, why aren’t you in church where you belong?”
A sergeant from the sheriff’s department was stopping by three or four times a day. To my delight, he was civilized and friendly.
“Are you making it?” he asked. “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
“Pray, man, pray.”
He seemed genuinely sympathetic and caring, a welcome relief from the previous attitude of the sheriff’s department.
Looming up two blocks from me, dominating the Boulevard like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, was the 9000 Sunset Boulevard building, the black multi-tiered, prestigious headquarters of lawyers, businessmen, agents, and many movie and television stars.
An African American singer, tears flowing down his cheeks, walked up and said, “I saw you from my agent’s office. The whole building is shook up. I want you to know everyone’s pulling for you. You’re all together, man. Would you say a prayer with me?”
Paul Webb, an angular young man in a gold suit who runs an advertising agency that services Christian clients, was also a tenant in the 9000 building. He offered me an office to think, pray, meditate, and prepare my sermons, a refuge away from the hurly-burly of His Place. At least now I had an office waiting for me even if I still had no church.
A newsman from KABC radio interviewed me, his Telefunken tape recorder whirling.
“When do you think you’ll find a building?”
“When God wills it.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because we have to keep Jesus on the Boulevard.”
Dale: “It’s two weeks tonight, Arthur. Happy anniversary.”
A spaced-out hip asked me if I wanted to buy a rattlesnake. He wasn’t joking. He opened the lid of a cardboard box and I saw the searching, darting tongue.
“Groovy, man,” I said. “I’ll trade that snake for your soul.” He melted into the crowd.
“You’re on a tough trip, man,” said a pusher I knew. “How about some uppers to see you through?”
Bob Friedman, a young reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, interviewed me and I asked him if he knew Jesus in his heart. “No, but I’m okay. I’m Jewish and I’m together with Christ.” The next day his story appeared in the paper. It helped churn up a bigger crowd of the faithful as well as the curious.
“Arthur, there’s just been a killing down the street,” said a girl with buck teeth. “An African American man’s dead. Started over an argument in a psychedelic shop. The owner, a white dude, pulled a gun and shot him. I feel sorry for him. You just don’t get trigger happy on the Boulevard. That dead cat’s buddies are going to even the score. I hope the dude has enough sense to split.”
“You’re a false prophet,” said a downer-drowned chick. “I don’t believe in God, my trip’s flying saucers and men from Mars. I dig Vulcan. He’s my God.”
Saturday, July 19. Twenty-three days have passed. No building. No hope for a building. But I feel strong and well. A the moment I feel strong enough to last indefinitely.
The street was tumbling with humanity, the usual mixture of straights and hips. “You need a freaky chick,” laughed a head sauntering by.
A girl in a rainbow-hued blouse ran up breathlessly. “Arthur, the Bible you gave me after I was saved … I gave it to a lady of the night… She’s coming down to be saved, too … She wants to get off the Boulevard.” “Groovy.”
Angry, dark, intense, a seventeen-year-old boy who had been in Juvenile Hall until a few hours ago on a shoplifting charge refused my invitation to come to Christ. “Who needs it? All I want is a joint, a woman, and some bread, and I don’t care how I get them. Pretty soon you’re going to see the biggest fire of your life. I’m going to burn down Beverly Hills.”
One of the kids from the Halfway House decided to spend the night with me. A lucky survivor of dozens of acid trips, he said, “Man, Proverbs, chapter three, verses five to six, made me want to live again. I was on a death trip.” Aloud he recited the Scripture that gave him new life: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all the ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
July 21. Twenty-five days at the cross. Fasting still. Praying still. Believing still. Hoping still.
A pleasant man in his sixties, glint in his eyes, purpose in his bearing, a Rotary pin in his lapel, said, “I’ve been down here several nights watching you. I believe you’re sincere. But this riffraff you’re ministering to well, I just don’t understand.”
“Sir, are you saved?”
“I haven’t missed church in thirty years.”
“Let me share with you the witness of Jesus when He ate a festive meal with outcasts, sinners, and tax collectors.”
I read to him from Matthew 9:11-13: ” ‘And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with tax collectors and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that are well need not a physician, but they that are sick. For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ ”
I talked with the man for more than an hour. He had racked up thirty years of faithful church attendance, but like millions of other churchgoers who tithe, sing the hymns, amen the sermons, he didn’t understand the teachings of Jesus. I led him gently to the Promised Land, and Christ truly entered the heart of the man for the first time in his life.
Dennis Hopper, co-star and director of Easy Rider, visited the cross and we discussed Christ and the Gospel. He invited me to dinner to talk about the Lord to some of his Hollywood friends.
Maxine Wagner, a dedicated straight from fashionable Toluca Lake, left the quiet confines of comfortable suburbia to join me at the cross almost every evening. She became a devoted friend of my ministry. One night she challenged three men who emerged from Sneaky Pete’s and looked me over skeptically.
“Whatever he’s for, I’m against,” said one of the men.
“He’s for Jesus Christ,” Maxine said. “Are you against Him?”
The men turned red-faced with embarrassment as Maxine witnessed to them vigorously. They walked away stunned, reds pasted to their suits, tracts and Bibles in their hands.
Maxine’s alert, brown-eyed twelve-year-old daughter, Rayne, brought a handsome young University of Georgia Law School dropout to me. “Virgil needs your help,” Rayne said. “He’s been wandering along the Boulevard lost and lonely.”
I offered Virgil the fellowship of Christ and convinced him to knock off his first experiments with downers.
He didn’t come to the Lord, but promised he would go home and return to school.
— July 22, 7 p.m. A group of kids from USC circled me at the cross. A Volkswagen ground to a halt beside us, and a twentyish hippie hopped off. He came up to me, his fists clenched.
“I’ve got to kill someone. It might as well be you!”
He went for me, but one of the college kids grabbed him. My unknown assailant was obviously on a trip.
The doper broke loose and went berserk, smashing his fists senselessly against the shuttered door of His Place. He fortunately seemed to have no other weapon than his angry hands. One of the parking lot attendants at Sneaky Pete’s, a judo expert, brought him to the turf with one swift chop.
The head picked himself up in a moment, and in a spinning whirl, took off down the street, leaving his car behind.
A couple of hours later the sheriff’s men towed the Volkswagen away. I later learned it was stolen. The doper was never apprehended.
Barry Woods, my friend and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, led three ragged young men to the Lord. They had hitchhiked from Orange, Texas, and were broke and hungry and already disenchanted with the Boulevard. Barry arranged for them to spend the night sleeping under his pulpit.
July 23. I was tiring. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could last.
“I’m offering you a building rent-free on Santa Monica or Hollywood Boulevard,” a hefty stranger said to me.
“No, thank you, sir. I’m not leaving the Boulevard.”
“I’ve got enough guys with muscle who say you are.”
“I have one who says I’m not. He’s got muscle, too. His name is Christ. The only way you’re going to get me off this cross is in a casket.”
With a scowl and a curse, the man shoved off.
A brother and sister from Michigan, eighteen and sixteen years old, whispered to me that they were turned on with CTL, Christmas Tree Lights, a murderous amalgam of speed and acid. Both were hallucinating. Their parents were standing less than three feet away with ear-to-ear smiles, probably thinking how wonderful that their kids were talking to a preacher beside a cross of God. The parents had no idea their kids were heads.
“I’m the reason my boy ran away,” said a desperate father from Kansas City. He showed me his son’s picture and left me his address and phone number in case I spotted the boy. Sadly, he wandered down the street on a trip of his own, burdened by guilt, shame, and fear.
For two days a quiet dude squatted near me, never saying a word. Suddenly he got up and asked, “When are you going to die?”
Listening to KHJ, I heard a disc jockey say, “Man, if you don’t see that preacher on Sunset Boulevard, you’re not tripping out.”
Bob Friedman, the young Jewish reporter, visited me several evenings on his own time. Tonight he came joyfully to the Lord.
The Hi-Sonics, a quartet, were harmonizing moving spirituals as a crowd gathered and listened. “I Need Jesus,” they sang gloriously. That’s what it’s all about, people who need Jesus.
More rumors of available buildings, more disappointments
I led a girl from Tacoma, Washington, to the Lord. She is a lady of the night hung up on speed; her father is a minister.
Someone dropped a book into my lap, and I couldn’t help but smile at the title, Fasting Can Save Your Life.
A hippie I knew gave me a bulletin on the international drug scene. “The actions bad in Iran. They stand you in front of a firing squad there just for possession. In India and Pakistan heads from the States are begging rupees on the streets, taking bread from those fakirs. In Greece the heads are living in caves. The freaks pay their way over by selling their bodies. The chicks and guys go any way the dudes dig it.”
“Have you seen Tony?” a freckle-faced chick asked me. “He was supposed to meet me here last night at seven.”
I led her to the Lord, then told her, “Tony died three weeks ago, OD’d on acid.”
July 24. My mouth was dry. The heat and smog were still tandem tortures.
I had talked to thousands of people. With the aid of the staff, hundreds were saved, dozens of runaways sent home, lives rescued, rededicated, uplifted. And all of it accomplished on a Sunset Boulevard sidewalk. How much more effective we could be with a new His Place.
My physical stamina was fading fast, the tension of the joined battle tugged at my nerves.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, dramatically, a man came up and whispered in my ear.
I had waited a month to hear those words, and I no longer felt tired or taut.
“I have a building I’ll rent to you,” the man said.